5 Players the Cincinnati Reds Should Consider Dealing at the Deadline

The current record of the Cincinnati Reds is less indicative of the team’s overall potential and more about the cavalcade of injuries sustained thus far. When writers and fans alike suggest the Reds may not have to “blow it up,” it’s hard not to agree. And anyone who’s followed the Reds on Bleacher Report may recall just how optimistic I was about a healthy Cincinnati Reds team this season.

But akin to last year, they’ve lost vital contributors and now sit five games beneath .500 and 12.5 back of first. You could say they’re just 5.5 back from the wild card, but only if you mention the seven teams sitting in front of them.

A late-season run is far from impossible, but fact of the matter is, it’s time to plan ahead instead of trying to make something out of, well, very little. Unless offseason acquisitions like Jason Marquis and Kevin Gregg are to become the norm—staple moves of the cash-strapped—the Reds must make moves to not only restock the farm at the Triple-A level, but give themselves the financial flexibility they need to sculpt a new contender.

With that in mind, the following is the list of five players the Reds should consider moving at the deadline.

 

1. Johnny Cueto

The obvious and best trading chip the Reds have, scouts have reportedly been in attendance (per Zack Pearson of Detroit.SunTimes.com) during his last few starts. The idea that the Reds would get very little for their ace is far-fetched. And even though he won’t command what David Price did (Price had 1.5 years of control left compared to just .5), he could still fetch one, maybe two highly regarded prospects, at least more than a compensatory pick.

 

2. Aroldis Chapman

There’s no need for an expensive high-profile closer for a team entering rebuild. Chapman’s exhausted the opportunity to start; he is what he is. And he’s not what the Reds need now. Some contender that’s actually entering ninth innings with leads can benefit from his services.

Chapman’s not bringing in what Craig Kimbrel did, because, again, Kimbrel was moved to the San Diego Padres, playing on a contract good for another three years. But Chapman can still command one or two of an organization’s top-10 prospects. Not to mention, the Reds won’t need to worry about paying a closer $8-10 million.

 

3. Jay Bruce

Jay Bruce has been on a tear. Now slashing .232/.339/.427, and with 10 home runs, he’s looking more like the 30 HR / 100 RBI guy they extended years back. Which means he’s likely to fetch a good return for the Reds.

Trading Jay Bruce relieves the Reds of over $25 million still left on his contract, which goes until the end of 2017 unless the Reds buy it out for $1 million. Because of that, and because of the caliber of prospect he can bring in (at least a team’s top-10 prospect), he should be moved before the deadline.

 

4. Brandon Phillips

Easier said than done. With over 10 years in the MLB and over five with the same team, Phillips has full 10 and 5 rights, meaning he would have to agree to any suitor the Reds find. But Phillips is a competitor, and it’s hard to imagine him not wanting to go where a team is focused on winning a World Series instead of competing for .500.

Moving Phillips frees the Reds of about $27 million. Like Bruce, he’s signed until the end of 2017, but he’s already 33 years old. And if you’re thinking that’s precisely why he’s not tradable, I’m thinking that .295/.333/.697, along with Gold Glove-caliber defense, is highly desirable in today's market.

With the exception of the Boston Red Sox, the entire AL East could benefit from bringing Phillips on, and each would have the cash to do it too.

 

5. Todd Frazier 

He’s rapidly becoming the fan favorite and is consequently a lightning rod for trade talk. Even The Cincinnati Enquirer’s Paul Daugherty is growing attached to the slugging third baseman, recently writing in his morning blog: "Those of youse who want to Blow It Up. . . can you at least give Todd Frazier five minutes notice, so he can leave the building before it implodes?"

Keeping Todd Frazier is ideal for numerous obvious reasons. He’s a vocal leader, he has moxie, he shows that fire that everyone loves to talk about now and then, and he’s really good at baseball.

But consider this: Will the Reds’ rebuild be finished by 2017?

If not, why would it make sense to keep him instead of moving him while his value may never be higher? At the end of his contract, Frazier will be 32 years old. Considering what he’s doing, at the very least, he’s looking at Jay Bruce money.

Rebuilding properly—like the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Chicago Cubs, etc.—is more about shedding payroll, adding big-time prospects and creating a climate of financial flexibility. Unless you think the Reds will contend next year or in 2017—and without an ace, that’s highly unlikely—why keep him?

Right now, the Reds have two of MLB’s top 100 prospects. Both are in Double-A. Both are performing like guys who will be here soon, maybe two seasons. If the Reds were to trade the five aforementioned players, imagine the climate they’ll enter. The future of the rotation already looks bright, and with the right moves and healthy spending power, the Cincinnati Reds can build Cincinnati's next contender.

But you already saw it last offseason—without the payroll, Walt Jocketty is relegated to bargain-bin diving. If fans want better than journeymen vets on the clearance rack, the Reds must reposition themselves financially by parting ways with pricey talent.
 

Stats and contracts courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

@GroteT for more on trading your favorite players.

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Cincinnati Reds: B/R’s Top-15 Breakdown, Post-2015 Draft

The Cincinnati Reds are down to just three Opening Day starters in the lineup, and at five under .500 and 11.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, it's time for the Reds to look ahead.

Optimists could cite the 5.5 games the Reds are from the last wild-card spot, so long as they also name the seven teams that would have to be jumped just to get there.

If the Reds start their rebuild sooner rather than later, this already-impressive list of 15 prospects could be exponentially better, perhaps even the best farm in all of baseball. The list is comprised by me alone, using data and performance to arrange accordingly. Baseball America's "2015 Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects" article was used as a foundation.

15. Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B

This eighth-round draft pick flies under the radar like a drone. But he's demonstrating potential in the minor leagues. He's slashing .263/.376/.346, an OBP that would get a firm handshake from Joey Votto. 

But his career numbers in four minor league seasons are what got him on this list. .288/.376/.436 is good enough to let sit beneath a warm lamp for a few more seasons and look in on occasionally.

I still think Todd Frazier could be moved this season, and if he goes, the maturation of Mejias-Brean becomes a lot more important.

 

14. Kyle Waldrop 

In now his sixth minor league season and second in Double-A Pensacola, this outfielding first baseman is proving to be a useful asset in the organization. He's hit at every level he's played and is now slashing .284/.320/.451 in Double-A.

He has six home runs and 31 RBI. This 12th-round draft pick from 2010 could end the year in Triple-A playing this well. The Reds' cupboard doesn't include many big-hitting prospects right now, so Waldrop's development becomes more notable as he continues to climb.

13. Antonio Santillan 

The Reds' second-round pick of this year's draft tops out at 98 mph. The 6'5", 240-pound right-hander was the MVP of the Connie Mack World Series, per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. Sheldon wrote:

Santillan is a power pitcher with scouting reports showing him throwing his fastball from 93-95 mph with the ability to reach 98 mph. He also has a strong 12-to-6 curveball that comes to hitters in the mid-80s.

However, Santillan is far from a finished product and will need some work. He also lacks a changeup, but the organization will develop him as a starter.

With the young nucleus of Reds starting pitching talent, they could definitely afford to take a pitcher like this. The upside seems enormous with proper instruction. 


12. 
Aristides Aquino, OF 

The 21-year-old right-hander wasn't hitting that well in Single-A Dayton, but he only played 16 games this season before breaking his wrist.  He's slashing .226/.288/.321 in 53 at-bats. This right fielder is years away from ever contributing, and with Jesse Winker and Jay Bruce in front of him, he's not likely to be in the picture any time soon.

 

11. Phil Ervin, OF

The 2013 first-round draft pick has gone largely unnoticed, like time during an episode of Game of Thrones. He didn't make Baseball America's Reds prospect list, just two seasons after being drafted in the first round.

He's having a decent year in High-A, slashing .258/.336/.429 with nine home runs and 35 RBI. He's just 22 years old, so he's got time to make his way through the ranks and back into prospect notoriety. It'd be nice to see him end the year in Double-A Pensacola. 

 

10. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

The right-handed 22 year old "is a "five-tool player" according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He's slashing .273/.309/.431 with five home runs and 22 RBI in Triple-A Louisville.

You might recall seeing Rodriguez with the Reds last year as a September call-up. He hit .222 in only 27 at-bats, which is nothing worth analyzing. Manager Bryan Price told Fay:

I don't know that Yorman is quite to the same place developmentally because he hasn't played any Triple-A yet. But this is a great opportunity for him to give us an idea of what he offers at this point in time in his development. He does provide us with a guy that we're all organizationally excited about being an impact player in the near future.

9. Nick Howard, RHP

Nick Howard had a stretch of starts in late April and early May that ended with him returning to the bullpen. He gave up 10 earned runs in 8.2 innings over three starts and never made it out of the fourth. Since then, he’s been back in the bullpen and doing alright.

He’s 3-2 with a 6.67 ERA and a brutal 2.09 WHIP. FanGraphs.com expects Howard to arrive in the majors by 2017, but the capacity remains unknown. It doesn’t appear to be a starting role anymore, but considering the Reds’ bullpen, that might work out.

 

8. Nick Travieso, RHP

The Reds' 2012 first-round draft pick is doing well as a starter for the High-A Daytona Tortugas.  He's 3-5 with a 3.02 ERA in a little over 60 innings of work. His 55 strikeouts in 62.2 innings is good, and his 1.32 WHIP is more a reflection of the 65 hits in that span instead of 17 walks.

Travieso will hopefully make it to Double-A this year, though at age 21, there should be no rush.  

7. Amir Garrett, LHP

The 6'5" former St. John's University basketball player is still having a good year with the High-A Daytona Tortugas. In 12 starts, he's 2-5 with a healthy 3.20 ERA. In 59 innings pitched, he has 66 strikeouts and 24 walks.


6. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

Anthony DeSclafani has been so vital to the Reds this year, despite how bad the campaign is going. Without him and his 5-4 record and 3.53 ERA, things would be a lot worse.

“Disco,” as he’s referred to, is a vital part of the young nucleus of starting pitching that the Reds will depend upon when the rebuild finally gets started and Johnny Cueto leaves for greener pastures. But at over 71 innings pitched, you wonder how long the Reds will let the young right-hander throw this year before shutting him down. He’s never thrown more than 129 innings.

 

5. Tyler Stephenson, C

This year's first-round draft pick was widely considered the best overall catcher in this year's class. With Devin Mesoraco a few painful squats away from playing left field, it's a wise choice. The young right-hander hit .425 in 65 at-bats with eight home runs and 25 RBI for his Atlanta high school.

His position on this list is high, but having nothing more than high school numbers to assess makes it difficult, so we're going on hype. If he's as good as scouts think he is, the Reds have added an enormous piece to the farm.

 

4. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Almost as impressive as rookie teammate DeSclafani has been the kid who was pitching in Double-A just last year. Michael Lorenzen is still experiencing growing pains, but in large, he’s been stellar. He’s now 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA but is still showing great promise.

At Great American Ball Park, a hitter’s Valhalla, batters are hitting just .215 against Lorenzen. If not for the five home runs at Small Park, his home 4.10 ERA would be a lot more impressive.

 

3. Jesse Winker, OF

Winker is finally catching fire at Double-A Pensacola. He’s slashing .250/.356/.365 with three home runs and 16 RBI. While not jumping off this page, it’s a lot better than he was doing at the end of April and early May.

Winker’s development is pivotal to this organization. Ranked as MLB’s No. 22 prospect overall in the top-100 prospects list, he looks to be the heir to right field if and when the Reds move Jay Bruce.

It’s probably a stretch to see him in Triple-A by the end of this year. A wrist injury derailed his progress for a bit, but he looks to be back on track.

2. Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Raisel Iglesias is currently on the disabled list. He’s sitting on a 1-1 record and a 5.11 ERA, but that’s in just four starts. And he’s only allowed more than three runs once, in his last start against the Washington Nationals. He still had eight strikeouts that game in 5.2 innings of work.

Along with DeSclafani and Lorenzen, Iglesias is a vital part of the Reds' plans post-rebuild.

 

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

Don’t look now, but here comes the Reds’ No. 1 prospect with aggression. He’s now 3-5 with a 3.67 ERA and 71 strikeouts in just over 61 innings of work. That’s ace-like strikeout stuff, and he’s not ranked in MLB’s top 100 prospects for nothing.

At No. 20, the baseball world expects big things from this right-hander. He’s been struggling since getting to Double-A three years ago, but he’s hit a stride. Stephenson’s only allowed four runs in his last four starts. He’s struck out 36 batters in that time.

Can Stephenson be the hood ornament on the Reds’ future starting rotation? It’s looking more positive down on the Reds farm. And depending on what the Reds can secure in return for all the talent they have to move, don’t be surprised if they end the year with one of baseball’s best farm systems.

 

Stats courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of June 12. Minor league game stats are from FanGraphs.com.

@GroteT for more.

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Cincinnati Reds: B/R’s Top-15 Breakdown, Post-2015 Draft

The Cincinnati Reds are down to just three Opening Day starters in the lineup, and at five under .500 and 11.5 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central, it's time for the Reds to look ahead.

Optimists could cite the 5.5 games the Reds are from the last wild-card spot, so long as they also name the seven teams that would have to be jumped just to get there.

If the Reds start their rebuild sooner rather than later, this already-impressive list of 15 prospects could be exponentially better, perhaps even the best farm in all of baseball. The list is comprised by me alone, using data and performance to arrange accordingly. Baseball America's "2015 Cincinnati Reds Top 10 Prospects" article was used as a foundation.

15. Seth Mejias-Brean, 3B

This eighth-round draft pick flies under the radar like a drone. But he's demonstrating potential in the minor leagues. He's slashing .263/.376/.346, an OBP that would get a firm handshake from Joey Votto. 

But his career numbers in four minor league seasons are what got him on this list. .288/.376/.436 is good enough to let sit beneath a warm lamp for a few more seasons and look in on occasionally.

I still think Todd Frazier could be moved this season, and if he goes, the maturation of Mejias-Brean becomes a lot more important.

 

14. Kyle Waldrop 

In now his sixth minor league season and second in Double-A Pensacola, this outfielding first baseman is proving to be a useful asset in the organization. He's hit at every level he's played and is now slashing .284/.320/.451 in Double-A.

He has six home runs and 31 RBI. This 12th-round draft pick from 2010 could end the year in Triple-A playing this well. The Reds' cupboard doesn't include many big-hitting prospects right now, so Waldrop's development becomes more notable as he continues to climb.

