10 Early-Season Cincinnati Reds Storylines to Follow Most Closely

Tyler Duma@@TylerDuma_BRFeatured ColumnistApril 8, 2013

10 Early-Season Cincinnati Reds Storylines to Follow Most Closely

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    The Cincinnati Reds wrapped up their second series of the season with a 6-3 win over the Washington Nationals.

    The Reds took the series 2-1, improving to 4-2 on the young season.

    Though it's still very early, some intriguing storylines are already starting to take shape within the Reds organization.

    Whether it's newcomer Shin-Soo Choo, flamethrower Aroldis Chapman or former MVP Joey Votto, there's always someone worth keeping an eye on in the Queen City.

    Here are 10 storylines for fans to keep an eye on as the season moves forward.

    All 2013 stats courtesy of Cincinnatireds.com unless otherwise noted.

    Minor league stats and 2012 stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

    2013 spring training stats can also be found at Cincinnatireds.com.

Shin-Soo Choo's Torrid Pace and Adjustment to Center Field

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    Shin-Soo Choo was predominately a right fielder in his time with the Cleveland Indians.

    Upon landing in Cincinnati, Choo was asked to play center field. While many have doubted his ability to play the position, the move has paid off thus far.

    Though it's only been six games, Choo has made it clear why the Reds were willing to part with Didi Gregorius in order to bring the 30-year-old outfielder to Cincinnati.

    Choo has had 24 at-bats in the season's early goings and is slashing a gaudy .375/.515/.792 with three HR, three RBI, eight runs scored and a stolen base.

    Choo could put an already potent Reds lineup over the top in 2013 and that in and of itself is worth watching.

    There is the move to center though, where fans and analysts will scrutinize Choo's every move.

    However, if Choo can continue to impress offensively, he's going to make those same people forget about any defensive woes awfully quick.

Chris Heisey Replacing Ryan Ludwick

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    Ryan Ludwick landed on the DL after just a few innings and will be out several months after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder to repair torn cartilage.

    Chris Heisey replaced him in that first game and went on to start the next four in left field for the Reds.

    Heisey has struggled out of the gate, slashing a paltry .150/.190/.300 with a home run, two RBI, two runs scored and a stolen base through his first 20 at-bats.

    His main form of competition comes in the form of Xavier Paul.

    Paul on the other hand has appeared in five games this season and is slashing .375/.375/.750 with one HR—a grand slam—five RBI and three runs scored.

    Paul and Heisey will battle internally for the starting left fielder's gig. If the two underperform, Walt Jocketty may not hesitate to pull the trigger and trade for a new starting outfielder.

Billy Hamilton in Triple-A Louisville

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    Billy Hamilton is fast. Like really, really fast.

    The 22-year-old's blazing speed made him a minor league legend last year as he swiped a record-breaking 155 bases in 200 attempts.

    After a dismal showing with the Reds over 13 spring training games, Hamilton was reassigned to minor league camp prior to arriving at Triple-A Louisville.

    Hamilton has already played two games with the club and is enjoying the early-season success.

    In seven at-bats, Hamilton has three hits—including two doubles— and a .429/.429/.714 slash line to go along with a run scored and three stolen bases (per Baseball-Reference.com).

    Hamilton was removed from Louisville's game on Friday with what the Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans called "possible cramps."

    Rosecrans described Hamilton as being "day-to-day." Once Hamilton returns, sit back and enjoy the show.

Mike Leake as the Fifth Starter

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    Mike Leake struggled last year as the Reds' fifth starter.

    In 30 starts Leake worked to an 8-9 record with a 4.58 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and ratios of 5.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 10.1 H/9.

    2013 didn't start much better for Leake, as he was lit up by the Nationals on Saturday.

    Leake managed six innings and allowed four earned runs on six hits—two home runs—and four walks with four strikeouts.

    Leake hardly received a vote of confidence from fans who clamored for Aroldis Chapman to be named the Reds' fifth starter.

    With Chapman back in the bullpen, the fifth spot is Leake's to lose.

    With a bevy of young arms in the Reds farm system—including two solid ones in Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino—Leake could find himself in the bullpen or, worse, demoted.

Aroldis Chapman's Return to the Bullpen

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    The Reds entered the 2013 season with the intention of turning Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher.

    All intentions went out the door when Chapman announced that he would rather be a closer (per ESPN.com).

    That move left the Reds with no choice but to place Mike Leake back into the starting rotation.

    Chapman's 2012 campaign was one for the ages.

    The 25-year-old lefty appeared in 62 games last season and recorded 38 saves with a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and ratios of 15.3 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 5.30 K/BB and 4.4 H/9.

    Chapman is a star in the league. After an incredible 2012 campaign, a lot of attention was placed on his role with the team and the performance that would follow in 2013.

    So far, Chapman has yet to disappoint.

    Following Sunday's game, Chapman had yet to allow an earned run in five innings pitched.

    More impressive is that Chapman has allowed just a 0.80 WHIP with ratios of 16.2 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 4.50 K/BB and 3.6 H/9.

    Chapman's star is growing around the league and his early-season performance will go a long way toward solidifying his future with the team.

Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino at Triple-A Louisville

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    I mentioned in a previous slide that the Reds had quite a few young, quality starters in their farm system.

    Both Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino are itching for the chance to start at the big league level.

