Fantasy Baseball Team Previews – Cincinnati Reds

(Getty Images)

The Cincinnati Reds are in full rebuilding mode after finishing last year in the cellar of the NL Central with a 64-98 record. It was the Reds second losing season in a row and set the stage for team president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty to start cleaning house. The first domino to fall was a three-way trade with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds gave up the best player sending All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier to the South Side. Frazier has arguably been the Reds most consistent performer the past four years outside of Joey Votto. Since 2012, Todd Frazier has averaged 25 home runs, 72 runs scored, and 77 RBI over that time span. The Reds will undoubtedly miss his power and durability at the hot corner considering Frazier played in at least 150 games the past two years. In return the Reds received three prospects; infielders Jose Peraza and Brandon Dixon and outfielder Scott Schebler. Schebler’s path to playing time appears to be wide open if he can beat out Adam Duvall and Yankees Rule Five pick Jake Cave for the starting left field job. Speedster Jose Peraza could also make the team with a strong showing this spring.

Jocketty continued to wheel and deal sending flamethrower and lights out closer Aroldis Chapman to the New York Yankees. Talent has never been the question with Chapman, who has arguably the best makeup of any closer in the Majors. The southpaw possesses unhuman-like velocity that he uses to dominate hitters on both sides of the plate. Over the past two seasons Chapman has converted 69-of-74 saves opportunities while averaging 36 saves over the past four seasons. Unfortunately, Chapman’s off-the-field issues have earned him a lot of unwanted attention. Rob Manfred recently handed down a 30-game suspension for Chapman to start the season as a result of his domestic violence altercation.

The deal brought Cincinnati right-handed starting pitcher Rookie Davis, third baseman Eric Jagielo, second baseman Tony Renda and right-handed reliever Caleb Cotham. Davis and Jagielo were the key pieces of this deal but most likely won’t contribute until 2017, at the earliest. Jocketty has developed a blueprint for the Reds’ rebuilding plan which is built around trading for as many Double-A and Triple-A players as possible. He issued the following statement in regards to the team’s plans.

“I want guys that can help us the next year or two,” Jocketty said. “I told our guys when we were researching different clubs that it’s nice to have guys that are long-range prospects, but we need guys in the next couple of years.”

Jocketty is focused on restocking the Reds farm system with young arms while letting it grow from the roots up. In 2016 don’t expect much to change for the Reds in the NL Central. They’ll be contending but in this case for last place in the Central with the Milwaukee Brewers.

AL East

AL Central AL West NL East NL Central NL West

Baltimore

Chicago WS Houston Atlanta Chicago

Arizona

Boston

Cleveland Los Angeles A Miami Cincinnati Colorado

New York Y

Detroit

Oakland New York M Milwaukee

Los Angeles D

Tampa Bay

Kansas City Texas Philadelphia Pittsburgh

San Diego

Toronto Minnesota Seattle Washington St. Louis

San Francisco

Projected Starting Line-up

  1. Billy Hamilton
  2. Eugenio Suarez
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Brandon Phillips
  5. Jay Bruce
  6. Devin Mesoraco
  7. Adam Duvall/Scott Schebler
  8. Zack Cozart

Joey Votto, 1B

In 2015 Joey Votto was healthy for the first time in a couple years which allowed him to return to MVP form. Votto’s power returned as a result and he rebounded to hit 29 home runs. It was his highest total since hitting a career-high 37 longballs in 2010. Votto’s bounce back season was overshadowed by fellow National League first baseman Paul Goldschmidt despite finishing in the top 10 (NL) in batting average, runs scored, home runs, walks, SLG, OBP, and OPS. Votto is an on-base machine and one of the most patient hitters in the game. Votto led the Majors in walks with 143 while finishing second in OBP (.459) behind superstar Bryce Harper. The main concerns with Votto are his injury history and this year the fact that he’ll have very little protection in a revamped Reds lineup. Despite these concerns Votto is still in the conversation to be drafted among the top five at his position along with Goldy, Rizzo, Miggy, Encarnacion, and Jose Abreu.