13. Antonio Santillan 

The Reds' second-round pick of this year's draft tops out at 98 mph. The 6'5", 240-pound right-hander was the MVP of the Connie Mack World Series, per MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. Sheldon wrote:

Santillan is a power pitcher with scouting reports showing him throwing his fastball from 93-95 mph with the ability to reach 98 mph. He also has a strong 12-to-6 curveball that comes to hitters in the mid-80s.

However, Santillan is far from a finished product and will need some work. He also lacks a changeup, but the organization will develop him as a starter.

With the young nucleus of Reds starting pitching talent, they could definitely afford to take a pitcher like this. The upside seems enormous with proper instruction. 


12. 
Aristides Aquino, OF 

The 21-year-old right-hander wasn't hitting that well in Single-A Dayton, but he only played 16 games this season before breaking his wrist.  He's slashing .226/.288/.321 in 53 at-bats. This right fielder is years away from ever contributing, and with Jesse Winker and Jay Bruce in front of him, he's not likely to be in the picture any time soon.

 

11. Phil Ervin, OF

The 2013 first-round draft pick has gone largely unnoticed, like time during an episode of Game of Thrones. He didn't make Baseball America's Reds prospect list, just two seasons after being drafted in the first round.

He's having a decent year in High-A, slashing .258/.336/.429 with nine home runs and 35 RBI. He's just 22 years old, so he's got time to make his way through the ranks and back into prospect notoriety. It'd be nice to see him end the year in Double-A Pensacola. 

 

10. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

The right-handed 22 year old "is a "five-tool player" according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. He's slashing .273/.309/.431 with five home runs and 22 RBI in Triple-A Louisville.

You might recall seeing Rodriguez with the Reds last year as a September call-up. He hit .222 in only 27 at-bats, which is nothing worth analyzing. Manager Bryan Price told Fay:

I don't know that Yorman is quite to the same place developmentally because he hasn't played any Triple-A yet. But this is a great opportunity for him to give us an idea of what he offers at this point in time in his development. He does provide us with a guy that we're all organizationally excited about being an impact player in the near future.

9. Nick Howard, RHP

Nick Howard had a stretch of starts in late April and early May that ended with him returning to the bullpen. He gave up 10 earned runs in 8.2 innings over three starts and never made it out of the fourth. Since then, he’s been back in the bullpen and doing alright.

He’s 3-2 with a 6.67 ERA and a brutal 2.09 WHIP. FanGraphs.com expects Howard to arrive in the majors by 2017, but the capacity remains unknown. It doesn’t appear to be a starting role anymore, but considering the Reds’ bullpen, that might work out.

 

8. Nick Travieso, RHP

The Reds' 2012 first-round draft pick is doing well as a starter for the High-A Daytona Tortugas.  He's 3-5 with a 3.02 ERA in a little over 60 innings of work. His 55 strikeouts in 62.2 innings is good, and his 1.32 WHIP is more a reflection of the 65 hits in that span instead of 17 walks.

Travieso will hopefully make it to Double-A this year, though at age 21, there should be no rush.  

7. Amir Garrett, LHP

The 6'5" former St. John's University basketball player is still having a good year with the High-A Daytona Tortugas. In 12 starts, he's 2-5 with a healthy 3.20 ERA. In 59 innings pitched, he has 66 strikeouts and 24 walks.


6. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

Anthony DeSclafani has been so vital to the Reds this year, despite how bad the campaign is going. Without him and his 5-4 record and 3.53 ERA, things would be a lot worse.

“Disco,” as he’s referred to, is a vital part of the young nucleus of starting pitching that the Reds will depend upon when the rebuild finally gets started and Johnny Cueto leaves for greener pastures. But at over 71 innings pitched, you wonder how long the Reds will let the young right-hander throw this year before shutting him down. He’s never thrown more than 129 innings.

 

5. Tyler Stephenson, C

This year's first-round draft pick was widely considered the best overall catcher in this year's class. With Devin Mesoraco a few painful squats away from playing left field, it's a wise choice. The young right-hander hit .425 in 65 at-bats with eight home runs and 25 RBI for his Atlanta high school.

His position on this list is high, but having nothing more than high school numbers to assess makes it difficult, so we're going on hype. If he's as good as scouts think he is, the Reds have added an enormous piece to the farm.

 

4. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Almost as impressive as rookie teammate DeSclafani has been the kid who was pitching in Double-A just last year. Michael Lorenzen is still experiencing growing pains, but in large, he’s been stellar. He’s now 1-2 with a 4.01 ERA but is still showing great promise.

At Great American Ball Park, a hitter’s Valhalla, batters are hitting just .215 against Lorenzen. If not for the five home runs at Small Park, his home 4.10 ERA would be a lot more impressive.

 

3. Jesse Winker, OF

Winker is finally catching fire at Double-A Pensacola. He’s slashing .250/.356/.365 with three home runs and 16 RBI. While not jumping off this page, it’s a lot better than he was doing at the end of April and early May.

Winker’s development is pivotal to this organization. Ranked as MLB’s No. 22 prospect overall in the top-100 prospects list, he looks to be the heir to right field if and when the Reds move Jay Bruce.

It’s probably a stretch to see him in Triple-A by the end of this year. A wrist injury derailed his progress for a bit, but he looks to be back on track.

2. Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Raisel Iglesias is currently on the disabled list. He’s sitting on a 1-1 record and a 5.11 ERA, but that’s in just four starts. And he’s only allowed more than three runs once, in his last start against the Washington Nationals. He still had eight strikeouts that game in 5.2 innings of work.

Along with DeSclafani and Lorenzen, Iglesias is a vital part of the Reds' plans post-rebuild.

 

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

Don’t look now, but here comes the Reds’ No. 1 prospect with aggression. He’s now 3-5 with a 3.67 ERA and 71 strikeouts in just over 61 innings of work. That’s ace-like strikeout stuff, and he’s not ranked in MLB’s top 100 prospects for nothing.

At No. 20, the baseball world expects big things from this right-hander. He’s been struggling since getting to Double-A three years ago, but he’s hit a stride. Stephenson’s only allowed four runs in his last four starts. He’s struck out 36 batters in that time.

Can Stephenson be the hood ornament on the Reds’ future starting rotation? It’s looking more positive down on the Reds farm. And depending on what the Reds can secure in return for all the talent they have to move, don’t be surprised if they end the year with one of baseball’s best farm systems.

 

Stats courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of June 12. Minor league game stats are from FanGraphs.com.

@GroteT for more.

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Cincinnati Reds Rumors: Latest News Surrounding Reds

With the exception of the Reds' ace, there really hasn't been much in the news regarding the likely fire sale the Reds will facilitate near the trading deadline. It's now common knowledge that Johnny Cueto and Aroldis Chapman are favorites to be moved, but whether or not they have suitors yet remains unknown.

The last trade news regarding the Cincinnati Reds' best trading chip, Johnny Cueto, is about as positive as the current on-field product. News of Cueto's elbow inflammation and two missed starts may have affected his trading value. According to ESPN.com's Buster Olney:

Cueto threw well Tuesday, but some executives believe that as the current market plays out, Hamels could become even more attractive because of the concern about Cueto's elbow and the struggles of other would-be trade options, such as White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija.

It would probably only take a couple of good outings to return the outlook, but it's likely that Walt Jocketty and Co. are doing everything possible to find a suitor. Following the disastrous series in Philadelphia, after a shocking three-game sweep of the Washington Nationals, the Reds are probably ready to get the rebuild started.

Kansas City has recently popped up in rumors surrounding the Reds' ace. Andy McCullough of the Kansas City Star writes:

The Royals could join the pack of teams phoning Cincinnati general manager Walt Jocketty to express interest. The organization fields a farm system capable of sparking at least a discussion, rival executives say. To those executives, Cueto represents the one asset missing on the Royals' roster: A genuine centerpiece for their rotation.

Cueto's agent weighs in on the topic. He discussed Cueto with MLB Network Radio's Jim Bowden. You can listed to the audio here.

Aroldis Chapman would easily be the second-most valuable trading trip the Reds have. Unlike Cueto, Chapman has an extra year of control and thus may bring in an even better haul.

Jeff Sullivan of FoxSports.com thinks his return may resemble Craig Kimbrel's. He writes:

The best actual trade comp we have is Craig Kimbrel, who is one of the few relievers who can come close to matching Chapman's performance. Unfortunately, while Kimbrel is similar to Chapman on the mound, the trade circumstances were different. Kimbrel wasn't traded midseason, and Kimbrel's also under a long-term contract. Still, despite his fairly large salary commitment, Kimbrel netted Matt Wisler -- BA No. 34 prospect -- plus some bit parts. Though some thought the trade an overpay on San Diego's end, what happened happened.

Finding a suitor for Chapman wouldn't be very difficult. But as of now, there have been no headline rumors. 

Jay Bruce is probably the third-best trading piece the Reds have. After a horrendous start, Bruce is slashing .226/.342/.405. And while this doesn't seem impressive, he was hitting in the .160's earlier in May.

Bruce is still apparently attracting suitors, too. According to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer, teams are willing to "take a flyer," on him, meaning he'll be a sell-low candidate barring any major spike in production.

"I'd take a flyer on him," an American League scout said, "and see if our on-the-field people could fix him. He looks healthy. His home runs and walks still grade out at 60 to 65 (on the 80-point scale). It's just that his hit-ability is at 25 right now."

It's a little higher since this conversation happened, but it does look like the Reds could still get a decent return for their left fielder if he indeed were moved.

Of tradable assets. And many would argue whether some of these contracts are tradable, that leaves Brandon Phillips, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier and Brayan Pena. Of all these names, Mike Leake has generated the most buzz.

According to Mark Polishuk of MLBTradeRumors.com, Leake's value may have improved with Cueto's recent elbow issues. He writes:

Reds right-hander Mike Leake is considered by one AL scout to be able to “pitch in either league with no problem” and at the trade deadline, “there might be more action on him than any pitcher out there.”  The Reds could be looking to deal the free agent-to-be since they didn't discuss an extension with him during the offseason. Leake’s trade value may be improved by the fact that teammate Johnny Cueto and the Athletics‘ Scott Kazmir (two more pending free agents) have recently been dealing with elbow and shoulder problems, respectively. 

That's just about it in terms of news surrounding the Reds trading landscape, though it's only the 5th of June. Now six games under .500 and 12 games back of the St. Louis Cardinals, the wild card seems to be the only reasonably attainable goal if the Reds were to suddenly win more games than they lose from here on. 

They're just 5.5 games back from the final spot, but there are eight teams ahead of them. They could make a run at it, but maybe it's time to start planning for the future instead. Stay tuned.

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Re-Evaluating the Cincinnati Reds’ Top Draft Picks from the Past Decade

It's what's on the agenda when a team is eight games under .500 and 11.5 games out of first before June. Because a Reds rebuild seems all but certain with ace Johnny Cueto playing in the final year of his contract, it's time to assess what's worked and what's in store.

What has Walt Jocketty assembled in the last seven seasons, and what did previous general manager Wayne Krivsky leave him with? The following is a list of the Reds' first-round draft picks from the past decade:

 

2005: Jay Bruce, OF

Has time snuck up on you too? Jay Bruce was drafted 12th overall that year and was widely considered the future. He was called up to replace Corey Patterson in the early part of 2008 after hitting above .300 across three minor league levels in 2007.

Did he go on to become the Reds' future? The term's subjective—after all, it was Bruce's looping swing that ended the playoff drought and brought the Reds back for the first time in a decade. It's hard to argue that he became the face of this franchise—Joey Votto or Johnny Cueto may have thoughts on that matter—but there's no denying he’s contributed in a big way.

His rookie season, he finished No. 5 overall in Rookie of the Year voting, he's a three-time All-Star with two Silver Slugger awards, and he finished No. 10 in MVP voting two years straight ('12-'13).

He's a career .250/.323/.486 but has 571 RBI and 189 home runs. In now his eighth year, Bruce has only hit fewer than 20 home runs once—last year, a year that featured arthroscopic knee surgery.

Despite a lengthy slump, there is no denying how prolific Bruce has been to a playoff roster. This was a successful pick by Krivsky. Considering his contract and the Reds' oncoming fire sale, it's likely we'll see the end of the Bruce era here. He's likely to fetch a good return, especially if his recent hot streak continues.

 

2006: Drew Stubbs, OF

Believe it or not, Stubbs was the eighth overall pick that year. He ended up debuting with the Reds in 2009 as the Reds were assembling their new product post-Griffey-Dunn Era, ripe with high draft picks.

In a lot of ways, Stubbs contributed—his defense in center was good, and averaging nearly 30 stolen bases and over 12 home runs a season was good. But power aside, Stubbs was not a good hitter. His OBP was never higher than .329; .255 was the highest average he'd have in four years—all of which are very forgettable, especially for a top-10 overall draft pick.

But Walt Jocketty turned Drew Stubbs into Shin-Soo Choo, a pivotal piece of the Reds' 2013 playoff campaign. And for that, Stubbs proved even more useful.

 

2007: Devin Mesoraco C, Todd Frazier 3B, Kyle Lotzkar RHP

Can we universally agree the first two names from 2007 are successes? Both made the All-Star Game in 2014, and Frazier was a Home Run Derby for what it's worth, the first Reds participant since Ken Griffey Jr.

But Frazier is currently No. 2 in NL home runs behind Bryce Harper. His career line in now his fourth season is .258/.328/.461, but there's no denying the impact he's had on the Reds offense. He's had two good batting average years (.273 in '12 and '14) and two bad ones (.232 in '11, .234 in '13).

He's one of the only notable acts happening at Great American Ball Park right now. Devin Mesoraco perhaps would be, but he can't stay healthy. The young slugger has made it to the disabled list again after just 51 plate appearances.

For his career, he's slashing an unimpressive .242/.313/.423. But Mesoraco has just two years since 2011 where he's played in over 100 games. He was an All-Star last season, a season that featured a career-high 440 plate appearances.

Kyle Lotzkar came and went. This was a swing and miss of Jonny Gomes caliber. He never made it higher than Double-A, which is where he's at now, within the Texas Rangers organization.

Thus ends the Krivsky portion of the re-evaluation. Time to see how Walt did.

