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Complete Cincinnati Reds 2014 Spring Training Preview

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistFebruary 10, 2014

Complete Cincinnati Reds 2014 Spring Training Preview

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    There's going to be a new look to the Cincinnati Reds in 2014, but there are still going to be high expectations for the club.

    Cincinnati finished third in the National League Central in 2013, which was good enough to get it a spot in the NL Wild Card Game. Injuries finally caught up to the team at the end of the season, and they were too much to overcome in the one-game playoff.

    Some of the key veteran players from last year's squad are gone. The Reds will be relying on several young players to make an impact this season.

    Despite some of the departures, the team's core is still together. The cornerstones of the franchise have been good enough to get the team to the postseason in three of the past four seasons. 

    On paper, the Reds have what it takes to compete with the St. Louis Cardinals this year. If the young players can carry their weight on offense, this team could wind up back in the playoffs and possibly make a deep run.

    Let's take a look at the club entering spring training.

     

    All stats are via MLB.com

Offseason Recap

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    New Arrivals:

     

    Departures:

     

    When looking at the arrivals compared to the departures, it appears the Reds lost a lot more than they gained this winter. 

    Bronson Arroyo averaged over 200 innings per season throughout his time with the Reds. Catcher Ryan Hanigan has done a great job of handling the pitching staff and limiting runners on the bases in recent seasons. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to replace Shin-Soo Choo's ability to get on base.

    Outfielders Derrick Robinson and Xavier Paul did well in their roles with the team, but the Reds decided to part ways with them.

    What kind of impact will newcomers Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena have on this year's squad? If everything goes as planned, very little.

    Schumaker brings a veteran presence to the clubhouse, and he is a versatile player. Not only can he play in the outfield, but he can also give Brandon Phillips a day off here and there at second base. His bat is much better than those of Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez, both of whom Reds fans weren't thrilled with in recent seasons.

    Cincinnati essentially swapped Hanigan for Pena. It did so in order to give Devin Mesoraco a chance to play on a regular basis. Pena does have experience catching Aroldis Chapman, but it's not clear how much time he will get behind the plate. Mesoraco did a good job catching Mat Latos and Mike Leake last year. It may turn into Mesoraco taking an occasional game off instead of dividing the pitchers among the two catchers.

    Reds fans were hoping for a big splash this offseason. They didn't get one, and the signings that the team did make will hopefully be on the bench most of the year. The only way Schumaker and Pena see significant playing time is if someone gets hurt.

Injury Updates Entering Camp

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    The Reds had several key injuries last season that hurt their chances of making a deep run in October. After an offseason to recover, it looks like those injuries have healed.

    There haven't been any setbacks reported on Johnny Cueto's side injury. That will be something to keep an eye on during spring training as he gets more work in. There also has not been anything reported on the status of Jonathan Broxton, who had surgery near the end of the season, nor on Sean Marshall.

    Let's take a look at some of the key injuries from last season and their current status.

     

    2B Brandon Phillips

    Brandon Phillips knocked in a career-high 103 runs last year, but many people focused on his .310 on-base percentage, which was the worst of his Reds career.

    There are a few reasons as to why that number dipped. First, he adjusted his approach when he moved into the cleanup spot. Knocking in runs became more important than getting on base. However, through June 1, he was doing a great job of driving in runs and getting on base.

    As of June 1, he was hitting .296/.347/.581 with nine home runs, 13 doubles and 45 RBI. He hit only nine home runs, 11 doubles and 57 RBI over the final four months of the season.

    What was the reason for the drop? On the first day of June, Phillips was drilled in the wrist by a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher. He missed a couple of games directly after, but he gutted out the rest of the season.

    Phillips didn't use the injury as an excuse, but he got treatment for it in the offseason. As he posted on his Instagram account (above), he had ligament damage in his left wrist.

    It looks like that injury has healed as he has been working out.

     

    RHP Mat Latos

    The injury that most Cincinnati fans want to know about is Mat Latos' bone chips.

    The right-hander was diagnosed with the injury shortly before the Wild Card Game, and it was enough to keep him from making the start. Shortly after the season, Latos had surgery to take care of the issue, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon.