Billy Hamilton, OF

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In 2015 Billy Hamilton was expected to take the next step forward in his development but instead he regressed. Hamilton’s offensive numbers were down across the board with the exception of his 57 steals. It’s no secret that Hamilton is a speed demon on the base paths but the problem is he can’t steal first base. Billy is projected to set the table for the Reds despite only reaching base 29 percent of the time. Hamilton needs to work on slap-hitting but more importantly developing better plate discipline resulting in more walks. Truth be told Hamilton is a classic one-trick pony incapable of helping you outside of the steals department. It’s worth noting that Hamilton had off-season surgery on his right shoulder to fix a torn labrum. Hamilton has already been scratched from a few spring games due to a stiff shoulder. It’s clearly bothering him and could become serious if the soreness lingers possibly costing him playing time. I for one won’t pay the inflated price for steals since you can find steals late or on the waiver wire. I’d prefer to draft Denard Span or Jared Dyson late than invest an early round selection on Hamilton.

Jay Bruce, OF

The Reds are still waiting on Jay Bruce to blossom into the superstar they envisioned him one day becoming. Bruce is a free-swinging left-handed source of power and run production. Jay has averaged 26 home runs and nearly 80 RBI during his eight years in Cincinnati. Bruce is a dangerous low-ball fastball hitter but whiffs a ton chasing the high heat. Last season despite his solid home run output (26) and RBI (87) total Bruce only managed to bat .226 with an on-base percentage of .294. The decline was due to his high strikeout rate and falling line drive rate. He whiffed 145 times (22.3 percent) and wasn’t much better when making contact registering a pedestrian .251 BABIP. The wait for Bruce may finally come to an end since Jocketty is currently shopping him to the highest bidder. Bruce has been linked to the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Orioles in trade talks. He does present to be a more reasonable trade target for his suitors with only one-year left on his contract. Expect the Reds fire sale to continue and Bruce to be the latest casualty of the rebuilding project. In fantasy I recommend to err on the side of caution and avoid drafting Bruce unless you can get him at a major discount. If power is what you want then target Mark Trumbo or Khris Davis late for a fraction of the cost of Bruce.

Brandon Phillips, 2B

Brandon Phillips bounced back big in 2015 after an injury plagued 2014 season. Phillips was healthy all season and thrived with Joey Votto hitting in front of him, getting on base 40 percent of the time. Phillips finished his bounce back season hitting .294 with 12 homers, 70 RBI, and most surprising 23 steals. Considering Phillips had only 22 steals from 2012-2014, the spike in swipes was an unexpected bonus for his fantasy owners. Phillips will turn 35 in June but proved last year that he could still play at a high level. His days in Cincinnati may be numbered but as long as he keeps spraying line drives and running wild he still offers plenty of fantasy appeal. Phillips may not be a top 10 player at his position but he can still be depended on as a mixed league starter.

Devin Mesoraco, C

(Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE)

(Thomas Campbell-US PRESSWIRE)

Devin Mesoraco is oozing with talent and is just two years removed from finishing as the number three overall catcher in the fantasy world. Mesoraco was never cleared for takeoff in 2015 after suffering a concussion early in spring training and then a serious hip injury in April. He managed to play in only 23 games before the Reds finally pulled the plug on their backstop in June opting for season-ending hip surgery. Mesoraco’s value is contingent on him coming back for opening day, staying healthy, and batting cleanup in the Red lineup. I don’t believe his breakout 2014 season with 25 homers and 80 RBI was a fluke. Mesoraco is at the top of my list of comeback players for 2016 and offers plenty of upside at a thin position. Outside of Buster Posey and Kyle Schwarber I don’t think there’s another catcher capable of putting up the counting numbers that Mesoraco is. This makes Mesoraco a high risk/high reward type investment but one that could just help you win your league if he hits.

Any Other Business?

Eugenio Suarez, 3B/SS

In 2015 Eugenio Suarez was an unlikely bright spot for an otherwise miserable Reds team. Suarez was acquired from the Detroit Tigers in the Alfredo Simon trade as a throw in player. Opportunity came knocking in June when Zack Cozart was sidelined with a knee injury. Suarez make the most of the opportunity batting .280 with 13 homers, and 48 RBI in 372 at bats. His path to playing time is wide open following the trade of starting third baseman Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Suarez will shift from shortstop to third base and projects as the Reds everyday starter at the hot corner. Suarez displayed sneaky pop last year registering 34 extra-base hits which is surprising considering he has only 41 career homers in seven minor-league seasons. Reds skipper Bryan Price had this to say recently when asked about Suarez.

