In late September of 2017, the Cincinnati Reds locked up Tucker Barnhart to a 4-year, $16 million contract. And why not? Barnhart hit .270 in 2017 and was a gold glove winner. $4 million a year for him was a steal. Fans were ecstatic about the deal, especially at the price. Don’t get me wrong, having a catcher with a career average of .248 with about 10 home runs a year and a great glove is something most teams are satisfied with. It’s more about what he does with the pitching staff and defense than the hitting. But in 2019, although only 100 at-bats in, how concerned should Reds fans be about their catching situation now and in the future?
The Reds currently have two active catchers: Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali. Barnhart has struggled mightily out of the gate. A .160/.282/.270 line is not anywhere close to his career numbers. Adding to that, he only has two hits in the past 10 games. A switch hitter with only 10 at bats versus Left-handed pitchers tells us Bell wants Casali taking those at-bats.
Curt Casali has put together a great season for the Reds. Acquired off waiver last year from Tampa Bay he hit .310 before the All-Star break. In 2019 he is hitting to the tune of .293/.349/.379. When used as a pinch hitter, he’s delivered at times for the Reds. Although Casali is the better hitter so far, I do not think it is time to give up on Barnhart. 100 at-bats into a season with plenty to go. *Deep breath* He can still put together a decent season. Something needs to change though, drastically. Right now, the Reds have bigger issues than the catcher’s spot. But will Casali take reigns as the team’s number one catcher? A lot of fans are calling for it. Keep in mind Casali is a career .229 hitter. He has been streaky in the past. The Reds will probably continue to platoon and giving at-bats to Casali against left-handed pitchers. 2019 catcher situation is pretty much locked in. The depth at AAA Louisville are not “prospects” and haven’t shown to be MLB hitters either. The question is what will it look like in the future?
Tyler Stephenson is one of the top prospects in the Reds organization (#6 mlb.com) and is showing his potential this year in Chattanooga. A first-round pick in 2015, he’s struggled with injuries early in his career and is now showing his potential. Hitting .267 with 3 HR and 18 RBI while throwing out 26% of baserunners is a nice start to the first part of the season. He won’t be in Cincinnati this year, who knows where he will start next year, but he plays into the future of the Reds.
There are some other options in the minors. Chris Okey (#30 Reds prospect) was drafted in the second round of 2016 but has really struggled with the bat. Hendrik Clementina (#23 Reds prospect) is someone to watch. He was acquired in the Tony Cingrani trade and hit 18 home runs with Dayton in 2018. He has some pop and but also strikes out too much. We all know how frustrating that can be. Other than those 3, the Reds do not have another top 30 catching prospects. A thin position of depth look for the Reds to bring in more talent this year.
The Reds catching future is banking on Stephenson and Barnhart to be the guys. That could end up being just fine, but it also doesn’t leave much room for error. Casali has two arbitration year left and is 30 years old. He could be a Red past this year, sure. Good catchers are hard to find and that’s why the asking price is so high (paging JT). I would expect the Reds to try to add depth here through the draft or offseason. The quick fix would be Tucker returning closer to 2017 form but who knows if that will happen.
Who’s the Reds Third Best Pitcher?
The third best pitcher on the Reds in 2020 will not be who you are thinking.
Castillo, Gray, Bauer, DeSclafani, and Miley. A deep, veteran, proven rotation which, on paper, makes the Reds the NL Central favorites. You can argue over who the “Ace” is, but who cares. Gray and Castillo both showed incredible stuff each earning an all-star bid. Miley brings a lefty to the rotation while Bauer brings the big name on a contract year. However, the one pitcher that doesn’t have an all-star appearance on his resume is the one to keep an eye on. I think Anthony DeSclafani will be the third best pitcher behind Castillo and Gray.
In 2019, Anthony DeSclafani had a healthy season. Coming off a promising 2016 (3.28 ERA 130 ERA+), Disco missed the entire 2017 season and only pitched in 21 games during the 2018 campaign. With how fantastic Gray/Castillo pitched and the splash trade that landed Bauer, DeSclafani’s season flew under the radar. 2.6 War 3.89 ERA 117 ERA + 167 K’s in 31 starts pitching 166.2 innings. His last 8 starts he pitched to the tune of a 2.39 ERA. Just a lucky year? I don’t think so. DeSclafani has mentioned before how much working with pitching coach Derek Johnson has helped him. Now more of a veteran, coming off a healthy season and having another healthy offseason with DJ, just how good could DeSclafani be?
According to Baseball Reference Disco’s projections:
9-9 4.35 ERA 1 Sv (?) 155 innings 154 K’s
Zips projection: 1.6 (Bauer 3.8, Castillo 3.9, Gray 3.2, Miley 1.1)
First off, win loss record for a pitcher means absolutely nothing. However, I do think DeSclafani will set a career high in wins, which is 9 (9 wins 3 different times). Last season, his first with Derek Johnson, Disco set a career high in strikeouts while pitching 18 fewer innings than his career high in innings. Contrary to many pitchers, he pitched pretty well at GABP.
Home: 6-4 3.50 ERA 82.1 in 71 hits 86 K’s
Away: 3-5 4.27 ERA 84.1 in 80 hits 81 K’s
A healthy 2020 while pitching in a contract year is important. Earning $5,900,000 at 30 years old it is crucial for DeSclafani to pitch well and set himself up for another contract and payday before he gets older. If he can continue to build off last season and take a step forward the Reds could be around a 90 win team in 2020.