 

2008: Yonder Alonso, 1B

Was Yonder Alonso a successful pick? Walt Jocketty turned him and two other first-round draft picks into Mat Latos, the key No. 2 in the rotation that earned the Reds the 2012 NL Central crown. He was also the pitcher who surrendered the deciding Buster Posey grand slam to end that season.

That was Latos' most important pitch as a Red, but there's no denying his three exceptional years in a Reds uniform, never finishing with an ERA above 3.48 and tossing over 200 innings twice.

 

2009: Mike Leake SP, Bradley Boxberger RHP

Despite Mike Leake's recent struggles, this pick skipped the farm and went right to the pros after being drafted. He's never been asked to be the ace, and prior to this season, he's never had to play the role of a No. 2 guy. So his career 55-46 3.97 is a remarkable contribution.

Leake threw over 200 innings for the first time last year. He's on pace to do it again this season. Should the Reds enter rebuild, Leake is a candidate for trade, but he's also an extension candidate, especially if and when the Reds move Cueto and free themselves of enormous fiscal responsibility.

Bradley Boxberger was packaged with Alonso and one other to land Latos.


2010: Yasmani Grandal, C

Grandal was also moved in the package for Latos. Devin Mesoraco won the role of Reds future catcher in Cincinnati.

 

2011: Robert Stephenson, SP 

Baseball America's No. 1 Reds prospect and one of the Reds' only two Top 100 MLB prospects (MLB.com), Stephenson has struggled mightily since reaching Double-A. In now his third Double-A season, the promising right-hander is 9-16 with a 4.87 ERA.

That's not to say there isn't serious potential here—there most assuredly is. In 39.1 innings pitched, Stephenson's recorded 46 strikeouts. That's serious. The problem is his control. He's averaging 6.6 walks per nine innings. Command has plagued him since reaching Double-A, after he finished averaging seven walks per nine innings in 2013.

 

2012: Nick Travieso SP, Jesse Winker OF, Jeff Gelalich OF

Nick Travieso is developing fine as the Reds' No. 8 prospect. He's 2-4 with a 3.88 ERA and 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings. He's just in High-A, so it's unlikely we'll see him anytime soon.

Jesse Winker is the other Top 100 MLB prospect the Reds are sitting on and the Reds' No.3 prospect, according to Baseball America. Prior to his wrist injury last season, Winker was killing it. But since reaching Double-A last season, Winker is slashing .225/.341/.333.

That could be just due to a cold start—Winker did impress in the Arizona Fall League (hit .338). Still, there's no reason to suggest he's regressing or anything yet, not unless his averages remain like this for the whole season. 

Winker is considered by man to be the heir to Jay Bruce's throne in left field. 

Jeff Gelalich is now in his fourth minor league season. He's still hovering around High-A and is only slashing .240/.326/.332. This left-handed hitter is a working project, often displaying flashes of potential, but he lacks consistency. 



2013: Phillip Ervin OF, Michael Lorenzen SP

Ervin bats behind Gelalich for the High-A Daytona Tortugas. It's the highest level of competition he's seen, and thus far he is handling it fine, slashing .253/.338/.460 in 202 plate appearances. 

Ervin wasn't listed as an organizational top prospect, but he's coming off a poor season in Dayton, where he hit just .238.

Michael Lorenzen, the No. 4 organizational prospect, has been an incredible draft pick so far. Lorenzen was pitching in Double-A last season. He started this year in Triple-A, and following season-ending surgery for Bailey, he's pitching in The Show and doing it well (1-1, 3.12).



2014: Nick Howard RHP, Alex Blandino SS

A closer in college, the Reds tried converting Howard to a starter, and prior to this season, it was looking like a good move. This season has been brutal for Howard, though, and following a bad stretch where he surrendered 10 earned runs in three starts and never made it out of the fourth inning, he was moved back to the bullpen.

After three scoreless appearances from the bullpen, Howard's been roughed up. He's sporting a 7.03 ERA and a WHIP over 2.00.

Alex Blandino, however, is performing well in the same lineup as Ervin and Gelalich. He's slashing .319/.405/.448. Numbers like this make him an enticing heir to Zack Cozart's throne.

Krisky's last picks, minus Lotzkar, were all good. The jury is still out on Jocketty's 12 picks. Three of the 12 became Latos, who ultimately became Anthony DeSclafani, so hard to knock those. Two of the 12 are currently in the Reds starting rotation. The other seven are in development, but none of them above Double-A.

Still, from a pitching stance, the pipeline seems stocked with future contributors, provided they make it.

Stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com unless noted otherwise. Organizational rankings compliments of BaseballAmerica.com while Top-100 prospects come from MLB.com.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Reds’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 8

The Cincinnati Reds are struggling mightily right now, and if you're hoping for something different on the farm, there's little for you here. A dentist's lobby sounds more comfortable than Walt Jocketty's office at the moment. Without further ado, here are the stock reports for the Reds' top 10 prospects.

 

10. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

This young man's stock was trending down in Week 1. As of Week 8, it's plummeting like Tesla. He's slashing .212/.252/.386. That's similar to what Jay Bruce is doing, only he's doing it against Triple-A pitching.

He's only 38 games into the season, 138 plate appearances total, but his development seems arrested. He only slashed .262/.331/.389 last year—and that was in Double-A. More alarming, now in his seventh minor league season, Rodriquez is slashing a career .257/.311/.394. This is his first season in Triple-A.

There aren't any power numbers to line it in silver. He has 44 home runs total in, again, his seventh season. Rodriguez is only 22 years old, but if you're looking for evidence that suggests a turnaround, I don't have any.

Stock: Down

 

9. Aristides Aquino, OF

Aristides Aquino has only played in 16 games and has 58 plate appearances for the Dayton Dragons, but he's batting .226/.288/.321. This 21-year old is currently in his fifth minor league season within the Reds organization; his first two were in the Dominican Summer League.

His fifth-year slash line is a far cry from the .292/.342/.577 he slashed with the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs in 2014. 

Stock: Down

 

8. Nick Travieso, RHP

Overall, the Reds' 2012 first-round draft pick is doing just fine as a starter for the High-A Daytona Tortugas. He's 2-3 with an ERA of 3.71 in eight starts and has recorded 37 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched. 

But it's been a rough May for Travieso, especially over his last two brutal starts in which he's allowed seven earned runs in his last 10 innings pitched. Travieso has allowed 45 hits in that time and has a benign WHIP of 1.35 because of it, but he's only walked 14 batters.

Timing is everything—his stock could improve by his next start. I wouldn't advise selling. 

Stock: Down

 

7. Amir Garrett, LHP

The 6'5" former St. John's University basketball player is performing well with the Daytona Tortugas. In eight starts, he's 1-3 with a healthy 3.03 ERA. In 35.2 innings pitched, he has 36 strikeouts and 17 walks.

Garrett hasn't allowed more than three earned runs all season. He struggled with command in his last start, surrendering three walks and three earned runs, making for an early exit at 4.2 innings. But if three earned runs is his worst start of the year—and it is—then he's doing well.

Stock: Up

 

6. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

You see for yourself. On the year, Anthony DeSclafani has been a great addition to the big league staff. He's 2-4 in eight starts and has a 3.80 ERA to show for it. Any team would take that from a prospect that, on a healthy roster, would probably be a No. 4 or 5 starter.

But he's a No. 3 right now following Homer Bailey's season-ending surgery, and it's been a hard May for the 25-year-old right-hander. He's given up 19 earned runs in his last four starts, but it's not by any measure terrible—two of the starts were quality starts. He surrendered six earned runs in his introduction to the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, but that's not knocking his stock. Not here.

He's been everything the Reds could have hoped for so far.

Stock: Up

 

5. Nick Howard, RHP

The Reds are changing the plans for last year's first-round draft pick. Nick Howard entered a stretch of starts in the middle of April that ended with him returning to the bullpen. He gave up 10 earned runs in that time and never made it further than the fourth inning. 

His command has been poor all year as a starter. In his five starts, Howard went 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA and a really disappointing WHIP of 1.83. That's why he's back in the bullpen now, where the Reds found him closing games in the College World Series.

In two innings of relief, he's given up no runs. He struck out a batter in each, something the young right-hander is very good at. In his last start before going to the bullpen, Howard only lasted three innings, in which he gave up three earned runs and walked six batters— and struck out seven.

Perhaps Howard is right where he needs to be.

Stock: Down, but trending up.

 

4. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Michael Lorenzen is another rookie whose growing pains we're witnessing at the MLB-level, a notable feat for someone who didn't make the roster out of spring training. He has been very serviceable to a team in need of emergency arms.

In three Triple-A Starts, Lorenzen is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA. In three starts with the Reds, he's 1-1 with an impressive 2.81 ERA. He's since been relegated to a bullpen capacity in favor of Jason Marquis. As a reliever, he's allowed three earned runs in three innings pitched, though all three came against the World Series champions in one appearance. 

The Reds could really use his services as a starter, though his innings pitched will undoubtedly play a role in his utilization.

Stock: Up

 

3. Jesse Winker, OF

With Bruce doing so poorly, there are few prospects that encourage Reds fans more than Jesse Winker. Unfortunately, it's been a bad 2015 for him, too.

Winker's slashing a poor .227/.329/.320 and has just two home runs in 128 at-bats this season. He only played in 21 games last year for the Double-A squad and slashed just 208/.326/.351. Injury definitely played a factor, but when you consider how he's doing this year, it's going to hurt his stock.

Winker has four hits in his last 21 at-bats.

Stock: Down

 

2. Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Raisel Iglesias is another Reds prospect that is already contributing at the major league level, marking the third player on this list to be called up. In two starts for the Reds, he's 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. 

Like Lorenzen, he's also coming out of the bullpen right now in favor of Jason Marquis. He allowed two runs in his most recent appearance against the American League champion Kansas City Royals, and a run before that against the Giants, but both of his starts were really productive.

Iglesias can be very serviceable from the bullpen, but the Reds should utilize one of these two young starts to replace Marquis, provided their interest is still to compete.

Stock: Idle

 

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

We end this inventory on a bad note. The Reds' coveted 2011 first-round draft pick and No. 1 prospect according to BaseballAmerica.com is currently 2-4 in seven starts with a 5.45 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP.

First the good: The young right-hander has 35 strikeouts in 34.2 innings pitched. That's good. He also has 24 walks in that span. And that's bad. In one start, he walked seven batters.

It just hasn't been good for the Reds' No. 1 prospect. Since reaching Double-A in 2013, Stephenson is 9-16 with a 4.89 ERA.

In SportingNews.com's most recent "Risers and Fallers" article by Frank Neville, both the Reds' top-two prospects in Winker and Stephenson were listed as "fallers," for what that's worth.

Stock: Down

 

Stats courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of May 22. Minor league game stats are from FanGraphs.com.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Reds’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 8

The Cincinnati Reds are struggling mightily right now, and if you're hoping for something different on the farm, there's little for you here. A dentist's lobby sounds more comfortable than Walt Jocketty's office at the moment. Without further ado, here are the stock reports for the Reds' top 10 prospects.

 

10. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

This young man's stock was trending down in Week 1. As of Week 8, it's plummeting like Tesla. He's slashing .212/.252/.386. That's similar to what Jay Bruce is doing, only he's doing it against Triple-A pitching.

He's only 38 games into the season, 138 plate appearances total, but his development seems arrested. He only slashed .262/.331/.389 last year—and that was in Double-A. More alarming, now in his seventh minor league season, Rodriquez is slashing a career .257/.311/.394. This is his first season in Triple-A.

There aren't any power numbers to line it in silver. He has 44 home runs total in, again, his seventh season. Rodriguez is only 22 years old, but if you're looking for evidence that suggests a turnaround, I don't have any.

Stock: Down

 

9. Aristides Aquino, OF

Aristides Aquino has only played in 16 games and has 58 plate appearances for the Dayton Dragons, but he's batting .226/.288/.321. This 21-year old is currently in his fifth minor league season within the Reds organization; his first two were in the Dominican Summer League.

His fifth-year slash line is a far cry from the .292/.342/.577 he slashed with the Pioneer League Billings Mustangs in 2014. 

Stock: Down

 

8. Nick Travieso, RHP

Overall, the Reds' 2012 first-round draft pick is doing just fine as a starter for the High-A Daytona Tortugas. He's 2-3 with an ERA of 3.71 in eight starts and has recorded 37 strikeouts in 43.2 innings pitched. 

But it's been a rough May for Travieso, especially over his last two brutal starts in which he's allowed seven earned runs in his last 10 innings pitched. Travieso has allowed 45 hits in that time and has a benign WHIP of 1.35 because of it, but he's only walked 14 batters.

Timing is everything—his stock could improve by his next start. I wouldn't advise selling. 

Stock: Down

 

7. Amir Garrett, LHP

The 6'5" former St. John's University basketball player is performing well with the Daytona Tortugas. In eight starts, he's 1-3 with a healthy 3.03 ERA. In 35.2 innings pitched, he has 36 strikeouts and 17 walks.

Garrett hasn't allowed more than three earned runs all season. He struggled with command in his last start, surrendering three walks and three earned runs, making for an early exit at 4.2 innings. But if three earned runs is his worst start of the year—and it is—then he's doing well.

Stock: Up

 

6. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

You see for yourself. On the year, Anthony DeSclafani has been a great addition to the big league staff. He's 2-4 in eight starts and has a 3.80 ERA to show for it. Any team would take that from a prospect that, on a healthy roster, would probably be a No. 4 or 5 starter.

But he's a No. 3 right now following Homer Bailey's season-ending surgery, and it's been a hard May for the 25-year-old right-hander. He's given up 19 earned runs in his last four starts, but it's not by any measure terrible—two of the starts were quality starts. He surrendered six earned runs in his introduction to the World Series champion San Francisco Giants, but that's not knocking his stock. Not here.

He's been everything the Reds could have hoped for so far.

Stock: Up

 

5. Nick Howard, RHP

The Reds are changing the plans for last year's first-round draft pick. Nick Howard entered a stretch of starts in the middle of April that ended with him returning to the bullpen. He gave up 10 earned runs in that time and never made it further than the fourth inning. 

His command has been poor all year as a starter. In his five starts, Howard went 2-2 with a 4.35 ERA and a really disappointing WHIP of 1.83. That's why he's back in the bullpen now, where the Reds found him closing games in the College World Series.

In two innings of relief, he's given up no runs. He struck out a batter in each, something the young right-hander is very good at. In his last start before going to the bullpen, Howard only lasted three innings, in which he gave up three earned runs and walked six batters— and struck out seven.

