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 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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