Projecting the Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day Lineup and Rotation
A year removed from a division title, the 2011 Cincinnati Reds had an incredibly underwhelming and frustrating season. The 79-83 record only begins to tell the story, and worse yet, the Brewers ran away with the division and met the Cardinals in the NLCS, where the Cards would advance and win the World Series.
However, Walt Jocketty has made the moves to become a contender this year, first trading for Mat Latos, then the same for Sean Marshall. Then they surprised nearly everyone by signing Ryan Madson and capped it off with the signing of Ryan Ludwick.
With the Cards and Brewers taking big hits this year, the Reds appear to be the front runners coming into the season. I decided to sit down and take a look at what the starting lineup and rotation might look like this year.
1. Brandon Phillips, 2B
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2011 stats: .300 BA, 18 HRs, 82 RBI, 14 SB, .353 OBP, .457 SLG
I'll start it off with a bang. For the majority of the past two years, Drew Stubbs has been deemed the future leadoff hitter. While he certainly has the speed for it, the strikeouts were just too much.
Instead, the duty fell on Phillips, and he absolutely thrived. In 38 games starting at leadoff, Phillips batted .350 with seven HRs and 19 RBI, but more importantly, he had a .417 OBP and .573 SLG.
While Stubbs may have improved enough to eventually take the spot back, for now, it's Phillips batting leadoff next year to start.
2. Zack Cozart, SS
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2011 stats: .324 BA, 2 HRs, 3 RBI, .324 OBP, .486 SLG
The Reds got the spark they needed when they called up Cozart mid-season last year. In the 11 games he played, Cozart provided more offense than either Janish or Renteria did. However, a freak injury led to Cozart needing Tommy John surgery. Fortunately, it was on his non-throwing arm, which should mean very little, if any, setback coming into this season.
Cozart batted second in the lineup for 10 of the 11 games he played, and I don't think things will change this year. The only way it would change is if Stubbs excels, bumping Phillips to second and Cozart to sixth or seventh.
3. Joey Votto, 1B
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2011 stats: .309 BA, 29 HRs, 103 RBI, 110 BBs, .416 OBP, .531 SLG
There's absolutely no way this one is changing. Since he's been in the league, he's been the No. 3 hitter, and no one on the team, or possibly in the league, is better.
Votto's power numbers were down, but every other number was near his MVP form (not including his 110 walks, which is his most in a season by far).
The scary thing is, he just might be getting better. At 28, he's in his prime and only improving. Reds fans don't necessarily need him to improve, they just want him to at least consistently perform at the level he has been.
There's no way Votto's moving anywhere in the lineup.
4. Scott Rolen, 3B
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2011 stats: .242 BA, 5 HRs, 36 RBI, .279 OBP, .397 SLG
The numbers weren't impressive for Rolen last year, and neither was his season. A nagging shoulder injury kept Rolen moving in and out of the lineup and eventually shut him down prior to the season's end.
Reds fans have lots of concerns about Rolen's health coming into this year, but I'm not as worried. A healthy Rolen will still be able to produce, and Rolen should be healthy coming into this season considering he had more than enough time off.
I put Rolen in the cleanup spot simply so that there aren't two lefties back-to-back in Jay Bruce and Votto. However, if Rolen DOES struggle to start, Dusty won't hesitate to move Bruce up and Rolen down. For now, I think he'll start with this.
5. Jay Bruce, RF
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2011 stats: .256 BA, 32 HRs, 97 RBI, .341 OBP, .474 SLG
While the stats make it look Bruce had a decent season last year, he essentially padded his stats from a couple of streaks. The biggest came in May, where he batted .342 with 12 HRs and 33 RBI and had an OPS of 1.140. Bruce was, in fact, named NL Player of the Month for that performance.
However, outside of that, Bruce never had a month with a batting average over .256. His streaky play drove fans crazy. This year, Bruce HAS to play more consistently and provide protection for Votto.
I don't see Bruce moving down at all, but I certainly could see him moving up. If he plays well and/or Rolen plays badly, Bruce could move up to the clean up role, a role he was in late in the season last year.