Perhaps Howard is right where he needs to be.

Stock: Down, but trending up.

 

4. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Michael Lorenzen is another rookie whose growing pains we're witnessing at the MLB-level, a notable feat for someone who didn't make the roster out of spring training. He has been very serviceable to a team in need of emergency arms.

In three Triple-A Starts, Lorenzen is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA. In three starts with the Reds, he's 1-1 with an impressive 2.81 ERA. He's since been relegated to a bullpen capacity in favor of Jason Marquis. As a reliever, he's allowed three earned runs in three innings pitched, though all three came against the World Series champions in one appearance. 

The Reds could really use his services as a starter, though his innings pitched will undoubtedly play a role in his utilization.

Stock: Up

 

3. Jesse Winker, OF

With Bruce doing so poorly, there are few prospects that encourage Reds fans more than Jesse Winker. Unfortunately, it's been a bad 2015 for him, too.

Winker's slashing a poor .227/.329/.320 and has just two home runs in 128 at-bats this season. He only played in 21 games last year for the Double-A squad and slashed just 208/.326/.351. Injury definitely played a factor, but when you consider how he's doing this year, it's going to hurt his stock.

Winker has four hits in his last 21 at-bats.

Stock: Down

 

2. Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Raisel Iglesias is another Reds prospect that is already contributing at the major league level, marking the third player on this list to be called up. In two starts for the Reds, he's 1-0 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. 

Like Lorenzen, he's also coming out of the bullpen right now in favor of Jason Marquis. He allowed two runs in his most recent appearance against the American League champion Kansas City Royals, and a run before that against the Giants, but both of his starts were really productive.

Iglesias can be very serviceable from the bullpen, but the Reds should utilize one of these two young starts to replace Marquis, provided their interest is still to compete.

Stock: Idle

 

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

We end this inventory on a bad note. The Reds' coveted 2011 first-round draft pick and No. 1 prospect according to BaseballAmerica.com is currently 2-4 in seven starts with a 5.45 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP.

First the good: The young right-hander has 35 strikeouts in 34.2 innings pitched. That's good. He also has 24 walks in that span. And that's bad. In one start, he walked seven batters.

It just hasn't been good for the Reds' No. 1 prospect. Since reaching Double-A in 2013, Stephenson is 9-16 with a 4.89 ERA.

In SportingNews.com's most recent "Risers and Fallers" article by Frank Neville, both the Reds' top-two prospects in Winker and Stephenson were listed as "fallers," for what that's worth.

Stock: Down

 

Stats courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of May 22. Minor league game stats are from FanGraphs.com.

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The Cueto Deal Cincinnati Reds’ Walt Jocketty Should Propose at the Deadline

At this juncture, the Cincinnati Reds have no idea what they're going to do at the deadline.

They're 18-17, 6.5 games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Central and just a half game behind the final wild card spot. That makes it particularly challenging for the Reds' brass to decide what to do with this roster at such a pivotal fork in the road, one where the Reds and ace Johnny Cueto probably part ways.

Buy or sell? What the Reds do from now until the deadline will determine that. If the Reds are in a position to compete, it's hard seeing them making any moves that deliver the MLB talent they need to finish the 2015 campaign. It's about payroll, and if there's a scenario where the Reds actually add to it, I'm interested in hearing it.

I think it's fair to suggest if the Reds are participating at the deadline, it's likely as sellers rather than buyers. And with Cueto in the final year of his contract, he's probably the hottest name on the market. The Reds have other valuable assets: Aroldis Chapman, Brandon Phillips and even Jay Bruce as a sell-low candidate. 

But if the Reds fall out of contention, there is one name that is all but certain to move. And there's one team in particular that is looking more and more like the most suitable partner.

 

Reds Johnny Cueto for Boston Red Sox Brock Holt, Henry Owens and Garin Cecchini

If you frequent Bleacher Report, you might have read about this trade suggestion last week. The response was underwhelming at best, as many people quickly dismissed this trade because the Reds were giving up everything for not enough in return.

However, I believe that to be inaccurate. First, consider what's happening in the Reds' right field. Bruce's mind is somewhere out there with Voyager, passing planets, stars and baseballs. He's slashing an unprecedented .162/.272/.333. Maybe it's just a funk, but how long is management willing to apply the scientific method with Bruce during games that count?

If their hypothesis is that he's just slumping—and it should be, unless you can point to any other season in eight years when Bruce has done this—then who knows, maybe he's close to breaking out of it. But what if he's not?

Bruce's contract runs through 2016 with a team option for 2017. Even though Jesse Winker is known, Brock Holt is performing at an MLB level right now. He's slashing .309/.382/.441. And it's not just a good season he's having.

His official rookie year was last season, and all he did was slash .281/.331/.381 with 126 hits in 106 games played, including four home runs. He's making just $531,000.

Bruce is making $12 million this year. Holt helps in so many ways, from a performance and a money stance. The Reds have to prepare a replacement for Bruce. Winker is hitting .239 in Double-A.

Henry Owens is 22 years old and a first-round draft pick from 2011. He's not having a great season thus far in Triple-A. He's 2-2 with a 4.06 ERA in just over 30 innings pitched. But in four complete minor league seasons, he's 42-18 with a 3.40 ERA.

MLB.com lists Owens as the No. 20 prospect in all of baseball. He also is a lefty, a luxury the Reds haven't enjoyed in the rotation since Travis Wood.

Like most young pitchers, he struggles with command. He walked six batters in his last minor league start against the Columbus Clippers, a minor league squad that also roughed up Michael Lorenzen.

The Red Sox have a couple players the Reds could ask for in return to cement this deal. Garin Cecchini is a name that makes sense. He plays third base and outfield, making him another candidate to replace either Bruce or Marlon Byrd, who is just a temporary solution.

In five minor league seasons, he slashed .291/.386/.423. He's now with the Boston Red Sox, slashing .258/.351/.452. He also bats left-handed, so the Reds would replace one left-handed slugging right fielder for another.

So for Cueto, the Reds would get a MLB top-100 prospect and two other solid contributing MLB players. Most of the Red Sox top prospects are other pitchers, so the Reds could even ask for one of them instead of the hitters listed above.

Yoan Moncada, who MLB.com lists at the No. 9 prospect in baseball, also could be had for Cueto. He's drawing hype comparable to Jorge Soler as another Cuban hitting machine. From his info on MLB.com's list:

Moncada sparked a bidding war among teams that landed him a $31.5 million bonus from the Red Sox. That's the largest bonus ever given to an amateur player, eclipsing the $16.25 million (deferred over 11 years) Aroldis Chapman got from the Reds in 2010.

Factor in the matching $31.5 million penalty that Boston had to pay for exceeding its international bonus pool, and the total outlay for his services was $63 million.

So maybe the Reds would have to deal Cueto for Moncada straight up? Regardless, the Reds need a replacement for the 33-year-old Phillips, whose contract is up after 2017, the year Moncada is expected to arrive.

Considering what the Reds have to deal and what the Red Sox need (worst rotation ERA in baseball), these two teams seem like obvious partners at the deadline…if the Reds are selling.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com, unless noted otherwise.

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3 Trades the Cincinnati Reds Should Already Be Thinking About

Based on your general disposition, you see the Cincinnati Reds in one of the two following lights: They're a team at or floating around .500 with baseball's worst OBP and worst bullpen ERA, or they're a team at .500 and tied for the remaining wild-card slot.

History suggests Reds owner Bob Castellini will see the latter. He's a competitive soul, so long as the Reds can sniff a playoff spot, don't expect them to sell.

Still, given both scenarios, if the Reds make any deals this year, it is likely they'll hit the market as sellers rather than buyers. They'd rather subtract payroll than add more. So if the Reds fall out of contention, the following is a short list of trades they should be thinking about.

 

Johnny Cueto, SP

If the Reds are selling, consider Johnny Cueto the Apple Watch. He's the biggest trade chip the Reds have, and he's guaranteed to bring a sizable return for any team willing to make itself an immediate World Series contender.

Any team trading for Cueto at the deadline is probably already good enough to be in contention. Cueto would make that team good enough to win it all.

His price tag is unclear. Last year, the Tampa Bay Rays were in a similar situation with ace David Price, who was also in the final year of his contract. When they finally moved Price, they received Drew Smyly, a talented MLB-ready starter (now 19-14 with a 3.23 ERA in three years), infielder Willy Adames, rated the No. 77 prospect by MLB.com this year, and infielder Nick Franklin from the Seattle Mariners, a first-round draft pick from 2009.

That's a sizable return for the Cy Young-winning Price. Cueto doesn't have a Cy Young, but he finished No. 2 last year in National League voting, and he's already off to a good start in 2015.

The Boston Red Sox are a suitable match. They have the second-worst rotation in baseball and the worst rotation in the American League. They do have Henry Owens, an impressive left-hander in Triple-A. They also have a good, young left-handed batting outfielder in Brock Holt, who's hitting .278/.388/.450 this season at the major league level.

Marlon Byrd is only a temporary solution, and 2016 is rapidly approaching for Jay Bruce, so Holt would be a natural request. They also have Deven Marrero, a 2012 first-round draft pick who is now a Triple-A shortstop hitting .291/.368/.659.

 

Brandon Phillips, 2B

Remember, this is only if the Reds are selling. And if they're selling, there's no reason to keep Brandon Phillips and his contract on the payroll. He's having a good season by every measure, slashing .316/.343/.357, and that's why he must be moved if the Reds are selling.

His value will never be higher.

After the Reds failed to move Phillips last year during the offseason, expect them to try again. It may not be far-fetched to see Walt Jocketty package Cueto with Phillips, though, in fairness, Phillips should be performing well enough to require a decent return—maybe a top-10 prospect, depending on how persuasive Walt can be on the phone. 

It's not just his bat. He's healthy, and his defense is as good as ever. Phillips has become a valuable trade chip in a short time. If he can keep his production up, especially at this rate, the Reds should have no problem flipping him.

With the New York Mets' David Murphy hitting .210 in 100 games, the Mets could be potential suitors. Eric Sogard has been underwhelming in Oakland, so Phillips is also an option for Billy Beane, who won't hesitate to fill a need at the deadline. 

In all likelihood, moving Phillips would be more about payroll reduction and less about return.

 

Jay Bruce, OF

Jay Bruce is a sell-low candidate, but considering his contract is up in 2016, the Reds have to consider getting something for him if they want to rebuild. 

Bruce is slashing a miserable .176/.290/.396—this following his worst career year, a year in which he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery. Neither his current slash line nor last year's is remotely close to his career numbers.

If the Reds are trying to rebuild, Bruce won't be a part of it. And he won't bring much back—maybe a good prospect. Most people would have expected more for a talent as prized as Bruce.

Bruce is a good option to deal for on the cheap and stick in the middle of a lineup. Despite a poor slash line, he has 15 RBI, third on the team. 

How valuable is the RBI stat when measuring a player's value? 

Bruce has been a memorable part of this team's core for a long time, but with his contract nearly up, he makes for an easy trade candidateunfortunately in the sell-low category. 

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Early Grades for All of Cincinnati Reds’ Offseason Acquisitions

With April over and the Cincinnati Reds' record at 11-11, there's a tiny sample size worthy of attention. Not that any player's April is indicative of what to expect, but it's interesting to see how the offseason acquisitions are contributing and if their contributions are living up to expectations.

It's not pretty, but it's not the whole story—not even half of it. Still, the games in April count just as much as the ones in September, and the following is a list of all of the Reds' offseason acquisitions and how they're doing so far.

 

Marlon Byrd, OF

Despite a few flashes of the raw power Walt Jocketty was expecting to add to the middle of this lineup, Marlon Byrd has largely struggled. He's slashing .169/.188/.273 and has eight RBI, two home runs and two doubles.

Byrd's struck out a team-high 25 times, though in fairness, he shares the lead with Jay Bruce. There isn't another Red on the team with 20 strikeouts.

One reason for Byrd's early struggles? He swings at nearly everything. Byrd has an O-Swing percentage of 46.6, the highest of his career. Nearly half of the pitches Byrd is swinging at are out of the strike zone. His current line is a reflection of why Joey Votto's approach is always more desirable.

Byrd just needs to slow it down. He's swinging at 63.9 percent of the pitches he sees—again, the highest of his career. Expect better if and when he finally slows it down, but for now, wolf.

Early Grade: D- 

 

Brennan Boesch, OF

It's hard grading a guy who has just 16 at-bats on the season, but that's life as a pinch hitter. Brennan Boesch is slashing a poor .188/.235/.250 with one double. And there's just not a lot to assess beyond that. Sixteen at-bats is a sneeze.

Boesch has demonstrated pretty solid plate discipline, swinging at just 37.1 percent of balls outside of the strike zone. His BABIP is .273, so good things happen when Boesch puts the ball in play. It's just too small of a sample size to digest and interpret.

However, this is the role we knew he'd have. The question is how Boesch hasn't gotten any starts over Byrd yet. Tough luck.

Early Grade: D


Anthony DeSclafani, SP

So far, it's been a pleasure to watch this kid work. In four starts, Anthony DeSclafani is 2-1 with a 1.04 ERA and a ridiculous 0.77 WHIP. The 25-year-old has 22 strikeouts compared to just six walks.

He's yet to face a potent offense, or at least one that's been potent in April. He's faced the Chicago Cubs twice, who boast a lot of big names but are just No. 8 in National League offense. The Pittsburgh Pirates are No. 9 in the NL.

Still, he's been instrumental in the Reds escaping April at .500. And now that Homer Bailey's injured, DeSclafani's role will ascend to No. 3 status. How he responds to the unexpected elevation in role and expectation will be fun to watch.

Early Grade: B+



Burke Badenhop, RP

Now that we've gotten to the bullpen, it's going to get ugly. At the very least, a D- lets you slip through the cracks and advance. But this bullpen—currently MLB's worst era at 5.86—has really hurt the Reds early.

Badenhop shares some of that blame. He's appeared in nine games and has seven innings pitched. He boasts a raunchy 15.43 ERA, has surrendered 16 hits (in seven innings) and has only four strikeouts.

Batters love Badenhop; they're hitting .457 off him. He's just not getting it done.