    He was expected to be ready for spring training.

    The Cincinnati Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans was able to talk to Latos for an update on his recovery in January:

    If I hadn't had the surgery, I'd be in a [lot] of pain right now.

    I feel like I'm behind right now, they say I'm on schedule.

    The whole idea is to get four-to-six bullpens before we start spring training. Nothing spectacular. Fastballs, maybe changeups -- maybe. It depends on how everything feels. Everything feels great. The surgery went well, it took 32 minutes, and I was out. It wasn't anything spectacular.

    There were four of them [bone chips] floating around down there -- not a bad season for four bone chips floating around in the elbow.

    It sounds like Latos isn't in any pain, so he should be able to get his arm ready for the start of the season. Dallas Latos, Mat's wife, tweeted good news a few days ago: The pitcher had already reported to camp.

Coaching Staff Analysis

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    Manager: Bryan Price

    Hitting coach: Don Long

    Pitching coach: Jeff Pico

     

    Many Reds fans got what they wanted. Dusty Baker is gone, and Bryan Price is now the manager.

    After turning around the Reds' pitching staff in recent years, Price finally gets a chance to lead the team. It was only a matter of time before he got a shot. With the team's late-season struggles in 2013, management decided to give Price a chance.

    Not only is Baker no longer with the organization, but former hitting coach Brook Jacoby was also let go. Don Long will take over as hitting coach in 2014.

    Long was the Pittsburgh Pirates' hitting coach from 2008 to 2010, and he has been in the Atlanta Braves organization as a minor league hitting coordinator ever since.

    Jeff Pico, who spent the last 11 years in the Arizona Diamondbacks organization, will replace Price as pitching coach. 

    Managers and coaches can only have so much impact on a team. They can implement different philosophies and strategies, but at the end of the day, the players are the ones who are held accountable.

    However, one way Price will have an impact on the team is his willingness to maximize Aroldis Chapman's talents.

    The new manager had been on the record of wanting to convert the hard-thrower to a starter in the past. That doesn't appear to be happening this year, but Chapman will be used more in 2014.

    MLB.com's Mark Sheldon has Price's plans for Chapman:

    In regards to Aroldis, I was on record last Spring Training that pitchers get better throwing innings, especially pitchers that don't have a lot of innings under their belt or pitchers that struggle to throw strikes or throw their secondary pitches over the plate. I haven't changed that philosophy. That being said, we're going to put the best team on the field and put people in the best positions to be successful, and we'll make that decision as we go forward in Spring Training.

    That should make Reds fans thrilled. Last season, Chapman threw only 63.2 innings. It was tough to get him into meaningful games, especially when he wasn't used for more than one inning. From the sound of things, Price has every intention of using the southpaw for more than three outs.

Lineup Preview

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    2014 Cincinnati Reds Projected Starting Lineup:

    CF Billy Hamilton (S)

    2B Brandon Phillips (R)

    1B Joey Votto (L)

    RF Jay Bruce (L)

    LF Ryan Ludwick (R)

    3B Todd Frazier (R)

    C Devin Mesoraco (R)

    SS Zack Cozart (R)

    P

     

    2014 Cincinnati Reds Projected Bench:

    OF Chris Heisey (R)

    3B Jack Hannahan (L)

    C Brayan Pena (S)

    2B/OF Skip Schumaker (L)

    Utility Man

     

    The roster is set other than one spot—the final bench spot. There are several contenders for the final spot: infielder Ramon Santiago, 2B/3B Henry Rodriguez, infielder Chris Nelson and outfielder Roger Bernadina.

    That battle will work itself out in the spring, and it's unclear as to who has the inside track.

    Entering the past few seasons, Reds fans knew what the Opening Day lineup would look like. Dusty Baker stuck to his guns and went with what he thought worked best. With Price, nobody knows what to expect.

    Billy Hamilton is going to be the leadoff hitter, and Joey Votto is going to bat third. It's a total guess after that.

    The lineup would be best if shortstop Zack Cozart could get comfortable while batting second—which would send second baseman Brandon Phillips back to the cleanup spot. He hasn't up to this point in his career, so it's likely that he is going to be down in the order.