6. Drew Stubbs, CF
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2011 stats: .243 BA, 15 HRs, 44 RBI, 40 SBs, .321 OBP, .364 SLG
Quite possibly, no player was more frustrating than Stubbs. Stubbs showed big signs of improvement in his second year and his speed made him the unquestioned leadoff guy. That was, until his struggles became evident.
While his at-bats increased, so did his strikeouts, causing his BA to drop from a year earlier. The one good thing is that his steals did increase, getting 40 on the season. However, he still has a lot of work to do and a lot of to prove during Spring Training this year.
There's a very good possibility that Stubbs will move back to the leadoff spot if he produces well to start the year, but it would take an incredibly great spring.
7. Chris Heisey, LF
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2011 stats: .254 BA, 18 HRs, 50 RBI, .309 OBP, .487 SLG
This is where a bit of drama takes place. A lot feel that the Ludwick signing puts him into the starting position. I, however, don't think so. While Heisey's numbers aren't impressive, I get the feeling that he's more of a fourth OF than the starting LF.
Heisey spent time all throughout the lineup last year, starting games at leadoff, second, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh. The third most plate appearances he had came in the nine hole, typically pinch hitting for a pitcher. Despite that, Heisey offered up some solid numbers. Given the fact that the outfield is far more clear than it was last year, he'll see far more playing time and I think he'll succeed.
I don't think Heisey moves down, but if struggles continue with Stubbs and Cozart doesn't come back healthy, he could move back up to the top of the lineup. If Ludwick is here, I think he could be the sixth hitter as he seems to have more power.
8. Devin Mesoraco, C
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2011 stats: .180 BA, 2 HRs, 6 RBI, .226 OBP, .360 SLG
The stats don't look pretty, but it's because he was a September call-up and faced very little playing time. He played in 18 games, but a lot of it was pinch hitting.
Mez has been talked about as the future of the Reds for many years. By dealing Yasmani Grandal and not bringing back Ramon Hernandez, the Reds backed that statement. Now, it's Mesoraco's spot to lose. In the minors last year, his .289 average with 15 homers and 71 RBI is far more telling of what you should expect from him.
However, I still think the Reds will have him split time nearly equally with Ryan Hannigan. If Mez hits with a lot of power, he could possibly move up and maybe even move into the cleanup spot if Rolen struggles (I wouldn't count on it though). Anything close to his minor league numbers would be good enough.
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Ryan Ludwick, OF: Ludwick was brought in as outfield depth. I imagine he'll essentially be the fourth outfielder with Chris Heisey, but definitely could step into the starting role if he flourishes in GABP.
Juan Francisco, 3B: A big time power hitter, Francisco is the backup plan if Rolen does go down. That's the only way he cracks the lineup in place of Rolen.
Paul Janish, IF: Janish was once thought to be the future of the Reds at SS. Now, he's just hanging on. While he could see time if Cozart struggles off the start, he'll have to have an improved bat to see substantial time.
Miguel Cairo, IF: Cairo had one of his best statistical years last year and was great as a utility man. He'll have the same role this year, filling in for injured players or for rest.
Todd Frazier, IF: I think of Frazier as a mini Miguel Cairo in that he plays all over the infield. While he isn't exceptional, contending teams need players like him.
Ryan Hanigan, C - As I mentioned earlier, he'll platoon with Mez at the catcher spot. He did well there last year and should do well there again this year.
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1. Johnny Cueto: Injuries were the only thing to slow down Cueto last year. His 2.31 ERA would have won him the ERA title if he had just pitched six more innings. Coming into this year, he's the undisputed No.1 guy in Cincy.
2. Mat Latos: Controversial or not, they didn't pull this trade off for nothing, and Latos has a lot to prove. Most thought the Reds gave up too much for him, but in order to get good, young pitching, you're going to have to part with prospects.
3. Mike Leake: Outside of Cueto, Leake was the biggest bright spot in the starting rotation last year, leading the team in wins and second in ERA. If he takes another step forward this year, he could be very, very good.
4. Homer Bailey: Another young guy the Reds are hoping steps up this year. He wasn't the worst last year, but there was better. Nonetheless, the Reds are looking for him to improve, possibly giving them a very good starting four.
5. Bronson Arroyo: His contract, not his performance, keeps him in the starting rotation. That being said, it couldn't get much worse than his performance last year, right?