“Eugenio is smart enough to know this is an opportunity for him to be an everyday big league player,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “It’s a selfless act on his part to change positions but it’s also a smart thing to do. Suarez isn’t missing the mistakes. I’ll tell you that.” “The ball’s coming off his bat nicely. We’re seeing power to right-center and power to left field. He’s made some real nice plays at third base.”

So far this spring Suarez has been tearing the cover off the ball and already has four extra-base hits. I’m bullish on Suarez since he quietly finished as a top five shortstop in the second half of last season. He also offers multi-position eligibility in the infield at shortstop and third base. He’s a great target in the last couple rounds of your draft as a utility bench player with some pop.

Zack Cozart, SS

Zack Cozart isn’t a sexy name and probably is a better real life player than fantasy player. I wouldn’t imagine anyone is depending on Cozart as their starting shortstop unless it’s a NL-only league or 14-team mixed league. He does play his home games at hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark and has some starts under his belt as the Reds leadoff hitter. I doubt he’ll get the opportunity to set the table often and realistically projects to hit towards the bottom of the Reds lineup which limits his upside. Cozart has 10-15 homer potential if he can stay healthy and is ready to play come opening day. I’m fine with drafting Cozart as your backup shortstop or as a middle infielder option in deeper leagues.

Adam Duvall, OF

Adam Duvall is a player to watch closely this spring especially since he’s competing with Scott Schebler for the starting left field job. Duvall possesses elite power and crushed 130 homers is his six-year minor league career. There’s no doubt his tremendous power is in play at Great American Ballpark and if he wins the starting gig he has sneaky 20 plus homer upside. Duvall has very little Major League experience but got a cup of coffee in the bigs last year after coming over from the Giants in the Mike Leake trade. He homered five times in 72 plate appearances but also struck out 36 percent of the time. If you’re looking for cheap power in the last few rounds of your draft, Duvall is your guy.

Scott Schebler, OF

Scott Schebler is an interesting player who could end up making Jay Bruce expendable. As I mentioned earlier with Duvall one of these guys is going to win the starting left field gig. Schebler and Duvall will go head-to-head this spring and the winner of this position battle will have fantasy value. Schebler has an upright stance with a strong body and wrists to muscle the ball out of the park. Schebler has a history of hitting for power in the minors, as evidenced by the combined 55 homers he launched from 2013-14. He relies more on raw power than bat speed and has drawn some Brandon Moss comps by scouts. Schebler also has decent speed and is capable of stealing double-digit bases as his numbers in the minors suggest. Schebler reminds me of a poor man’s Steven Souza with more power and less speed. Assuming he wins the job Schebler is draftable in NL-only leagues and deeper mixed leagues.

Jose Peraza, 2B/SS

Jose Peraza was acquired from the Dodgers in the three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox. Peraza was the centerpiece of the trade and was highly regarded by scouts coming up in the Dodgers farm system. Peraza entered the 2015 campaign universally ranked as a Top 100 prospect and MLB.com had him 38th overall. Peraza is a great contact hitter with plus speed. He has the tools to hit for average and swipe 30-plus bases in a regular role. He’s been timed from home plate to first base in 4.06 seconds! Peraza’s versatility is his calling card having spent time at shortstop, second base and in center field. Second base would seem as the most logical path to at-bats for him in the event Brandon Phillips is sent packing. It’s also safe to assume Peraza with be the Reds opening day shortstop if Cozart suffers any setbacks or isn’t fully recovered from his offseason knee surgery.

Projected Rotation

  1. Anthony DeSclafani
  2. Raisel Iglesias
  3. Michael Lorenzen
  4. Brandon Finnegan
  5. John Lamb

Anthony DeSclafani

Is Anthony DeSclafani good enough to anchor the Reds pitching staff?

Is Anthony DeSclafani good enough to anchor the Reds pitching staff?

In 2015 the Reds had a very forgettable season in the NL Central but one of Jockettys’ smartest off-season moves was trading away Mat Latos for Anthony DeSclafani. Latos continued his downward spiral in Miami and wound up getting dealt again to the Dodgers. DeSclafani on the other hand was surprisingly great out of the gate. In four April starts DeSclafani went 2-1 with a 1.04 ERA and a 21:6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings pitched. DeSclafani has a bulldog approach to his game and his repertoire includes a nasty slider. He also throws a deceptive low-90s fastball mixing in a decent curveball to round out his arsenal. DeSclafani ran out of gas in the second half of last season but was a road warrior posting a 3.00 ERA away from Great American Ballpark. This year DeSclafani will be asked to lead the Reds young pitching staff, which is a tall order. He does offer some upside given his ability to rack up strikeouts while utilizing decent control to limit walks. In fantasy DeSclafani is tough to trust given his short track record but could be a nice option as your fifth or sixth starting pitcher in deeper mixed leagues.