    It's likely that Phillips will bat second, rather than put two young hitters at the top of the lineup in front of Votto. Putting Phillips second would shift right fielder Jay Bruce up to fourth. At one of the team's annual caravan stops, Price said that Bruce would see time as the cleanup hitter, via Fox 19's Joe Danneman.

    The rest of the lineup will be easy to piece together once the top is set.

    If left fielder Ryan Ludwick and third baseman Todd Frazier can regain their 2012 form, this lineup will be one of the league's best. The two combined to knock in nearly 150 runs two years ago. An injury to Ludwick and Frazier's struggles saw that number nearly cut in half.

    Phillips' versatility gives Price the ability to construct different lineups. Putting him right behind Hamilton gives the Reds a reliable bat who can execute hit-and-runs, bunts and situational hitting.

    The Reds lost an on-base machine in Choo, but there is still a lot of talent throughout the lineup. 

Rotation Preview

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    2014 Cincinnati Reds Projected Rotation:

    1. RHP Johnny Cueto (Age 27) 

    2. RHP Mat Latos (Age 26)

    3. RHP Homer Bailey (Age 27)

    4. RHP Mike Leake (Age 26)

    5. LHP Tony Cingrani (Age 24)

     

    There's absolutely no guessing as to who is in the team's rotation. The only thing that isn't certain is the order that the starters will go.

    Manager Bryan Price has yet to name an Opening Day starter. Johnny Cueto has gotten the nod the last two years, but Mat Latos has proven to be an ace since arriving in Cincinnati.

    When healthy, this rotation can stack up against any team in the league—with the exception of the Los Angeles Dodgers—from top to bottom. Staying healthy is the key, though.

    Losing Bronson Arroyo will hurt the team in terms of durability. The veteran never missed a start and did a terrific job of eating innings.

    Cueto, on the other hand, was limited to only 11 starts during the 2013 regular season due to injuries in his side. He never made it more than three starts in a row before going down with an injury last year. He's an ace when he's healthy, but that's a big concern right now.

    Tony Cingrani impressed in his first season in the majors. He was a big reason as to why the Reds were able to survive Cueto's absences, but he too went down late in the season with an injury. His back injury kept him from pitching after Sept. 10.

    Outside of those two, the rotation looks pretty durable.

    Mat Latos and Homer Bailey—who has tossed a no-hitter in each of the last two seasonshave both tossed at least 208 innings in each of the past two seasons. Mike Leake threw a career-high 192.1 innings, so he could be on track to top the 200-inning mark for the first time in 2014.

    It'll be tough for Leake to duplicate last year's success, but he's a good enough pitcher to continue to pitch well.

    Yes, Latos did miss the most important game of the season because of an injury. It was bad timing for it to happen, but he has shown that the Reds can rely on him. Bailey battled injuries early in his career, but he has been a workhorse in recent seasons.

    With four guys capable of throwing 200 innings this season, Cincinnati has the pitching it needs to challenge St. Louis in the division. 

Bullpen Preview

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    2014 Cincinnati Reds Projected Bullpen:

    CL Aroldis Chapman

    SU Jonathan Broxton

    SU Sean Marshall

    RHP J.J. Hoover

    RHP Sam LeCure

    LHP Manny Parra

    RHP Alfredo Simon

     

    Like the rotation, there is not much mystery in the bullpen. For once, there was no real talk about converting Aroldis Chapman to the rotation. He is the team's closer, so everyone else in the bullpen know their roles.

    Injuries were also a big part of the bullpen last year. The two highest-paid relievers, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton, missed a lot of time with injuries. A shoulder injury limited Marshall to only 10.1 innings, and Broxton made only 34 appearances due to a forearm injury, which also contributed to some struggles. The right-hander posted a 4.11 ERA in only 30.2 innings last season.

    How did the Reds bullpen do without its two setup men? It posted a 3.29 ERA, which was good enough for fourth in the National League.

    A few guys had breakout seasons to help overcome the loss of two strong relievers.

