2013 ended with another disappointing first-round loss for the Cincinnati Reds. It led to the firing of Dusty Baker. Outside the big bats of Joey Votto and Jay Bruce, which players will be instrumental to the Reds' advancing deeper in the postseason?
To rank the players, I used past statistics as well as potential upside. A player who has been a consistent producer could be behind a player who could be a game changer for the Reds for that reason.
Included are five positional players and five pitchers. The Reds will need both to advance further in the postseason.
Mike Leake, Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart will all be important to the Reds, but just missed the cut.
The flame-throwing Aroldis Chapman is one of the most dominant closers in baseball. He is the hardest thrower in the game and almost a sure thing to close the game when he comes in.
Chapman's secondary pitches are still a work in progress. If he can mix them in with some control, he is unhittable. Hitters are so geared up for the 105 mph fastball that mixing in the offspeed can be deadly (see the video).
The debate on whether or not he will be a starter is over this year. Chapman will be closing in 2014. We may always be left wondering what he could have been as a starter.
If he were a starter, he would be higher up on this list. But as one of the top closers in the MLB, I could not leave him off the list.
Todd Frazier took a huge step back in his sophomore campaign. After finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2012, his batting average dropped 39 points in 2013.
He needs to be the player that made Dusty Baker consider benching Scott Rolen, not a player barely capable of being an MLB starter.
The Reds need a run producer later in their lineup. They were counting on Frazier to be that guy, and he did not come through. Frazier needs to step it up this season, or the Reds could be looking for a replacement.
2012 vs 2013 Stats
With the departure of Bronson Arroyo, Tony Cingrani will be in the starting rotation Opening Day. He filled in admirably when Johnny Cueto went down with an injury in 2013.
What is most impressive about Cingrani is that he has never had a season with an ERA above three at any level. He finished with an ERA of 2.92 last season.
I placed him above Mike Leake because his greater upside. Leake had the best year of his career a year ago, but really faded towards the end of the season.
His post-All-Star break 4.42 ERA and 4.58 ERA from 2012 are more telling of the pitcher he is. An ERA in the high threes to low fours range is more likely.
The only thing that scares me about Cingrani is his heavy reliance on his fastball. According to Baseball Professor, Cingrani threw his fastball 80 percent of the time in 2013.
If he can repeat his 2013 performance for a full season, he may be the best four or five starter in the MLB.
Billy Hamilton will be the most intriguing player to follow on the Reds this season. His speed alone can make him an instant game changer.
He appeared in 13 games for the Reds and has stolen 13 bases. In 2012, he stole 155 bases. 155 bases! That was over a base per game.
He will be the starting center fielder going into the season. Hamilton will be replacing Shin-Soo Choo who was an on-base machine a year ago. He will have to make up for that with his blazing speed when he gets on.
Hamilton is still learning the position, but he makes up for lack of reaction time with his speed. Choo was playing out of position, and Hamilton will be a defensive asset rather than liability.
Getting on base will be the biggest question mark. He only hit .256 in Triple-A. If he can get that up to .275 and have and OBP of .320, he will be a huge asset for the Reds.
He is ranked over others who did not make the cut because of his high upside and speed. Speed is something the Reds have been desperately lacking.
2013 Triple-A Stats
Mat Latos was the best starter on the staff a season ago. The Reds traded for him to be an ace and he was just that in 2013.
He proved that he can pitch in the Great American Smallpark. Doubters believed his stats were inflated from pitching in Petco Park, but he had the second-lowest ERA of his career in 2013.
Latos will continue this production in 2014. You may be wondering how the best pitcher can be ranked this low.
The reason is if two other pitchers have the ability to step it up to this level, their improved production will be what pushes the Reds deeper in the postseason.
Brandon Phillips is the leader of the defense and filled in admirably in the four spot a year ago. He energizes his teammates with the presence he has on the field and dugout.
Last season Phillips won his fourth Gold Glove and participated in his third All-Star game. He also drove in over 100 runs for the first time in his career.
Hidden under all of this was that he hit for his lowest average since 2008 at .261. He also had his lowest WAR since his first season with the Reds.
However, Phillips thrives in big moments, which is exactly what the Reds need. When runners were in scoring position, he hit .338 and .611 with the bases loaded.
Phillips does not have the speed that he once had, but he still provides great defense and timely hitting. He is not the threat of the two hitters listed above him, which is why he comes in at number five.
Homer Bailey appeared to be an overhyped prospect in his first few seasons in the big leagues. However, he has turned that around the last two season. He is beginning to look like the ace he was expected to be.
Bailey has some of the best stuff in the leagues as we have seen in his two no-hitters (see video). It just took him awhile to put it all together. He will be in a contract season, which will give him extra incentive to perform well this year.
Post-All-Star break, Bailey was one of the top pitchers in the league. He had an ERA of 3.02 and a WHIP of 1.08. Bailey's continual improvement will be vital for the Reds to be successful.
If Bailey can pitch like a top of the rotation starter, it will be huge for the Reds. It would give them a dominant three-man rotation in the playoffs. I put him above Latos for that reason, not necesssarily because he is the better player.
Jay Bruce broke the 100 RBI plateau for the first time in his career in 2013. He posted the best WAR of his career at 5.1 and won the Sliver Slugger award for the second year in a row.
Hot and cold streaks have been the story of Bruce's career thus far. When he gets hot, there are few players better in the MLB. The downside is when he gets cold, he is a borderline starter.
This evens out to what he really is. A borderline All-Star.
If he can find more consistency, he would be one of the best hitters in the league. He is still the second-best positional player on the Reds and should only get better. Remember, Bruce is just 26. Look for him to take a step forward this season and make another All-Star team.
Before his injury, there was no question that Johnny Cueto was the ace of the staff. However, he could just not fight the injury bug in 2013.
The Reds' success could very well ride on the health of Cueto. With a healthy Cueto, the Reds have one of the best starting rotations in the league.
For postseason purposes, having Cueto, Latos and Bailey would be one of the best rotations in the NL at full strength.
Even though Latos was their best pitcher a year ago, a return of the Cy Young-caliber Cueto would make the Reds a real contender.
In 2012 Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young Award voting. Here are those stats and his injury-shortened 2013 numbers on bottom.
Joey Votto was an All-Star and finished sixth in the MVP voting in 2013. However, all anyone talked about was his lack of run producing. It was the lowest RBI of career at 73 (excluding non-full seasons).
I decided to go with a positional player over a pitcher, as they affect the game everyday instead of one out of five games.
Votto gets on base at a ridiculous rate. His .435 OBP was first in the NL. This is great, but the Reds need more run production out of Votto.
Votto needs to pick up his power numbers as well, which will naturally add more run production. He had his lowest home run and doubles total since his rookie season in 2013.
For the Reds to have a shot at the title, they need Votto to play more like he did in his MVP season. He needs to carry this team like he did then.
Votto is the best player on this team and one of the best in the MLB. He has the ability to carry this team on his back, which is why he is the Reds' most important player heading into 2014.