Early Grade: F

 

Kevin Gregg, RP

April was a turbulent introduction to Cincinnati for Kevin Gregg, who is easily the most polarizing Red at the moment. The 36-year-old's start has been nothing but brutal. The highlights of his April are two holds. Here are the negatives: 0-2, 9.00 ERA, eight earned runs off nine hits in eight innings and three memorable home runs.

It's just been awful. Gregg has really struggled, despite recording nine strikeouts. That's impressive, sure, but the damage he's caused has been tangible.

Early Grade: F

 

Raisel Iglesias, SP/RP

Raisel Iglesias has been in Triple-A since his decent performance against the St. Louis Cardinals. His 5.40 ERA in five innings comes from surrendering three runs. He was one inning short of a quality start but received a no-decision for his effort in a game the Reds eventually lost.

He's been hit around a bit in Triple-A. In 9.2 innings pitched, he's given up 11 hits and four earned runs. But he's started both games he's appeared in, and it's likely he'll get put into a bullpen capacity for the Reds.

Early Grade: C

 

Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs, while traditional stats and league rankings courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.

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Playing Patience or Panic for Several Cincinnati Reds’ Troubling Early Starts

Most reasonable baseball fans would think an article debating panic or patience in April is a little forward, if not plain aggressive. But if it's late enough for a pregame manager meltdown with the press, perhaps it's late enough to wonder aloud about a few struggling players on the Cincinnati Reds.

At 8-8 and No. 3 in the National League Central, there's no reason to panic, despite Bryan Price's Michael Scott approach to keeping calm. The following is a brief list of players and personnel who have struggled out of the gate and a look at their likelihood of rebounding.

 

Marlon Byrd, OF

Marlon Byrd is currently slashing a miserable .127/.140/.200 with just seven hits in 55 at-bats. He has one home run in 15 games.

Byrd is a year closer to age 40 and coming off the most strikeouts he's ever had in a season, so expecting a mild regression was reasonable. He's already second in team strikeouts. 

At the moment, he's striking out at the highest percentage he ever has in a season at the major league level: 31.5 percent. Furthermore, he's just not making good contact. But how could he when he's sporting the highest O-Swing rate he's ever had in his career? At 43.2 percent, nearly half of Byrd's swings are out of the strike zone.

The only thing working in his favor at the moment is that his lowest career batting average by month is in April. Plus, he's had to face two of baseball's top 10 team ERAs thus far, including the Cardinalscurrently baseball's best pitching staff—for six games.

Verdict: Patience

 

Devin Mesoraco, C

Who knows? Devin Mesoraco is in uniform but hardly being used, and the local media apparently isn't allowed to ask. One would think his .095/.208/.095 slash has more to do with this "hip impingement" than anything else, but we honestly don't know.

Still, it seems pretty foolish sweating this kid who has no evidence on record to suggest he's not every bit as talented as he demonstrated last year. He's struggled early against tough pitching while possibly injured.

Verdict: Patience

 

Billy Hamilton, OF

Slashing .211/.297/.316 is definitely problematic at the top of the lineup. Billy Hamilton has 12 hits in 64 plate appearances and nine stolen bases, so he's definitely helping to create runs when he gets on base, but you'd like to see him hit better. His .262 BABIP is due largely to his speed.

Most promising about Hamilton is his maturation in plate discipline. He's walking nearly 10 percent of the time and is swinging at just 40 percent of the pitches he sees—a career low.

It also doesn't help that Hamilton has had to face two top-10 ERAs in nine of the 14 games he's played in. That should average out as he plays weaker pitching. His numbers aren't where the team would like them, but the increase in plate discipline is a promising sign.

Verdict: Patience

 

Kevin Gregg, RP

With a home run-to-fly ball ratio of 27.3 percent, it's just hard imagining how Kevin Gregg is being utilized in such high-leverage situations. Fifty percent of all batted balls off Gregg go in the air, a troubling sign for a pitcher throwing at Great American Ball Park.

Batters are hitting .280 against Gregg. He's surrendered a run in all but one of his six appearances. 

His fastball velocity (90.3 mph) is virtually the same as it was last year, a season in which Gregg finished with a 10.00 ERA in nine innings pitched.

Verdict: Panic, but only because the next occupant of this list demands it.



Bryan Price, Manager

Price demonstrated earlier this week that he doesn't handle pressure very well. A total of 77 F-bombs is a manifestation of serious demons. But it's only Price's second season managing an MLB team, and he's already sounding unhinged.

The atomic presser ultimately means little to the team, but now there's reasonable doubt regarding the skipper. Aside from an amateur composure, his logic leaves entirely too much to the imagination. It's hard validating the utilization of Gregg in high-leverage spots, but he manages to do so unapologetically.

At this point, it's reasonable to expect little from Gregg. If there's a metric out there that suggests he's just the recipient of bad luck, I'm open to it. Until then, you might as well attribute Gregg's line to Price, because at this juncture, Price is probably more at fault for Gregg's damage than Gregg himself.

And I don't think it gets better with Price. It didn't take long, but he's looking more and more like a players' manager, someone who makes decisions based on what's best for a player instead of what's best for the team.

No one faulted him for keeping Johnny Cueto in for 120-plus pitches in the 2-1 victory over the Brewers on April 22, but his rationale for doing so was rather ominous. In a postgame interview with MLB.com's Manny Randhawa, Price offered this regarding his decision to keep Cueto in the game:

I feel in this situation that when push comes to shove, we have a guy that has pitched 240-plus innings for us. If there is anybody that earned that opportunity, it was Johnny. To me, it was more important than everything else today. It really was. I put Johnny Cueto above everything else -- including our ballclub, including the playoff race, etc., because I felt like he earned it.

Making decisions based on what guys "earned" could be a slippery slope.

Price repeatedly asked The Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans how his reporting benefits the Reds in his verbal thrashing of the media. But the same could be asked of Price for logic like that and continually using Gregg in high-leverage scenarios.

Verdict: Panic


Stats courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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Stock Up, Stock Down for Cincinnati Reds’ Top 10 Prospects for Week 1

It's that time again. We're going to check on the Cincinnati Reds' top prospect every single week from now until the season's over or until Johnny Cueto's traded, whatever comes first. Actually, we'll still be doing this if the Reds trade Cueto; it will just feel like the season's over if that happens before October. 

The top 10 Reds prospect list is of course provided by Baseball America and features many players whose stock you're already witnessing move up or down. Nevertheless, we'll visit all 10 and provide a weekly update on the future of this Reds organization, a future which commands even more attention now with the likely departure of Johnny Cueto and possibly the beginning of a reloading period. 

 

10. Yorman Rodriguez, OF

The Louisville Bats are just seven games into the season, so treat the following sample size with the reverence it deserves. He's slashing just .217/.308/.391 in 23 at-bats. He's recorded five hits, including a double and a home run. 

Unfortunately, he's struck out eight times, and in seven games, you'd like to see fewer strikeouts than games played. Considering that and his slashing line, the young man's stock isn't so high at the moment. But he had a mediocre year last season as well. In 119 games in Double-A, Rodriguez slashed .262/.331/.389. In 2013, he finished the season ranked as the Reds' No. 5 prospect. He was unranked last year and sits at the bottom of the top 10.

Stock: Down

 

9. Aristides Aquino, OF

Aristides Aquino has only seven games played as well, so again, sample size. He's slashing .192/.185/.231 and has struck out a whopping 10 times. It's been a rough start for the young slugger, but there's reason to believe he'll rebound.

Last year, Aquino saw the most at-bats he'd ever had in a single season. He slashed .292/.342/.577, had 83 hits in 71 games played, hit 16 home runs and drove in 64 RBI. He only struck out 66 times, fewer than one a game. In fairness, it was only the Pioneer League, but also in fairness, the kid is only 20. 

Stock: Idle

 

8. Nick Travieso, RHP

By now, most are familiar with the Reds' first-round 14th overall draft pick from 2012 Nick Travieso. The Reds have big plans for him, and as of now, he's inspiring plenty of confidence and hope for the future. 

To revisit, last year Travieso went 14-5 for the Dayton Dragons with a 3.03 ERA and an impressive 1.17 WHIP. He recorded 114 strikeouts compared to just 44 walks. And after two games in now the High-A Florida State League, he's picked up right where he left off. 

Travieso's 1-1 with an ERA of 2.19 and 10 strikeouts. His WHIP is currently a filthy 0.81. 

Stock: Up

 

7. Amir Garrett, LHP

This marks the first time that the Reds' 22nd-round pick from 2011 makes their top-10 prospects list. In now his third career minor league season, Garrett is 9-14 with an ERA of 4.09. While that line doesn't pop, he did have an impressive season last year.

Garrett went 7-8 with a 3.65 era in 27 starts for the Dayton Dragons. He recorded 127 strikeouts and just 51 walks. He has yet to pitch in a game this season, but the kid has moxie. According to Brian Linder of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, he's a superb athlete who actually played two years for St. John's and averaged 6.4 points a game. 

The first game he pitched in this season for the High-A Daytona Tortugas was suspended and will resume May 1. But according to Chris Boyle of The Daytona Beach News-Journal, the rain delay was the "only thing that could cool off Amir Garrett and his 95 mph fastball." He struck out five batters in less than three innings before the delay.

Stock: Up

 

6. Anthony DeSclafani, RHP

Anthony DeSclafani has been a pleasant early surprise. In two MLB starts, he's 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA. In 13 innings, he's allowed only seven hits. More impressively, he's struck out 11 batters and walked just three.

The Reds absolutely need this young man to have a big year. So far, he's performed better than the pitcher he was traded for, which means little in April, but if DeSclafani can either replicate or do better than Mat Latos, the Reds are going to be a serious problem for hitters four out of every five days when Homer Bailey returns. 

Stock: Up

 

5. Nick Howard, RHP

Another first-round draft pick, Nick Howard is picking up where he left off as well. He posted a 2-1 record with a 3.74 ERA in 11 games—five of them were starts—as he's finally made the transition from bullpen to starting pitcher.

He's only pitched one game for the High-A Daytona Tortugas, but it was a good one. He went five innings, allowed no runs and struck out three batters en route to his first win of the season. Between Howard and Travieso, the future of the Reds starting rotation is currently trending up.

Stock: Up

 

4. Michael Lorenzen, RHP

Michael Lorenzen is off to a great start. In his first start for the Triple-A Louisville Bats, he went seven innings, allowed no runs, struck out three and only allowed three hits. This is very important considering the Reds' bullpen woes.

He's currently one of two options Cincinnati has to fix the bullpen right now. I get the Reds are grooming him to be a starter. But as this list is demonstrating, there are many promising talents they're grooming to start. Furthermore, would Lorenzen be the first to go from MLB bullpen to starting pitcher? Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn ring a bell?

This kid needed to get called up yesterday. And if not him, someone else still to be called up from this list.

Stock: Up

 

3. Jesse Winker, OF

The fan-favorite slugger is off to a very slow start in Double-A. He's currently slashing .154/.214/.231 with only two hits in 13 at-bats. Sample-size alert—consider the following: Double-A is still the highest he's played in professional baseball. Last year, in 77 games, Winker slashed .208/.326/.351.

Even that's not really a serious sample size—it was only 21 games. But he's yet to perform on the Double-A level. It would literally take one afternoon to change his entire slashing line for this season, so make of it what you will. His stock's not moving up though.

Stock: Idle

 

2. Raisel Iglesias, RHP

Raisel Iglesias hasn't pitched since we saw him pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals, when he allowed three runs in five innings and ended up with a no-decision. He's since been relegated to Triple-A, where he's expected to continue his education as a starter.

Again, that's not necessary right now while the major league club is surrendering vital division games in the eighth inning. Lorenzen or Iglesias could be more serviceable in that role instead of Kevin Gregg, who clearly needs to figure out how to make batters miss meatballs. 

I don't think the place to do that is in the eighth inning for a team that could be selling by the All-Star break. Either Iglesias or Lorenzen can help this team right now.

Stock: Up

 

1. Robert Stephenson, RHP

We end this list with, of course, the unrivaled and undisputed No. 1 Reds prospect, Robert Stephenson. It's been a rough stretch for "The Future." He finished 7-10 with a 4.74 ERA and a WHIP of 1.38 in Double-A last season.

He's still in Double-A, and he lost his first decision by allowing three runs in 5.2 innings. So he's 0-1 with an ERA of 4.76. He enters now his third year in Double-A, so he needs to have a good season this year.

Stock: Down


Stats courtesy of BaseballAmerica.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of April 16.

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Top Candidates to Enjoy Breakout Seasons for Cincinnati Reds in 2015

After a promising first series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cincinnati Reds will look to establish significant territory in the NL Central standings. Their next 19 games will feature NL Central opponents, and 22 of their next 26 games in total. 

That offers plenty opportunity for players on the roster to establish themselves quickly in what aims to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball. There are certain players whose emergence shouldn't be unexpected, while others may be a pleasant surprise.

The following is a short list of the top candidates to enjoy a breakout season in 2015, starting with the more predictable to surprisingly supplemental:

 

1. Jay Bruce 

A breakout? Maybe not quite; he did that years ago. But I like him to rebound in a big way.

Would Jay Bruce hitting better than .217 be a surprise? Consider his entire body of work. Last season featured career lows in BA, OBP, SLG, OPS+, etc, which was a shocker in a year that included mid-season knee surgery.

Now that he's healthy, it's probably more realistic to expect the career .251/.324/.467 hitter who had 30 or more home runs in three straight seasons prior to 2014, at least compared to the .217/.281/.373 of last season. 

He's off to a good start in three games out of 162. But even if he weren't, the evidence suggests, barring injury, that Jay Bruce is going to have a productive season. With the likes of Joey Votto, Todd Frazier and Marlon Byrd all hitting in front of him, he should get more than enough RBI opportunities.

He didn't have a good spring. He only hit .178 in 45 faux baseball at-bats. But he still managed 10 RBI, because they're just a stat of opportunity. That's precisely what the Reds can expect him to do from his spot in the order, which is probably his best utilization. 

If he could give the Reds even .260 or so, with who's in front of him, he can eclipse the 100 RBI mark and please the natives. 

 

2. Jose Rafael Diaz

Or Jumbo, as we know him. The man whose jersey number reflects the amount of pounds he's lost. I can't be the only person who was surprised to see him not get the call in the eighth inning on Opening Day. How hasn't he earned this spot?

"The bullpen will be ever-evolving," Bryan Price recently told John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer. "These guys will cut their roles based on how they performed."