*Random stat: DeSclafani’s 2019 117 ERA+ is higher than Bauer’s ERA+ in 7 of his 8 seasons.*
Bounce Back and Breakout: Outfield
Looking to the outfield for a bounce back and a breakout candidate.
10 outfielders. TEN?!?!? On the 40-man roster? Well, let’s try to unpack this obscurity. The offseason started with a quick trade to acquire Travis Jankowski which has turned into the safety option after the Reds hit big on their free agent targets. Mark Payton was selected in the Rule 5 as a long shot to make the roster. Scott Schebler is still around and apparently healthy. Don’t forget he once hit 30 home runs but more recently hit .123/.253/.222. VanMeter is probably projected more as an infielder especially with the new additions. Ok, so now that we have trimmed the fat, we are left with the big question mark in Aquino, hits LHP Ervin, often injured Senzel, RHP only Winker, and the big free agents Akiyama and Castellanos. With at bats limited, who will bounce back and who will break out?
Bounce Back: Nick Senzel
Honorable Mention: Aristides Aquino
No one has ever questioned the talent. There’s a reason Senzel was drafted high and appeared at the top of prospect list. The issue has been health. Not to beat a dead horse, but he’s struggled to stay on the field. Once he arrived on the scene in May, Senzel hit .279/.347/.468 with 4 home runs 5 doubles and 2 triples. Those numbers started to slip and Turner Ward changing his batting stance didn’t help. Injuries once again were an issue. How Senzel will be used in 2020 is up for debate. Everyday centerfielder? Second if Suarez is injured? Super utility? Who cares, the most important thing is to get Senzel healthy, find a comfortable batting stance, and get him at bats. A season (well, 104 games) under his belt should help. Many rookies struggle. Hell, Mike Trout batted .220 in his first year (40 games). Senzel won’t be Trout, but if he can hit around .280, which I think he can, this team could catch fire in and take the division.
Baseball Reference Projection: .260/.324/.445 14 HR 10 SB 20 2B (These seem low to me)
Breakout: Shogo Akiyama
Honorable Mention: Phillip Ervin
The first Japanese player in Reds history comes with high expectations. Although a rookie, Akiyama will be 32 years old and has proven himself in Japan. Hitting 20 home runs or more the past three seasons while hitting over .300 and an OBP of .398, .403, .392 should cause fans to drool over what he could be. Many question if he can be a centerfielder in the MLB but the Reds think he’ll hold his own. Adjusting to the new country and a new league could lead to a slow start. Many assume he has an elite eye for the strike zone due to his OBP, but Akiyama has never walked more than he strikes out. Not many players do, we as fans have been spoiled with Votto doing just that a few seasons in his career (APPRECIATE VOTTO). Frankly, I couldn’t care less how he gets on base as long as he is on base. I think Akiyama will be a crucial part of the team’s success in 2020.
2020 Offseason Compared to Others
This offseason is definitely the best the Reds have had in the last decade.
$165 million dollar SPLASH offseason’ s are not common in Cincinnati. After years and years of subpar rosters and uninspiring managing, the Reds started to focus on the future last offseason with a few big moves. Sonny Gray was brought in help the top of the rotation while Puig in friends were brought in to jazz up the lineup. At least one worked. 2019 offseason has built a solid foundation for the years to come. If you thought that was exciting, 2020 blew it out of the water.
So, let’s run down some previous offseason’s. Here are some of the players the Reds acquired via free agency and trades:
2010: Chapman, Arredondo, Orlando Cabrera
2011: Ramon Hernandez and Edgar Renteria
2012: Mat Latos, Sean Marshall, Ryan Madson, Dioner Navarro, Ludwick, JJ Hoover, Wilson Valdez
2013: Jumbo Diaz, Broxton, Choo, Hannahan, Cesar Izturis
2014: Tim Adleman, Skip Schumaker, Jason Bougeois, Trevor Bell, Ramon Santiago
2015: Ivan De Jesus, Ramon Cabrerra, DeSclafani, Suarez, Marlon Byrd, Jason Marquuis, Burk Badenhop
2016: Blake Wood, Brandon Allen, Tim Melville, Schebler and Peraza, Alfredo Simon, Dan Strailey
2017: Stuart Turner, Josh VanMeter, Drew Storen, Luis Castillo, Scott Feldman, Arroyo, Scooter
2018: Kevin Quackenbush, Mason Williams, Phil Gosselin, Jared Hughes, David Hernandez, Cliff Pennington
2019: Tanner Roark, Farmer/Puig/Kemp/Wood, Sonny Gray, Derek Dietrich, Jose Iglesias
Man, that 2014-2018 was bad. The good players acquired were prospects. Obviously, during a rebuild that is what you do. But the MLB “talent” that was signed, well, yikes! (A couple of good players, I am being harsh.) The front office had no plans for winning. That is just how rebuilds work. But, you can see the foundation being built. The prospects take a few years and 2018 was the first aggressive push in years. The Reds window for success is now. By going out and signing offensive players in Moose and Castellans to pair with OBP machine Akiyama the city of Cincinnati is ready for excitement. Lack of spending has been the gripe of patrons each offseason. They were finally silenced. Interestingly, previous improvements had been made via trade, mostly. The opposite happened this offseason with signing talent and holding on to future assets. What do we make of that? I’m not really sure. Does it say the Reds have something up their sleeve to pull off a spring training trade? Could be. Too many outfielders will have to play itself out. Although this offseason has been the biggest yet, it’s possible it’s not even over yet.