10 Things We Learned About the Cincinnati Reds During Spring Training
With Opening Day rapidly approaching, the Cincinnati Reds are a team that figures to compete for a World Series championship.
Fans were also anxious to see how Joey Votto's knee looked after a full offseason of rehab and strength and conditioning workouts.
In just over a month's worth of spring training games, the Reds have given us lot to think about as they move toward the regular season.
Here's 10 things we've learned about the Reds thus far.
All spring training stats courtesy of Cincinnatireds.com.
All other stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Billy Hamilton Is Clearly Not Ready Yet
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Right now, Billy Hamilton is the top prospect in the Reds system.
While the general consensus was that Hamilton would join the Reds as the starting center fielder for the 2014 season.
Hamilton's spring performance proved this to be the case.
In 23 at-bats, Hamilton slashed just .174/.240/.348 with a whopping nine strikeouts. The nine strikeouts become disconcerting when you consider that 39 percent of Hamilton's at-bats ended via-strikeout.
However, Hamilton did show his legendary speed though and managed to swipe three bags this spring, an impressive total when you consider the fact that he was only on base six times.
While some fans believed that Hamilton could make the 25-man roster out of spring training (or at least become a candidate for a midseason call-up), Hamilton's dismal spring lends itself more toward a September call-up.
This is not an indictment on Hamilton as a player as he clearly has the ability to make a profound impact at the Major League level.
Speed alone can get you quite far when you lack other tools (just ask Dee Gordon).
Hamilton will continue to improve upon his ability to get on base, further refine his hit-tool from both sides of the plate and work on his defense as he continues to adjust to playing center field.
Beginning the year at Triple-A, Hamilton should be ready to join the big-league club at some point in September.
... and Neither Are Any of the Team's Other Top Prospects
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Though Billy Hamilton's struggles in spring training have been the most prolific, the Reds' other top prospects struggled as well.
Six of the prospects ranked in Mike's top 10 participated in spring training while 11 of the team's top 20 participated.
Overall, 12 of the players represented in the two lists participated in spring training.
The charts below display their stats from this spring.
We'll get the pitchers right out of the way as their time in Goodyear was so limited that it shows their need for re-assignment.
As for the hitters, some received such an insignificant amount of playing time that they don't warrant discussion at this time.
However, based strictly on numbers, it would appear that Henry Rodriguez, Neftali Soto and Yorman Rodriguez were candidates for the 25-man roster.
A closer look would show that this is not the case.
While Soto has been one of the Reds' top prospects for the past six seasons, however, he doesn't have a defined roster spot.
The Reds have worked Soto at multiple positions but his 2012 season included 113 games played at first base where the presence of Joey Votto on the major league roster is a major road block.
Henry Rodriguez fits the mold of a super-utility player, think Emilio Bonifacio without the ability to play the outfield. The problem for Rodriguez is that he needs to refine his fielding ability.
Rodriguez made six errors in just 31 chances this spring en route to a .800 fielding percentage. For a utility man, that's not acceptable.
Yorman Rodriguez was once thought to be a gem in the Reds' system and ranked as high as sixth on Baseball America's top-10 prospects for the team prior to the 2010 season.
Rodriguez has since seemed to remake himself through the 2012 season which included a .271/.307/.430 slash line with six HR, 44 RBI, and 35 runs scored in 65 games at Low-A Dayton.
Rodriguez however has never played a game above the High-A level and is still just 20 years old.
Ryan Ludwick May Be in for a Letdown Season
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With the second most at bats in camp (49) Ludwick has done very little to convince fans that 2012 was anything but a flash in the pan.
In said 49 at-bats, Ludwick has slashed a paltry .184/.200/.245 slash line with three doubles, two RBI, two runs scored and 14 strikeouts.
Ludwick's strikeout rate is through the roof right now and sits at 27 percent through 18 games.
Keep in mind that over the course of Ludwick's career, the league average strikeout rate during the regular season is 17.5 percent (per Baseball-Reference.com).
Additionally, Ludwick has registered just nine hits (three for extra bases) and has yet to hit a home run.
It's always tempting to overemphasize spring training stats and fans should make every attempt to not do this.
Generally a .184/.200/.245 spring slash line is not an overwhelming cause for concern, but the 27 percent strikeout rate is troubling to say the least.
... and Chris Heisey May Unseat Him
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The case of Chris Heisey's career with the Reds is a puzzling one.
The Reds promoted Heisey to Cincinnati in 2010 at the age of 25. Heisey is now 28 years old and has yet to receive serious starting time at the big-league level.
Currently, Heisey has received the most at-bats of any player in Reds camp (51) and has performed well.
In his 51 at-bats, Heisey is slashing .275/.309/.549 with nine RBI and 12 runs scored. Heisey also has seven extra base hits including three HR, three doubles and a triple.
It's clear that Heisey is outperforming Ludwick, and in addition to his current advantage at the plate, he also holds an advantage in the field.
The Reds currently lack a true center fielder, and while the newly acquired Shin-Soo Choo is manning the position, there is doubt as to whether he will prove competent at the new position.
Should Choo prove incompetent in center, Heisey may be their closest in-house, big-league option.
Even if these situations fall into alignment, the Reds may be reluctant to relegate Ludwick to a bench role given his new contract.
However, if his struggles continue over into the regular season, Heisey could force management's hand should he continue to succeed at the plate.
Joey Votto Is Just Fine
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Remember when everyone was concerned about Joey Votto's power output in the 2013 season?
Votto failed to register a home run following his return from midseason knee surgery and the baseball world pondered whether his power would return this season, if ever.