If that's the case, then the selection of Gregg over Diaz makes even less sense, because all Diaz did was get outs last year. He allowed only 13 earned runs in 34.2 innings pitched, and struck out 37 batters. He had eight holds and just three of his 19 inherited runners scored.

Why is there a debate for set-up man? He even had a good spring, when batters hit just .154 against him in seven innings of work. 

Look for Diaz to hopefully end this indecision quickly. That will be up to him, but in terms of which players have done more recently to earn that role, Diaz is unrivaled at the moment.

 

3. Brennan Boesch

Should anything happen to Bruce, Billy Hamilton or Byrd, the Reds, in my opinion, are well equipped to address the void. Furthermore, should either one of the three significantly underperform, they could have competition. 

It may sound like an exaggeration, but grabbing Brennan Boesch was a very calculating move by Walt Jocketty. Yes, he had a ridiculous spring training. He slashed .361/.359/.607 in 61 at-bats, while also leading the team in home runs at four and RBI at 14. While impressive, it's just spring training.

But consider his most recent professional body of work. Yes, it was Triple-A, but he slashed .332/.381/.636 in 407 plate appearances. 

Boesch was released from the Detroit Tigers because of battling thumb and oblique injuries. But he showed real potential. Take it from his own website, BrennanBoesch.com, whose bio reads:

Boesch won the American League Rookie of the Month Award the first two full months he was in the major leagues. He was the starting right fielder for three years with the Detroit Tigers during their dominance of the AL Central, and then with the New York Yankees in 2013 until being sidelined by a shoulder injury.

Cincinnati is a fanbase that can attest to how crippling injuries can be. But the stars may have aligned for the Reds to grab a very talented player at a bargain price. 

When Boesch was called back up to the Los Angeles Angels in August after being demoted in April and then getting another shot in September as a regular guy, he hit in seven of his final 14 games, three of which were multi-hit games.

Who knows what he'll ultimately do for this team? But he's trending way up, and the bottom floor is getting crowded on this guy. 


4. Raisel Iglesias 

No one's sure what to expect from Iglesias. While what little body of work he does have is good, his ZiPS projection (via Fangraph.com) is pretty poor. He's projected to finish with a 4.93 ERA.

A quick look back on what Iglesias had accomplished in Cuba from Mark Sheldon of MLB.com:

Iglesias pitched three seasons for Isla de la Juventud in Cuba's Serie Nacional, the island's top baseball league. He had a 1.68 ERA with 20 walks and 50 strikeouts in 15 games (two starts) during a span of 53 2/3 innings, during the first half of the 2012-13 season, but he struggled with his command in the second half and finished with a 3.29 ERA.

Iglesias turned in a really good spring, although he did struggle near its end. He finished with a 3.68 ERA in six games, three of them starts, in a total of 14.2 innings. He gave up 14 hits but also struck out 14 batters.

Batters finished hitting just .230 against him for the spring, but his last two starts were bad. After allowing no earns runs in every appearance prior, including his first start, he gave up three runs in three innings and then three runs in four innings.

Minus two bad starts, there's plenty of reason to be excited about Iglesias. But he does struggle with control. Iglesias finished with a career 4.6 BB/9 in Cuba, and he issued five walks in six spring training appearances.

But his fastball has movement and he's proven capable of being a serious strikeout pitcher. In seven innings of Arizona Fall League baseball, he finished with a 0.00 ERA while allowing just one hit. The Reds will get their first official look at Iglesias on Sunday.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise

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3 Reasons to Be Optimistic for the Cincinnati Reds’ 2015 Season

The Cincinnati Reds are getting no love.

In the most recent season outlook, Grantland writer Ben Lindbergh's NLC Preview uses a lot of data and makes mathematical projections, and not even the numbers are improving this team's outlook. In case you haven't got around to it, here's an excerpt on why we can expect the Reds to suck in 2015:

Projected Record and Over/Under: 76-86 — PUSH. With [Joey] Votto injured, Ryan Ludwick and [Jay] Bruce banged up and slumping, [Brandon] Phillips declining, [Billy] Hamilton disappointing and [Zack] Cozart being Cozart, the Reds had one of the weakest lineups in baseball last season, despite [Devin] Mesoraco's breakout and Todd Frazier's dependable bat. Votto's return, Bruce's likely rebound and Marlon Byrd's arrival should restore the scoring to a respectable level.

If GM Walt Jocketty keeps the roster intact, the Reds could rival the [Milwaukee] Brewers, but if he resigns himself to a rebuild and deals [Johnny] Cueto and Byrd at the deadline, Reds fans will be in for some bad baseball in the second half.

According to this outlook, if everything goes in the Reds' favor, they should be good enough to compete with the Brewers.

It's hard to knock something so objective. But, you clicked to read why we should be optimistic, and there are a few reasons, actually. The Grantland article makes several predictions that, if true, would probably cause the Reds to perform as poorly as everyone thinks they will. 

First, the article assumes Votto will miss about 40 days. That would be crippling. Second, the projections say Raisel Iglesias will finish with a 4.93 ERA. And finally, the rotation includes Jason Marquis right now, not Homer Bailey. While this is accurate, it shouldn't be the case going past April.

The following is a short list of reasons to be optimistic for the Reds' 2015 season:

1. The team has proven MLB talent. 

No one outside of Cincinnati cares that an almost identical roster managed 90-to-90-plus in three of the last five seasons. But the irrelevance doesn't make it valid. The roster is full of talent. 

Hardly anyone is talking about what the Reds offense could look like. But ESPN's Doug Glanville is. He recently pegged the Reds offense as No. 2 in the National League in a live broadcast on SportsCenter.

With the arrival of Byrd, and hopefully prolonged health for the annual contributors, it's hard not to be excited about the potential of this lineup, which features speed, patience and some power.

Everyone knows what they can expect from a healthy Votto, Phillips and Bruce. And then, of course, there's Frazier and Mesoraco, who became contributors last season. But consider how the bench has performed this spring:

Brennan Boesch: .382/.379/.655
Chris Dominguez: .327/.333/.618
Kristopher Negron: .385/.475/.577

There are suitable options off the bench, a luxury the Reds haven't enjoyed in a long time, minus former fan-favorite Chris Heisey, who is no longer with the team.

The Reds currently boast an MLB top-10 offense this spring, and at +36, only three teams in all of baseball have a better run differential. It's not necessarily optimism at this point; it's just what is physically happening.


2. The starting rotation has performed well this spring.

This is not by any means is an indicator for success. But it's a lot better than a questionable rotation getting shelled before the season starts. The following is a list of ERAs currently held by the starting rotation:

Cueto: 3.86
Mike Leake: 0.64
Anthony DeSclafani: 3.51
Marquis: 3.46
Iglesias: 3.68

And one unforgettable detail is that this isn't the 2015 rotation, just the one for April. The Reds still stand to gain Bailey and his 3.71 ERA from last year. His ZiPS projection is 3.54 in 173 innings, via Rotochamp.com, where you can see it next to every other projection, most of which all predict a good season out of Bailey.

We know what we'll get from the front of the rotation because we've seen Cueto, Leake and Bailey for years. We know how good they are. We have absolutely no idea how MLB-good DeSclafani will be, or Iglesias.

I take their projections with a grain of salt only because they virtually have no MLB data to base anything on. They're question marks. If even just one of them can replicate what Alfredo Simon gave them last season, the Reds will stand a good chance of winning four out of every five games.


3. 2014 can't happen again.

Nothing analytical about this point, just pure subjective assertion. Everyone's over the injury talk, and they should be—we're like a week from Opening Day. Move on, but don't forget a pivotal lesson we all learned: injuries to critical players have critical consequences.

We watched a team go from winning 90 games in 2013 to winning 76 games in 2014, with virtually an identical roster. Regardless of popular tough-guyisms bestowed upon us by local media, a team isn't going to overcome the loss of that many vital contributors in a season.

Even local media that dismissed injury as a reason for 2014 are finding it harder to validate their previous convictions. Take this dramatic 180 from The Cincinnati Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty in his morning blog just this week:

I saw two more entities pick 'em to finish 5th in the Central. That'd be last, scorekeepers. SI.com and W. Leitch think that way. Leitch figures they'll win 74. Ouch. I'm not known for bubbling optimism, and I'm no FanBoy, but ... doesn't anyone else believe this team can win 85-ish, not barter Cueto at the deadline and at least keep us interested through Labor Day? They can't possibly be as hurt as last year, right? Jay Bruce had an aberration last season, not a definition, yes? Joey Votto will be back to his new self, getting OB 40 percent of the time, depending on others to provide the semi-meaningless RBI, yeah?

Why no love for the Redlegs?

Why no love for the Redlegs? A great question, as there were probably readers asking Daugherty the same thing last September when he wrote this:  

Do not go into the offseason believing this year was an injury-fueled aberration.

Do not believe that a healthy Joey Votto would have made a 15-game difference. Or even a 10-game swing. Ten games better would still put the Reds a game behind Pittsburgh, for the second wild card.

Do not think the season would have been a roaring success with Mat Latos healthy in April and May, with Homer Bailey whole now. Believing that health is the answer is a fool's game. Who's healthy this year might not be next year. 

This isn't about any one columnist. I'm simply making the point that not even the most ardent and unforgiving of critics last year can stand by what they wrote. And we shouldn't either.

The negative outlook surrounding the Reds, mathematically, incorporates data from a time when it didn't matter. National analysts and computers only care about the data, which is never a bad thing. But that's data from a bombed and depleted 76-win Reds team. That's data on two pitchers, Iglesias and DeSclafani, who have virtually no MLB data on them. 

I think the outlook for this season is grossly underrated. And on that note, I must defer to Chuck D and Flavor Flav.

Stats courtesy of MLB.com, unless noted otherwise.

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5 Things We Learned About Cincinnati Reds in Spring Training

So long as no one asks any current or former Cincinnati Reds about anything related to hitting philosophy, the time is ripe to realign our focus back to the game. It's almost time for real baseball, and there are a few observations we can make on what will soon be the 2015 roster.

Without dissecting everyone's performance in faux baseball, let's discuss some of the universal takeaways from camp. The following is a short list of five things we learned about the Reds in Goodyear:


1) Marlon Byrd can still swing it and the offense looks better. 

At 37 years old, there's reasonable skepticism surrounding how much Marlon Byrd will contribute—especially coming off a year where he slashed just .264/.312/.445 and struck out a career high of 185 times.

In 33 at-bats this spring, Byrd is slashing a freakish .394/.444/.515. He has struck out six times and walked twice. He has 13 hits in 12 games played. And while he hasn't homered, he does have three extra base hits. 

Because of his age and his mediocre performance last year, Byrd needed to have a good spring. Not literally, but you have to imagine he's feeling good about it. And that's important for a Reds team in need of power bats in the middle of the lineup. 

Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs.com wrote about Byrd's potential as an older player helping another contender around last year's trading deadline:

Down the stretch a year ago (2013), the Pirates plugged in Byrd and watched him slug .486. There’s a chance now for some team to get similar production over a broader window. In terms of long-term value, he might not be perceived to be Mark Trumbo's equal, but in terms of short-term value, Byrd looks not even a little bit worse. 

Despite such a powerful slashing line, it should be noted that Byrd has just three RBI. In comparison, Todd Frazier has seven. RBI guys are indeed a special breed, and one wonders how someone slashing that well has so few. But then again, the RBI guy himself, Brandon "DatDudePhillips, only has two.

Most notable? The Reds boast the fourth-best run differential in all of (faux) baseball. 



2) The Reds' baserunning is still suspect. 

Hey, it's spring training. This doesn't even count. But none of us forget how dreadful the baserunning was last year, especially when it came to sending guys home. Here's a quick revisit from C. Trent Rosecrans of The Cincinnati Enquirer on just how bad it was: 

BsR is FanGraphs.com's base running component for its WAR calculations, and last season, the Reds' BSR was 27th in baseball. The Reds were 28th in UBR. ... Extra bases taken (XBT%) is the percentage of time a player advances more than one base on a single or more than two bases on a double. Last year, the league average was 40 percent, while the Reds took an extra base 38 percent of the time, ranking 24th in baseball.

You don't have to understand the calculations, just look at their ranking in consideration of every other MLB team.

Pretty horrible.

So far in spring training, the Reds are second in caught stealing and dead last in successful steals. 

Furthermore, how many games did we watch the Reds run themselves out of last year? Ninth inning, two outs, man on—remember all of those? Check out how this particular game against the Cubs ended in spring training from Jeremy Conley of RedLegNation.com:

... The icing on the cake came in the 9th inning. A single, a wild pitch, and a ground rule double had the Reds back in the game at 2–1, with a runner on second and one out. A single by [Brennan] Boesch would have made it first and third with one out, with a decent chance at tying the game, but the Reds sent the runner on a shallow bloop single and got him gunned at the plate. 

Obviously, there's a new third base coach. And again, it's spring training, a perfect time to experiment and see what you're capable of.

But the results were less than optimal. And while we didn't learn that their baserunning still stinks, we haven't learned that it's much better.

 

3) The young guys can pitch. 

Reds manager Bryan Price has to be feeling a lot better about his starting rotation, mainly because of the performance of Anthony DeSclafani, the focal piece in return for Mat Latos. With virtually no MLB experience worthy of mentioning, skepticism was merited because this highly unproven prospect will ascend to the No. 4 role in what hopes to be a playoff contending rotation. 

In five starts, 24-year-old DeSclafani is 1-0 with a 1.83 ERA. He's pitched 19.2 innings, second-most on the team in spring. He's struck out 17 batters and walked only eight. He gave up no home runs and batters hit just a collective .231 against him.

Another young prospect is probably going to play a serious role in the Reds 2015 campaign. Michael Lorenzen, age 23, has certainly established himself as at least supplemental for a Reds bullpen in desperate need of a rebound year. Lorenzen's pitched 11 innings in five games and has a 1.64 ERA to show for it. 

Lorenzen's eight walks are probably why his WHIP is a disappointing 1.45. Batters are hitting just .209 against him, though, and considering he has seven strikeouts in the eight innings he's pitched, he appears ready to help this team a lot sooner than originally thought.

 

4) The Reds will have a bench. 

Boesch is slashing a ridiculous .357/.341/.595. His three home runs and nine RBI are both team highs. Only the Chicago Cubs' Kris Bryant has more home runs than Boesch, so far.

