Though thanks to the Peebles Indians, basketball still remains on the mind of many residents of our county, the opening of the 2014 baseball season for the Cincinnati Reds is getting closer by the day. Opening Day is March 31 when the dastardly Cardinals come to Great American Ball Park to kick off the season in a big way.
You can take absolutely zero from spring training up to this point, but I though I would use this space to take a look at this year’s version of the Reds from my point of view. I may look at the Redlegs with a bit more interest this season since I have a daughter who is one of their employees at the moment. (Yes. that was a little fatherly boasting.)
First Base- Meet the new and improved fan and media friendly Joey Votto. Votto has been on an image improvement mission since the end of last season, doing numerous radio interviews where he chatted it up with fans. Votto is a key piece to the Cincinnati puzzle and if he is completely healthy, and all indications are that he is, look for another big season from #19.
Second Base- Meet the new and unfriendly to the media Brandon Phillips. At least that is, to the local media. Guess he won’t be giving me an interview. I honestly could care less if Phillips ever mutter a word off the field in 2014 just as long as he puts up the numbers when he is on the field and plays second base in Gold Glove fashion again. I think he will mellow out as the season goes along, especially if the team is winning. Do you think the team was ever really serious about trading Phillips? Like it or not Brandon, the numbers don’t lie and they have been declining, but motivation and chip on the shoulder may mean big year.
Shortstop- I thought Zach Cozart had a pretty good year in 2013, especially in the second half. He ended up at .254 and I heard new manager Bryan Price say he would gladly take that again if Cozart played defense like he always has. The team is very solid up the middle on defense, which is always a good thing for a pitching staff.
Third Base- I think the performance of Todd Frazier is an absolute key to this team’s success. He has to hit, hit for some power, and drive in some runs. He didn’t do that consistently last season but he is the third baseman, a spot that is usually reserved for power hitters and RBI men. Frazier has a solid glove but it will be his offense that will be scrutinized in 2014.
Left Field- Ryan Ludwick is back and healthy. Now, he just has to prove that his 26 home run performance in 2012 was no fluke season.
Center Field- The great Billy Hamilton experiment has begun. Hamilton has the ability to be a game changer, if he can just consistently get on base. In center field, his speed will make him a great defensive player but until he proves different the question will always be “can he hit?” I have a feeling that Hamilton is going to be OK, not spectacular yet, but OK. It’s worth the price of the overpriced Reds tickets to just watch him run. Run Billy Run! Now there will actually be a reason for the Cowboy to bless the radio waves with his call of “Billy, Billy, Billy!”
Right Field- Jay Bruce=30 homers, 100 RBI’s, great glove, rocket arm, arguably the best player on the team. Enough said.
Catcher- The job now belongs to Devin Mesoraco and the question will not be his defense, but can he hit? I stood next to Mesoraco at a Reds Caravan a few years back and let me tell you, he is built, sure got the muscles to hit. Signed as a back up was the switch-hitting Brayan Pena, who takes the spot of the departed Ryan Hanigan.
Starting Pitching- If everyone is healthy, this group can be the strength of the team. That being said, they must stay on the field. If the Mat Latos injury is minor, the group of Latos, Cueto, Leake, Bailey, and Cingrani is as good as any in the league. I am looking for a big year from Cingrani and a healthy Cueto. If they guys can just keep the game close until they can give it over to the….
Bullpen-Another strong point of the 2014 Reds, again if healthy, will be the bullpen, led by the still-closer Aroldis Chapman. Manager Price has assured fans that Chapman will not just be a one-inning pitcher in 2014, something a stubborn Dusty Baker would never do. Simon, LeCure, Hoover, Broxton, Marshall, and Parra will hit some bumps over the long summer but in the long run, they will be a solid group.
Bench- The bench was vastly improved with just one move, the signing of Skip Schumaker. Not because he is a great player, but because he is a winner, coming from the winning atmosphere of St. Louis. Plus, he had a squirrel on his baseball card a couple of years ago. Chris Heisey will get plenty of playing time, especially if Hamilton falters, but the rest of the bench is filled with question marks.
Manager- It’s not fair to evaluate new manager Bryan Price since he has not had a regular season game under his belt. He has said all the right things in the off-season, but let’s wait and see how that translates into wins and losses.
All in all, I think the Reds have the opportunity to have a 90-win season, in contention for a wild card spot again. I don’t think they improved their team enough to compete with the Cardinals and it remains to be seen if 2013 was a fluke for the Pirates. A lot of the national pundits and experts are calling the Reds a fourth place team in the NL Central. Let’s hope they are very wrong.