Raisel Iglesias

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

(AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)

Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias had an up and down rookie season for the Reds. He made the club out of spring training and pitched well in a couple starts before moving to the bullpen. The transition from starting to the pen was not for Iglesias as he was lit up and promptly sent down to Triple-A. He missed the entire month of June with a strained oblique but when he returned to the club he was a different pitcher. Iglesias was lights out over his final 12 starts (70 innings) compiling a 3.82 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 27.8 percent K rate, and 6.7 percent walk rate. Breaking it down even further Iglesias was one of the best pitchers in baseball last August posting a 2.27 ERA and 45:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 39.2 innings. His season ended in September with shoulder fatigue but his performance down the stretch left high expectations for 2016. Iglesias is everyone’s favorite sleeper this year but with all the preseason hype he’s generating, expect him to shoot up draft boards. If I’m drafting a Reds pitcher this year it’s definitely Iglesias. Pitchers capable of posting high-volume strikeout rates like Iglesias are hard to find. I especially like him in keeper leagues since he’s only 26 and offers SP1/SP2 upside once he fully develops.

Michael Lorenzen

Michael Lorenzen is an excellent athlete and believe it or not was converted from an outfielder to pitcher by the Reds. Lorenzen was highly touted in college at Cal State Fullerton and was selected by the Cincinnati in the first round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft. Lorenzen has followed the fast track to the Majors but that’s mostly due to necessity after the club shipped out all their top arms for young prospects. In 2015 Lorenzen pitched well at Triple-A posting a microscopic 1.88 ERA in six starts. After getting the call in April Lorenzen pitched adequately for the Reds in the first half but was a train-wreck after the All-Star break struggling with command issues. It remains to be seen if his expedited arrival will help or hinder his long-term development as a starting pitcher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Lorenzen struggle again with his control and get sent down to fine-tune his secondary pitches. On the other hand the Reds might be forced to let him work out the kinks against big-league hitters.

Brandon Finnegan

Brandon Finnegan was the centerpiece of the Reds trade last July with the Royals that sent former ace Johnny Cueto packing. The prized southpaw was the Royals 2014 first-round pick and ranked by Baseball America as the Royals’ second-best prospect heading into last season. Finnegan raced through the minors and was called up by the Royals late in the 2014 season. He pitched effectively out of the pen throughout the stretch playoff run culminating in The World Series. After being traded to the Reds last summer Finnegan made a couple of appearances out of the bullpen before starting four games. The Reds brass view Finnegan as a starter despite his past success pitching in relief. Finnegan’s arsenal includes three solid pitches highlighted by his low-90s fastball. He’s able to generate plenty of swings and misses with a sharp slider and above-average changeup. Finnegan has a bright future and very high-ceiling given his high strikeout rate and effective secondary pitches. I wouldn’t be surprised if Finnegan finishes the season as the Reds top starting pitcher in 2016.

John Lamb

John Lamb was another young southpaw the Reds acquired from the Royals in the Cueto trade. Lamb was previously ranked as a top-20 prospect in all of baseball after being selected by Kansas City in the fifth round of the 2008 draft. He struggled mightily through the upper levels of the minors before finally mastering Triple-A Omaha and Louisville in 2015. In 20 starts Lamb went 10-2 with a 2.67 ERA and 117:36 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lamb got the call in August and the results were a mixed bag. Lamb had some really good starts but struggled in others allowing 8 homers in 49.2 innings. Lamb flashed his high-strikeout potential whiffing 58 hitters in his brief audition. Lamb has four pitches that he can throw effectively headlined by a low-90s fastball and big curveball. His secondary pitches include a cutter he works in on righties and a solid changeup. Lamb has a lot of potential but will need to recover from disc surgery on his back before claiming his spot in the Reds starting rotation. Early reports are indicating that he’s going to start the season on the DL.

Closer:

J.J Hoover

With the trade of Chapman to the Yankees, it would seem only natural that J.J. Hoover slides into the spot as the Reds closer. He’s the most logical candidate for the job considering the fact that no one else on the team has any experience closing. Having said that Reds manager Bryan Price said he hasn’t decided that quite yet and issued the following statement regarding Hoover and the closer role.