If the Reds could get a line even close to what Boesch has done in 14 games of faux baseball, not only is the bench immediately upgraded, but he could potentially fill in and be very serviceable should the Reds incur any injuries to important contributors in the lineup. 

The 29-year-old can play anywhere in the outfield, which is especially important when your left fielder is 37.

Chris Dominguez has a good shot to make the club, too. He has the most at-bats on the team and is slashing an impressive .302/.311/.558. He has 13 hits in 18 games, including five doubles, two home runs and tied for a team-high nine RBI.

Dominguez and Boesch are the top two in at-bats, so the Reds are definitely wanting to see what they're made of this spring. Expect both to be in uniform, and expect both to be serviceable when called upon. 


5) We have no idea how healthy Joey Votto is. 

Joey Votto has proclaimed good health endlessly, at no fault of his own, but until he plays a 162-game schedule without hitting the DL, the topic will linger. 

But unfortunately, Votto has only played in 10 games and has 23 at-bats. He's slashing .261/.400/.391, so as we can see, he has not forgotten how to beat a pitcher.

His lack of playing time is enough to be curious, not that there's any reason for concern. The point is, we didn't learn anything about him, really.

He's leading the team in walks, because of course, he is. He does have one home run, five RBI and five hits in his 23 at-bats.

 

Stats courtesy of MLB.com, unless noted otherwise.

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Cincinnati Reds Fans Misrepresented: There Is No RBI vs. OBP Debate

If you haven't heard, Cincinnati, USA has become the capital for baseball bigotry, or in more amicable terms, the focal point of a baffling hot topic regarding whether RBI are more or less important than OBP.

What a deep question, tantamount to pondering which arrived first between the chicken and egg. How can there be RBI without baserunners? Yet how can there be victory without RBI?

Sheesh, where do we even begin? Let's start where Descartes did and go from there: "I think, therefore I am." OK.

On second thought, let's not do that. Three semesters in philosophy are adequate for a lifetime, and furthermore, they're irrelevant. Because there is no debate—or at least no debate regarding what's more important between OBP and RBI. 

It's a distraction, one created by many professionals who suddenly find themselves on the wrong side of the Joey Votto discussion—a debate that is happening. For example, on Cincinnati.com, you'll find popular columnist Paul Daugherty asking the following satirical question in his morning blog: "Can the Reds win without RBI?"

Of course, he doesn't author the headlines. But he did pen this:

So, Brandon, my man, get with the program. Take a walk with runners in scoring position. You're not making an out! Allow someone else to collect those worthless RBI, so he can take the crap you're getting now. Pump that on-base, be a hero. When you score because someone drives you in, ask that guy for half his paycheck. He's nothing without you. Allow me to elaborate.

Sophistry of this degree can be polarizing, and it's intentional. Because prior to blogs like this and USA Today's Bob Nightengale's infamous overnight descent into cognitive dissonance, people weren't debating whether RBI were important or not, only if they were important to describing a player's value.

And of course, they're not, because as more than a million sources have probably noted, RBI are a statistic of pure opportunity.

I will skim the topic and move on, so apologies to readers who will find this redundant. 

Good hitters who constantly hit and reach base bat third or fourth for this very reason. But the RBI they garner from those spots don't define their skill: their batting average, their OBP, their slugging—those are just a few things that can tell you about a hitter's skill. RBI are more about who's in front of him.

And while the topic surfaced back in 2013, very few fans were having this discussion beyond the scope of Votto, because very few people, especially fans of a professional baseball team, are going to complain about too many people reaching base or RBI. Both typically synonymous with winning.

I mean, the discussion was happening, but it was mainly relegated to obscure websites, blogs and my mother's basement. Really, on a grand scale, no one cared. Baserunners are cool; runs are cool; everyone's cool.

Joey Votto lies at the crux of this discussion. Let me reiterate: If there is indeed a debate happening in Cincinnati, it is not about whether RBI or OBP matters more. It is about whether Joey Votto is still just as valuable to the Reds now as he was when he was hitting 37 home runs in a year and driving in 100-plus RBI. 

If there's any debate, that's it. Some fans have said yes; some fans have said no. Some Hall of Fame broadcasters have been verbally scathing toward Votto's unapologetic willingness to walk and not expand the zone, and others, such as Doug Gray from RedsMinorLeagues.com, have offered the following in response:

And that's where the smoke and mirrors come in. Because professionals like Marty Brennaman, Paul Daugherty and, to a degree, Bob Nightengale (his BP interview was slanted and misleading—see this article by Wick Terrell of Red Reporter for more) have absolutely nothing to validate their rationale. And in the absence of any data that proves extending the strike zone and sacrificing outs for runs win more games, they've masterfully turned the topic on its head. 

If the fact that we're discussing whether RBI or OBP is more important sounds silly, it's because it's meant to be. It's the quintessential straw man. 

Today, it's not about whether Votto's still uber-valuable to the Reds, hitting .305 with an OBP in the high .400s without 25 home runs and 100 RBI—because of course he is. There's nothing, nothing out there to suggest the opposite. So they change the discussion.

More from Paul Daugherty's blog:

Nobody seems to want to answer the question, only to insult me: If no one drives you in, what does it matter that you get on base? If scoring runs is the object -- and I believe it is -- OBP is not the full answer. Is it? 

Simply visit the link and find numerous answers to his question. Whether he reads them is another matter.

But are those advocating for Votto's approach really trying to tell us that OBP is more valuable than RBI? Or are they just trying to tell us that Votto's production circa 2013, his last healthy season, is still pivotal to the Reds' success? That it's still extremely valuable and desirable? 

The point is, Votto doesn't need to perform like he did in 2010 to validate his contract, because if runs are the objective—and like Daugherty, I too believe they are—then when Votto leads all of baseball in runs created like he did in 2013, a year he drove in only 73 RBI, it becomes alarmingly transparent that RBI are a weak measure of merit.

But if RBI are a weak measure of merit, how would Brennaman, Daugherty and Nightengale defend their convictions? 

That's the point. Creating an OBP vs. RBI scenario deflects attention from what is simply misguided criticism on behalf of experts who have to know better. It's a refusal to admit that Votto's approach is stunningly satisfying and quite conducive to the Reds winning, without all the bells and whistles of RBI and home runs. 

It's a refreshingly modern approach to judging a player and what he really brings to your team. A more honest approach to tell their story. Those who have nothing to hide embellish and welcome the new dialogue. Those who don't do this.

And that's why in Cincinnati, we're currently talking about whether runs or guys getting on base win baseball games instead. 

*Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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Final Predictions for Cincinnati Reds’ Key Spring Position Battles

The few position battles that were happening within the Reds spring training camp are just about over. When last we visited this topic, the only true battles happening were for the back of the rotation and the bullpen, with a potential for a shortstop scrap. Some players have been removed from the mix, while others have come out of nowhere to win the nod. 

 

SP No. 4 and No. 5 (and No. 3)

This won't be much of a prediction, mainly because it's already been determined. But getting there was not without its curiosities. 

There were several names in this mix for these pivotal spots on the roster. One was David Holmberg, who was removed from consideration earlier this week when the Reds made nine more cuts. Holmberg was 0-1 with a 2.57 ERA over three games and seven innings this spring, but it wasn't enough to get him to April in a Reds uniform.

Bryan Price explained the decision to John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

Having this type of roster and this situation, we had to make some calls fairly early in spring training as far as roles and probabilities with our group. We don't have the ability to give everybody the amount of innings needed to completely evaluate them in spring training. We had to make some decisions.

Since being acquired in the deal for Mat Latos, Anthony DeSclafani has seemingly been a favorite to occupy one of the spots. DeSclafani has pitched a total of nine innings in three starts. He's sporting a 0-0 record with a 3.00 ERA. He's got five strikeouts and three walks in that time.

And, according to Faythe rotation "is set." DeSclafani is included, along with Raisel Iglesias and the dark horse, Jason Marquis.

If you haven't heard what Marquis has done this spring, it's been a shocker. But while impressive, the confidence surrounding this situation can't be that high. It's been a long time since Marquis has experienced success in the MLB

In 20 starts last year with the San Diego Padres, Marquis went 9-5 with a 4.05 ERA. He surrendered 111 hits in 117 innings pitched and finished with a WHIP of 1.52. Currently, his line in spring is 2-1 with a 3.21 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. That's after four starts and 14 innings total. 

It's hard to get excited about Marquis, at least until this performance transitions to when the games count. And frankly, there weren't many better options. If not him, it would probably have been Paul Maholm, who has managed a 1-0, 2.45 line this spring. 

Meanwhile, Iglesias hasn't given up an earned run in 7.2 innings pitched and has six strikeouts in that span. Price explained to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

He's a four-pitch pitcher who really got us excited in Instructional League and fall league with his command of four pitches," Price said. "He's got velocity, movement. He's quick to the plate. He's athletic. He's that type of pitcher that we feel should be given the opportunity to start based on those intangibles.

I like Iglesias to take Marquis' spot when Bailey returns.

 

Shortstop 

In the first look at this battle, I projected that Zack Cozart would probably win what was hardly a battle for his position because the Reds won't be looking for offense out of the No. 8 spot. They were likely to stick with his second-best WAR of any shortstop in baseball, and they did. Price clarified in the aforementioned article:

I like Zack Cozart as our shortstop. I do. What we did with Eugenio is we went out and got the two best players we would be able to get in the (Alfredo) Simon trade," Price said of the trade that brought Suarez and former first-rounder Jonathon Crawford to Cincinnati. "We look at him as an outstanding defensive player, which is the primary concern with a shortstop, the defensive aspect of the position. And we felt that he had a lot of room to grow as an offensive player.

That battle was over before it started, but the Reds will still have nice options off the bench should anything happen to their Gold Glove shortstop. 

 

Bullpen

The rotation battle victors easily gave this one away. Tony Cingrani is going to the bullpen, where the Reds hope to maximize his heavy fastball arsenal. The news obviously came as a surprise to Cingrani, who, according to John Fay, wasn't pleased to say the least.

But because of his arsenal of fastballs, it's a sound strategy, as Fangraphs' Mike Petriello quickly pointed out in a recent article in which he illustrates how no one in the game from 2013-2014 utilized the fastball more:

      Fastball usage, 2013-14, min. 150 IP (179 total pitchers)

  1. Cingrani, 78.6%
  2. Danny Salazar, 68.6%
  3. Juan Nicasio, 68.2%
  4. Shelby Miller, 67.7%
  5. Kevin Gausman, 66.6%

The article points out that in that span of time, Cingrani was No. 12 in strikeout percentage, so he clearly has the ability to miss bats. And when you consider the loss of Sean Marshall, another left arm in the bullpen becomes vital.

The rest of the bullpen should look somewhat similar to last year, with the addition of Burke Badenhop and possibly prospect standout Michael Lorenzen.

 

Bench

There was some competition for the bench by default. And if Brennan Boesch wasn't in the plans before spring training, he most assuredly is now. Boesch is killing it. In 29 at-bats, Boesch is slashing .448/.448/.793. He has a team-high three home runs and seven RBI. He's recorded 13 hits in 11 games.

It's hard to envision a scenario in which he doesn't make the club. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for teammate Jason Bourgeois, who suffered a fractured shoulder. Prior to that, he was slashing .350/.350/.500.

It was this guy's time. Bourgeois slashed .278/.328/.363 last year in Triple-A. Unfortunately, he's out for at least six weeks and will probably go to Louisville when he's healthy. 

Chris Dominguez is looking like a favorite to make it out of spring. He's second behind only Boesch in at-bats and is slashing .259/.276/.481 with one home run and five RBI. He does lead the team in strikeouts with eight, though. 

And with that, the Reds appear nearly ready to assemble their Opening Day roster.

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-reference.com unless noted otherwise and are current as of March 19. 

@GroteT for more.

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Most Disappointing Cincinnati Reds Players in Spring Training so Far

This is just a checkup. It's only a glimpse into faux baseball, one where starters routinely exit after two at-bats and the final score is irrelevant. This is just to provide a sense of who isn't quite performing well when nothing matters, so read into it what you will. 

Last year, Chris Heisey finished the spring batting .310, while Skip Schumaker hit .441. Spring training performances aren't indicative of much, but it's interesting to check it out.

What else are we supposed to discuss until April 6?

 

Todd Frazier

Todd Frazier has a lot to prove a year after slashing .273/.336/.459 and making his first All-Star Game/Home Run Derby appearance. Not only will he be tasked with meeting, at the very least, that kind of production, with 29 home runs and 80 RBI, but many fans see him as a potential vocal clubhouse leader of the team. So expectations on Frazier are reasonably high.

In just 13 at-bats in five games, Frazier is slashing .231/.214/.385. He has three hits, one double and four RBI, with no home runs. It's worth noting he's struck out three times in that span while recording no walks.

It's also worth noting that Frazier has been suffering back spasms, which scratched him from the lineup already and is probably the reason for such a slow start. The Reds slugger has been batting third during spring, so they'll definitely want to see him get more plate appearances.

 

Marlon Byrd

Byrd's only played in five games and has nine at-bats, so it would take literally one afternoon to change his current slashing line of .222/.364/.222. 

The veteran left fielder does have two doubles in that short body of work, including a walk and a strikeout. Unfortunately, he just doesn't have a big enough body of work to adequately assess. The two doubles in nine at-bats is promising. 


Anthony DeSclafani

Desclafani is going to get an abnormal amount of attention. As the possible favorite to take the No. 5 spot in the rotation, a solid spring training for him is pivotal to build confidence. So far, he's off to a slow start.

And let's be very clear: He's pitched five innings in two games. But they've been far from pretty. He's 0-0 with a 5.40 ERA, and hitters are batting .333 against him right now. He's only struck out two batters.

To be fair, Johnny Cueto, Tony Cingrani, David Holmberg and Paul Maholm have five innings pitched as well—no one has an ERA over 1.80. The sample size simply cannot be taken seriously, but again, considering DeSclafani's lack of MLB experience, he's going to be met with heavier skepticism if his spring training doesn't improve.

 

Bullpen, Middle Relief 

When you finish the season as one of the sport's worst bullpens, the goal becomes to rapidly demonstrate that it was a statistical outlier and by no means indicative of what the bullpen can really do.

So far, in early spring, middle relief is playing to a similar beat. Sam LeCure, J.J. Hoover, Manny Parra, Burke Badenhop, Pedro Villarreal and Daniel Corcino—each is currently carrying an ERA we've come to expect from this part of the bullpen. 