    Cingrani made his Triple-A debut last Thursday against the Toledo Mud Hens and dominated in impressive fashion.

    Cingrani went six innings, allowing no runs, no hits and one walk while striking out 14.

    His ratios following his first start are sure to come down, but it's worth noting that after one start, his strikeout rate sits at an incredible 21.0 K/9 (per Cincinnatireds.com).

    Corcino has yet to make his debut with Louisville. However, his last season at Double-A Pensacola warrants a close look.

    In 26 starts at Pensacola, Corcino went 8-8 with a 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and ratios of 7.9 K/9, 4.1 BB/9 and 7.0 H/9.

    The walk rate was high, but the rest of the ratios were good enough to get Corcino an invite to spring training this year and a promotion to Triple-A to start the season.

    Should Mike Leake struggle beyond his first couple of starts, Corcino and Cingrani could be called upon to fill his spot.

Mat Latos and His Notoriously Slow Starts

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    Mat Latos was an integral part of the Cincinnati Reds NL Central Championship run in 2012.

    Latos finished the season tied for the NL lead in games started—33—and posted a 14-4 record with a 3.48 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and ratios of 8.0 K/9, 2.8 BB/9, 2.89 K/BB and 7.7 H/9.

    Latos entered the 2013 season primed for improvement and showed that in his first start against the Los Angeles Angels.

    Latos allowed three earned runs on seven hits and a walk over 6.2 innings of solid work for the Redlegs.

    The 25-year-old righty also collected eight strikeouts in the game. While he left with a no-decision, the team went on to win 5-4.

    Latos is a notoriously slow starter with a career 5.59 ERA in the month of April (per Baseball-Reference.com).

    If Latos can get out of the gate early this season, he may just contend for his first Cy Young Award in 2013.

    That task doesn't get any easier as Latos is scheduled to take on Jaime Garcia and the St. Louis Cardinals in the Cardinals' home opener Monday (per Cincinnatireds.com).

Todd Frazier's Blazing Hot Start

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    Todd Frazier capped off a very successful rookie campaign in 2012 with a third-place finish in Rookie of the Year voting (per Baseball-Reference.com).

    In 128 games last season, Frazier logged 422 at-bats with a .273/.331/.498 slash line, 19 HR, 67 RBI and 55 runs scored.

    Frazier followed that up with an impressive spring training performance in which he slashed .263/.323/.579 with five HR, three doubles, 12 RBI and nine runs scored. 

    Frazier's hot spring has now carried over into the regular season.

    Through the team's first six games, Frazier had 12 hits in 25 at-bats with a .480/.519/.920 slash line, three HR, two doubles, nine RBI, five runs scored and a stolen base.

    Fazier's impressive start has fans buzzing about the 27-year-old's potential and for good reason. Frazier's .500 batting average was tied for the highest in the National League entering Sunday's games (per Baseball-Reference.com).

    Definitely keep an eye on Frazier heading forward in 2013.

Joey Votto's Knee and Home Run Total

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    By now, everyone knows about Joey Votto's 2012 knee injury, which cost him 49 games during last year's regular season.

    The knee injury also cost Votto his power as he was unable to log a single home run in 2012 following his return to the lineup (per ESPN.com).

    Votto came back at full strength for spring training this season and finished with a .346/.460/.673 slash line with four HR, 14 RBI, 13 runs scored and a whopping 11 walks in 52 at-bats.

    While it appears that Votto's power has returned, he's yet to hit a home run this season.

    Through 21 at-bats, Votto has worked to a .238/.467/.333 slash line with a triple, an RBI and five runs scored.

    I predicted a 29 HR season in 2013 and I'm confident that Votto can reach and possibly surpass that mark.

    However, the longer Votto goes without a home run, the longer fans will continue to speculate whether the 29-year-old first baseman will ever be a 30 home run threat.

    Be sure to keep an eye on Votto as he continues to look for his first home run of the year.

Devin Mesoraco vs. Ryan Hanigan

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    Devin Mesoraco was one of the crown jewels of the Reds farm system prior to the 2012 season.

    Mesoraco slashed .268/.343/.452 over 453 minor league games with 162-game averages of 21 HR, 83 RBI and 74 runs scored.

    Baseball America was so impressed by Mesoraco's rise through the minors that they ranked him 16th on their 2012 installment of the Top 100 Prospects list. 

    Unfortunately for Mez, his minor league success didn't translate into immediate success at the big league level, where he slashed .212/.286/.352 in 165 at-bats last season.

    This season, Mesoraco earned his way onto the Reds 25-man roster with a very strong showing in spring training.

    The 24-year-old backstop slashed .326/.420/.535 with two home runs, 11 RBI and five runs scored. 

    This season, he's looking to unseat Ryan Hanigan as the team's starting catcher.

    Through the team's first six games, Mesoraco has a .167/.286/.167 triple slash with one run scored.

    Hanigan is the clear choice to start at this point and while the season is still very young, the 32-year-old veteran is off to a slow start.

    Through 16 at-bats, Hanigan has managed a disappointing .063/.158/.063 slash line with an RBI and three strikeouts.

    Hanigan isn't going to lose the starting job right away.

    However, if Mesoraco continues to outperform him as the season progresses, Hanigan could see a significant drop-off in playing time.