“I’m going to wait and see,” Price said. “I think he’s certainly a front-runner for this opportunity, but I don’t think I’m quite ready to be assigning roles for on the team just quite yet. We’ll see what the final roster looks like coming out of spring training. He’s absolutely in contention for the position.”

Hoover won’t blow anyone away with his mid-90s fastball but does throw a decent pair of breaking pitches, mainly his curveball. He’s struggled with control issues at times resulting in his fair share of walks. Hoover has also been homer-prone having served up 20 homers over the past two seasons. Hoover does have five career saves under his belt, including one last season. This is a situation to monitor during the spring but regardless Hoover isn’t a safe bet to keep the job, assuming he earns it. I’d recommend avoiding this situation in fantasy since save opportunities will be scarce for a Reds team that will be lucky to win 50 games.

Next Man Up:

Jumbo Diaz

J.J. Hoover doesn’t have much competition for the closer role but if anyone can unseat him it’s Jumbo Diaz. Jumbo is a big power pitcher who like Hoover has struggled with control issues. Basically he has the same warts as Hoover in regards to allowing long balls after giving up nine homers in 60 innings last year. Diaz has good velocity and his fastball hits 96-98 on the radar gun allowing him to miss a lot of bats. He also has a nice splitter that dives out of the zone generating a lot of whiffs. Last year Diaz punched out 70 batters in 60 innings while issuing 18 free passes. I view Diaz as the dark horse to claim the closer role especially if Hoover struggles early. Keep an eye on him this spring because Diaz has the stuff to run away with the job if the opportunity arises.

Prospect Potential

Robert Stephenson, SP

Is Robert Stephenson ready to join the Reds starting rotation?

Is Robert Stephenson ready to join the Reds starting rotation?

A first-round pick in 2011, Robert Stephenson has a “great opportunity” to land one of the three open spots in the Reds rotation according to manager Bryan Price. In his first start this spring the 23-year-old right-hander threw two scoreless innings against the Indians allowing one hit, one walk, and whiffed two batters. Stephenson is one of the Reds’ top pitching prospects and his arsenal includes a high-caliber fastball and strong curveball. Stephenson isn’t far off considering his stuff is good enough to finish off major league hitters. He’s also notched a high strikeout rate (9.8 per nine innings) in his four minor league seasons while posting a 3.80 ERA. Like many young pitching prospects Stephenson has struggled with control issues after issuing 70 walks in 134 innings last season between Double-A and Triple-A. Stephenson also lacks a quality third pitch with a below average changeup. Assuming John Lamb will start the season on the DL this is a golden opportunity for Stephenson to step up and prove he deserves to be part of the rotation. In keeper leagues Stephenson is one of the better young arms to stash considering he has one of the highest ceilings out there.

Jesse Winker, OF

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

(Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Jesse Winker is the Reds top left-handed hitting prospect in the minors. He’s not a flashy player but there’s no doubt this kid knows how to hit after posting a .282 average, .390 OBP, and smacking 13 homers at Double-A Pensacola last season. While many scouts soured on him after a slow start last year he rebounded strong from August 1st on posting a triple slash line of .344/.457/.560. He’ll probably never hit for much power but he’s still only 22 so he does have room for growth in that department. Speaking of power he jacked 10 of his 13 homers in the Southern League after the break. The Reds will most likely keep Winker down in Triple-A until June but if Duvall and Schebler struggle at the plate, it could expedite his arrival to the majors. Keep in mind that Winker plays left field and if Jay Bruce is sent packing they’ll have another good reason to call him up.

Cody Reed, SP

Cody Reed was the third young southpaw acquired from the Royals in the Johnny Cueto trade. While he might get the least attention out of the group that includes Lamb and Finnegan, don’t let that fool you. The truth is that Reed just might have the most upside out of the trio of lefties. Reed was the Royals second-round draft pick in 2013 and was highly regarded by scouts for his devastating slider. After the trade last July Reed was shipped to Double-A Pensacola where he made eight starts. Reed impressed going 6-2 posting a 2.17 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, while punching out 60 batters in 49.2 innings. Given his command of his hard-breaking curveball and plus-fastball, Reed may not pitch too long in Triple-A if he continues to refine those pitches. Actually the Reds could use him in the starting rotation right now if he proves this spring that he’s a better option than Stephenson and Jon Moscot.

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