To reiterate: The sample size is hardly serious, but if you're checking in on who is off to a slow start after the second week of March, you may not be surprised to discover the usual suspects.

LeCure and Hoover both have four strikeouts in six innings pitched, obviously something you want to see out of relief. But batters are currently hitting .333 against LeCure and .357 against Hoover. Hoover's ERA is 9.00. He's surrendered five hits in three innings pitched and has given up two home runs already.

Badenhop got shelled in his Reds debut. Against the Cleveland Indians, he surrendered five runs (four earned) on five hits in two-thirds of an inning. He's given up eight hits in just 1.2 innings of work. Furthermore, both of his appearances were save opportunities.

There's a reason why prospect standout Michael Lorenzen has a chance to make the Reds roster in a bullpen capacity. John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer asserts, "The decision is a bit of a complicated one because the Reds project Lorenzen as a starter. If he makes the team, it would be almost certainly as a reliever."

Lorenzen hasn't allowed a run in four innings of work and has four strikeouts compared to just one walk in that time. But his inclusion after spring training may depend more on the aforementioned than his own performance.

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3 Reasons Joey Votto Will Have a Big Comeback Year in 2015

The 2014 Cincinnati Reds were loaded with variables, but none bigger than their former MVP Joey Votto. After playing just 62 games last season, Votto uncharacteristically slashed .255/.390/.409 before spending the rest of the year on the disabled list and becoming the catalyst of the OBP vs. RBI conversation.

"A big comeback year" will be interpreted differently. Tea-Martyists will only be content if Votto manages 25-plus home runs and 100-plus RBI. Anything less would be a poor allocation of payroll to many in this camp. 

In my opinion, that ceiling isn't high enough for a player the caliber of Votto. Take Votto's 2013 season, a season in which he was undoubtedly still plagued by issues surrounding his knee yet still slashed .305/.435/.491. He hit 24 home runs and drove in 73 RBI—by all measures a good year, yet it somehow failed to meet the standards of many critics.

More important than 24 home runs and 73 RBI was the fact that in 2013, Joey Votto led the entire National League in runs created (RC). For those who see RC and still think cola, RC is infinitely more valuable than traditional hitting stats like RBI because it attempts to measure a player's total contribution to a team's total run contribution, not just how a hitter performed during opportune times.

Baseball considered RC worthy too—Votto finished No. 6 in MVP voting that season.

Which brings us to 2015. I like Votto to return and contribute in a big way. The following is a short-stack list of reasons why:

 

Time Heals All Wounds

On July 16, 2012, the Reds announced that Votto would need arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee; he was expected to miss three to four weeks. Considering that the area surrounding this knee has been an issue ever since, it's likely they meant three to four years. 

Whatever the case, a lot more time has passed. It doesn't take an M.D. to feel confident about the amount of time Votto has had to recover, it just takes one to say anything more substantive than that. And while he didn't participate in the Reds' first spring training game, the majority of reports surrounding Votto's recovery are overwhelmingly positive.

When asked about how Votto looked before spring training, Bryan Price told Joe Kay of the Associated Press, via The Globe and Mail:

His strength was outstanding and the stamina was good,” Price said. “So we’re just looking at him hitting the ground running when Joey gets out to Goodyear and see with our own eyes where we’re at. But we’re confident he’s going to be ready to go.”2) 4 Straight All-Star Games / MVP Voting (at fraction of strength)

Words are stock seldom worthy of investment, and it's not like Price is going to tell the world his star is still ailing. But until we're given countering evidence, we can only proceed using the information at our disposal. 

In explanation of his early spring training absence, Votto told C. Trent Rosecrans of The Cincinnati Enquirer:

I feel really, really good. I'm surprised at how good I feel this early," Votto said. "I feel like I'm trending toward being able to play games here in the not too distant future. I do feel like I need a little more time, but the time is not a byproduct of avoiding games or not being ready when I need to be ready. It's just to make sure that after taking eight months, 10 months, however long off of baseball, I have to play the game a little bit more to get ready to get the volume in and get the reps it."

 

Overall Roster Health

Not only is Votto's own health a reason he'll make a big comeback, but the health of his teammates is also going to make an enormous difference, especially to those who value his weight in RBI.

The Reds finished with a team OBP of .296. Only one other team in the sport finished with a worse OBP that that. NASA's Curiosity probably reached more mountain bases on Mars in 2014.

There are plenty of reasons why this happened. The Reds didn't hit (No. 2 worst-hitting team in baseball), but they didn't walk, either. The Reds finished an NL third-worst in BB and fifth-worst in the sport.

But what else happens in a year marred by that much injury? Brayan Pena, Ramon Santiago, Chris Heisey, Kristopher Negron, Skip Schumaker—all fine options off the bench, but how many games featured lineups including most, if not all of these players?

At the risk of beating a dead horse, with better health, the Reds are obviously better, because their starters are quality MLB starters. Joey Votto's addition clearly improves the team, but Jay Bruce's recovery following his worst professional year of baseball in seven seasons, Devin Mesoraco's increased usage in the daily lineup, the addition of Marlon Byrd and a more experienced Billy Hamilton, mixed with the .273/.336/.459 slashing line of All-Star Todd Frazier...look, I'm not cold-call selling here, I'm only stating what everyone already knows.

Votto doesn't mind taking a walk, which is somehow polarizing. But what happens when he starts coming to the plate with bases full of Reds? In 2014, Votto saw 107 plate appearances with runners on in the 62 games he played. A whopping 40 percent of those appearances featured a two-out runner on first scenario. 

In 2013, he had 332 plate appearances with men on base in 162 games played. Just 99 of them occurred with two outs and a man on first, not even a third of his appearances with runners on base.

It's no secret why Votto gets so many walks—he's really good. And in 2014, considering 40 percent of all of his appearances with runners on base came with two outs and a man on first, why wouldn't pitchers pitch around him? Any third out that's not Votto is an easier third out when facing the Reds.



Joey Votto is really good at baseball

More than either of the previous two reasons to expect a big comeback year from Votto is the basic fact that he is just really good. His contract now commands more focus than his production, which is somewhat unfair considering how instrumental Votto has been in any degree of success experienced by the Reds.

Slashing a career .310/.417/.533 in six near-full seasons (but eight years to be fair) lands that kind of contract, especially if you have an MVP trophy that needs dusting every now and then.

More than that though, what many people never mention is the fact that he finished in the top six of MVP voting in both 2011 and 2013. That means prior to last year's disaster, baseball writers considered just five other players in the game more valuable than Votto.

Hall of Fame radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman is openly critical of Joey Votto's approach to hitting. Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, other MLB players are openly emulating it (h/t Hardball Talk).  
In 2015, Reds fans are hoping the team creates more runs. Coincidentally, the NL's No. 1 run-creator from 2013 is supposedly healthy again. Lucky them. 

 

Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise

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5 Cincinnati Reds Players Who Will Determine If They’re a 2015 Contender

The stakes are a bit higher this season. Johnny Cueto may be pitching his last season in uniform, and while Mike Leake and Homer Bailey are both front-of-the-rotation-type talents, they are far from ace status. It's hard to succeed without at least one of those.

If the Reds are out of it by the All Star break, expect Cueto to be shipped before August. It would be wasteful to hang onto him then, and many people are already suggesting the Reds trade him now to get optimal value in return. The longer Cueto's in Cincinnati, the more his trade value suffers, as the amount of control a team would potentially have over Cueto lessens daily.

But this is hopefully just meaningless fodder. Because if the Reds play to their potential, they'll undoubtedly compete for the National League Central. There's just too much talent on the roster to not compete and be taken seriously.

The following is a short list of five guys on the roster whose performance will likely determine the trajectory of this team. The list is made up of guys who may have something to prove after last season, so it won't feature all of the obvious must-haves, even if it features some. The list will range from important to critical. 

 

5. Devin Mesoraco, C

Devin Mesoraco was largely responsible for any offense the Reds managed to muster last year. He slashed .273/.359/.534 in 114 games. According to Reds manager Bryan Price, that workload will increase. He offered the following to Hal McCoy of the Dayton Daily News

"I’ve been asked that question a lot about Mesoraco playing first base,” said Price. “How much would he play? Only if Votto was injured. Realistically, I see him as a Yadier Molina type guy who is going to catch 145 games a year, more so than I see him catching 110 a year and playing 20 or 30 at first base."

Increased playing time is definitely a good thing for an offense in need of more production. And at least according to his 2014 splits, he performed great as a starter. He started 105 games and slashed .274/.361/.540. 

Whether or not he's insertable in the middle of the lineup is still a matter of debate. From the fourth spot in the lineup, he slashed .224/.342/.426 in 53 games from that spot. But he hit 10 home runs there, a notable figure, especially if a healthy Joey Votto is batting in front of him.

The Reds need Mesoraco to contribute like he did. His 25 home runs and 80 RBI are enticing, but his .359 OBP says he's insertable virtually anywhere. I like the idea of his playing time increasing, and I think the Reds get better because of it. 

The problem is that last year was the best Mesoraco had hit yet, though it's the most plate appearances he saw in a season. But is it repeatable? Or is Mesoraco somewhere closer to his career .245/.315/.432? His bat will demonstrate as much, but his contribution is all but mandatory. 

 

4. Tony Cingrani, SP/RP

If the Reds are going to win in 2015, it's going to take a lot of #CingraniFace. The biggest variable facing the Reds coming into 2015 is the back end of its starting rotation now that both Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon are pitching in different uniforms. Cingrani makes for an enticing option to fill one of the two spots.

A quick look back at Cingrani's nasty 2014–in 11 starts, Cingrani went 2-8 with a 4.55 ERA before being demoted to Triple-A and ultimately the DL after a shoulder injury. He only managed 63.1 innings before going to Louisville.

For the Reds to compete this season, they'll need the 2013 version of Cingrani, the one who went 7-4 with a 2.92 ERA and a sick 1.099 WHIP. That season, Cingrani had 120 strikeouts in 104.2 innings. What a difference a year makes–he went from a 2.2 WAR in 2013 to a -0.2. 

According to John Fay of The Cincinnati Enquirer, via TwitterCingrani's recovery is going great, and he's ready to go.

A healthy Cingrani legitimizes the back end of the Reds rotation and immediately improves the outlook of the Reds.

 

3. Jay Bruce, RF

Jay Bruce, along with another polarizing, high-paid Red, can be found at the center of most discussions involving the 2014 offense. And with reason. Bruce slashed just .217/.281/.373 in 137 games. He hit only 18 home runs, a steep decline from the 30 in 2013.

Many people will focus on how his RBI went from 109 in 2013 to 66 in 2015. But there's an easy answer for that kind of drop-off. In 2013, the Reds' team OBP was .327, sixth-best in baseball and second in the National League. In 2014, the Reds' team OBP was .296, second-worst in the entire sport.

Correlation never equals causation, but it would take liquid courage to call it a coincidence. 

I also don't think it's much of a coincidence that Bruce suffered his worst professional season in seven years in a year in which he had arthroscopic knee surgery midseason. 

He was hitting just .216 with three home runs before finally going on the disabled list. Considering Bruce is hitting a career .251, in seven years of professional baseball experience, it's hard to pretend like last year was anything more than a statistical outlier related to injury.

Last year was the first season Bruce has hit fewer than 20 home runs. Consider this: Bruce played in 65 wins and 72 losses. In Reds wins, Bruce slashed .276/.337/.470. In losses, he slashed .165/.231/.287.


2. Homer Bailey, SP

If not for the guy sitting in the No. 1 spot, this may be the most critical Red in 2015, minus the obvious ace of the staff, whose contribution goes without saying. With Latos gone, Homer Bailey now becomes the No. 2. His return to form is critical.

And there's no reason to suspect he won't deliver. Prior to last season, which by all means was a great year for Bailey minus the DL, Bailey had decreased his ERA in five straight seasons. He threw over 200 innings in 2012 and 2013. He finished 2014 with 145.2 innings and a 3.71 ERA with a 9-5 record. 

Again, it's a matter of statistical trajectory. Not only did Bailey drop his ERA in five straight years, but his WHIP dropped in five straight years too. And in 2013, Bailey's strikeout-per-nine-innings rate was a career-high 8.6.

Meaning despite putting together a solid 2014 season, it probably could have been a lot better, at least according to his trajectory. And the Reds will really need the kind of elite production from 2013, but unfortunately, he's already projected to miss Opening Day. In an interview with C. Trent Rosecrans of The Cincinnati Enquirer, Price said:

He's well on his way and we have complete faith he'll be able to go at some point in time fairly early in the season," Price said on Wednesday. "I don't know if it's going to be Opening Day, but I don't imagine we'll be talking about May, either."

 

1. Joey Votto, 1B

Because, who else? Outside of Johnny Cueto, who has virtually no question marks surrounding him after an almost-Cy Young 2014 season, who else is more vital to the success of the Reds? Votto wouldn't have made this list had he not been injured last year because, of course, Votto's performance will determine if the Reds contend. The reason he tops this list is because somehow he's shrouded in doubt and skepticism, for no good reason.

Joey Votto is arguably the most polarizing professional athlete in Cincinnati, rivaled only by the Cincinnati Bengals' Andy Dalton. After unapologetically slashing .255/.390/.409 in just 62 games, he's suddenly become the poster child in the great debate between old-school Tea Partyists who believe in home runs and RBI, and new-school saber nerds who worship at the altar of Fangraphs.com.

But regardless of how you feel about the topic, one thing is certain: If Joey Votto doesn't contribute in a significant fashion, the Reds cannot compete. Whether he's getting on base at an absurd rate, hitting 40-plus doubles or 20-plus home runs, he has to contribute in a big way again.

Votto is slashing a career .310/.417/.533 in eight seasons. He's won one MVP, one Golden Glove and has made four All-Star appearances. This is the guy they're paying $14 million this year. For that kind of career line, it's money well-spent.

Questions about his health are both warranted and fair. But for the Reds to have any chance at competing this year, Votto has to be healthy. Even if he performs to his 2013 line, .305/.435/.491, the Reds are exponentially better than last season, especially if the aforementioned guys in this article are healthy and performing with him.

This is a product that prior to last year had managed 90 to 90-plus wins in three of four years. The talent is there. With good health and a little luck, it's not far-fetched to see this team returning to the postseason. 

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