Votto has proven many of his detractors wrong this spring and has compiled a .326/.431/.581 slash line with two doubles and three home runs in 43 at-bats.
Votto has 578 at-bats per 162 games. Given his current rate, Votto would be on pace for 40 HR in the regular season.
Of course that scenario only comes about in a perfect world, and unfortunately for Votto, that's not how things work on earth.
Votto may have definitely found his power stroke, but a lot of his home run production will depend on the quality of pitches he sees in a given at-bat.
If Ryan Ludwick continues to struggle through the regular season, teams may decide to pitch around Votto in an attempt to limit the amount of damage he can do.
In any event though, Votto appears to be 100 percent healthy and that will prove important to the Reds' World Series aspirations in 2013.
Devin Mesoraco Will Challenge for the Starting Catching Job This Year
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Devin Mesoraco hasn't had much success at the major-league level.
Prior to the 2012 season, Mesoraco clocked in at no. 16 on Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list.
To reward Baseball America's high praise of his game, Mesoraco went on to a .212/.288/.352 slash line with five HR, 14 RBI and 17 runs scored in 165 at-bats.
Sounds harsh, but it is what happened.
Mesoraco appears to be well aware of his struggles last season and, in turn, has vamped up his performance in spring training.
Through 19 games, Mesoraco has logged 36 at-bats while slashing .361/.425/.611 with two HR, three doubles, 11 RBI and five runs scored.
Though it's only spring training, there were concerns over whether Mesoraco would make the 25-man roster when the Reds break camp.
Those concerns are no longer present as Mesoraco has cemented himself in the backup catcher's role.
While Ryan Hanigan is the Reds' obvious choice to start, Mesoraco's ability to hit for power, combined with his superb arm behind the plate, could be enough to receive additional starting time behind the plate in 2013.
Aroldis Chapman Will Never Be a Starter
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Get used to this image of Aroldis Chapman closing out games, because you're going to be seeing it consistently from this point forward.
The Reds sought to make Aroldis Chapman a starter in 2013.
Chapman started in two of his four spring appearances and was largely successful posting a 2.00 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with ratios of 5.0 K/9 and 6.0 H/9.
The experiment was short-lived, however and the Reds chose to move Chapman back to the closer's role shortly after he expressed his desires to remain a closer.
While never is a strong word in any situation, it's the perfect one to describe when we can expect to see Chapman in the Reds' starting rotation.
It would make little sense for the Reds to experiment with Chapman as a starter, given the amount of starting pitching depth they will possess.
Taking a roster spot from a worthy prospect would be counterproductive to the development of young talent and is therefore an unlikely course of action for the Reds to take.
J.J. Hoover Is a Future Closer
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Following his arrival, Hoover made just 30 appearances at Triple-A Louisville prior to forcing his way onto the big-league roster.
Hoover then went on to make 28 appearances pitching 30.2 innings while allowing a 2.05 ERA with a 0.978 WHIP and ratios of 9.1 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 5.0 H/9.
This spring Hoover has been nearly untouchable.
Hoover has registered nine innings over eight appearances allowing a 2.00 ERA with a 1.11 WHIP and ratios of 16.0 K/9, 1.0 BB/9 and 9.0 H/9.
Hoover has struck out 16 of 27 would-be batters this season en route to a 59 percent strikeout rate.
That type of strikeout rate is likely to prove unsustainable over the course of an entire season, but it is indicative of a pitcher who knows just what he's doing on the mound.
According to Fangraphs.com, Hoover's fastball averages 92.8 miles per hour. He pairs that fastball with a well developed curve, a slider and a changeup.
That kind of pitch arsenal, coupled with his ability to strike batters out and keep others off base profiles well as a future closer.
The Starting Rotation Is One Injury Away from Disaster
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With Arolids Chapman's return to the bullpen, the Reds don't quite have the starting pitching depth it was assumed they would.
The move leaves the Reds with the same rotation that won them 97 games last season, so the quality is there but one injury to the rotation could prove disastrous.
An injury to any one of the Reds' starters (i.e. Bronson Arroyo or Johnny Cueto) and the team would be forced to turn to Armondo Galaraga (if he stays on past spring training) or one of the team's top pitching prospects.
In any other situation, turning to a top prospect may not be a huge deal.
However, the Reds have a legitimate opportunity to make a run at their first World Series Championship since 1990.
Turning to pitchers like Galaraga, or prospects who aren't ready for that type of usage or pressure, would prove detrimental to their championship aspirations.
If you need any proof of how this affects the Reds, look no further than the state of the rotation following Cueto's injury in Game 1 of the 2012 NLDS.
The Reds Are Legitimate Contenders, If They Stay Healthy
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This goes hand in hand with the idea that the starting rotation needs to remain healthy, but it goes beyond that.
The Reds are a talented bunch. They're going to score plenty of runs and their pitching staff is going to keep them in just about every game.
One thing the Reds do not have however is substantial depth at any position.
The Reds may be able to replace a reliever here and there, and Chris Heisey can fill in for Ryan Ludwick if he were to sustain an injury. However, an injury to a player at any other position could derail the Reds' season.
This season, both Ludwick and Frazier will be expected to start on a regular basis.
Neither Donald or Hannahan are likely to make any significant impact should they be called upon as regular starters.
Additionally, both Heisey and Mesoraco have positional limitations where Heisey can only play in the outfield and Mesoraco can only catch.
Another injury to Votto, Johnny Cueto or any other member of the Reds starting crew could spell the end of the Reds as a contender in 2013.