    J.J. Hoover was the biggest reason as to why the Reds were able to put up great numbers out of the bullpen. The right-hander posted a 2.86 ERA in 69 games in his first full season in the majors. He even picked up three saves throughout the year. He made a name for himself. He got belted for six runs during a June 9 appearance against the St. Louis Cardinals. He didn't allow another run until Aug. 20—a span of 26.1 innings over 23 outings. He held right-handers to a .224 average and left-handers to a .163 average. That's getting it done.

    Sam LeCure was also a big part of the bullpen's success. He had an up-and-down season but finished the year with a strong 2.66 ERA. The veteran's main job is to get the team out of tough jams. Of the 27 runners he inherited last year, only three scored.

    Manny Parra's breakout year was good enough to keep him in Cincinnati. The Reds re-signed the left-hander to a two-year contract, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, after he showed that he could be effective coming out of the bullpen. The 31-year-old's 3.33 ERA in 2013 was easily the lowest of his career. He held left-handed hitters to a .167 average, which helped make up for Marshall's absence. 

    The Reds have a nice mix of hard-throwers and guys who can get people out on the breaking ball. If the bullpen can stay healthy in 2014, look out.

Prospects to Watch

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    CF Billy Hamilton

    There is no doubt about who the prospect to watch is for the Reds. 

    Billy Hamilton provided a huge boost to the team when he was called up in September. He stole 13 bases, which was good enough for second on the team, in his month in the majors. He did finally get thrown out on his final attempt of the season, but he had already gotten the city buzzing.

    Hamilton's speed was so valuable that it earned him a spot on the Reds roster for the Wild Card Game.

    Even at the plate he impressed. Hitting is the biggest concern for Hamilton. He hit .368/.429/.474 in his first trip to the majors, but he had only 22 plate appearances. The switch-hitter is a career .280/.350/.378 hitter in five seasons in the minors. He isn't going to hit many home runs, but the Reds just need him on base so he can show off his speed.

    When he's on base, there's no doubt that Hamilton is going to steal. He had 395 stolen bases and was caught only 84 times in the minors. The speedster was put into games in obvious stealing situations last season, but teams still couldn't throw him out. Not even Yadier Molina could stop him.

    If he can give the Reds a respectable on-base percentage, this offense is going to get on a roll.  

     

    RHP Robert Stephenson

    In the minors, Robert Stephenson is the man to watch.

    The 20-year-old has quickly worked his way up to Double-A in two seasons. He made only four starts in Pensacola last season, but the Reds have high hopes for the pitcher. 

    Stephenson posted a 2.99 ERA between three levels last year. He's got a great fastball (which can touch 100 mph), a strong breaking ball and is still developing his changeup. 

    Whatever he is doing is working. The right-hander struck out 136 batters and walked only 35 in 114.1 innings in 2013. 

    Cincinnati likes the growth that Stephenson has shown in his two years since coming out of high school. Reds player development director Jeff Graupe talked about Stephenson's development, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon:

    He came to us as a high school kid who was very talented but was almost trying to do too much at times. He added a few extra pitches he probably didn't need. Going away from that and using his main three pitches and attacking hitters early in counts, I think, was a big step forward.

    With younger guys, we want to establish fastball command. With the power he brings with his four-seam, it was plenty enough to be successful for him.

    He learned what works for him and what he needs to do to keep putting hitters away on a consistent basis.

    Stephenson isn't expected to be in the majors until 2015. If he can put up more great numbers this season, there is an outside chance that he could be called up in September. A 2014 debut doesn't look likely as of now, but he's someone to keep an eye on. 

Breakout Candidates

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    C Devin Mesoraco

    The Reds were able to trade away Ryan Hanigan because they liked what they saw from Devin Mesoraco in his prolonged stint in the majors.

    His slash line of .238/.287/.362 doesn't look great, but it's time to see what he can do when he plays every day. He impressed when he did so last year. He played in 20 games in a month only twice last season, and his two highest averages of the year came during those months, including a .294 average in July. 

    Mesoraco has been hyped up as a strong offensive catcher. The Reds dealt catcher Yasmani Grandal a couple of years ago because they liked Mesoraco's bat. Hanigan became expendable after Mesoraco showed that he can handle a pitching staff and handle the bat.

    However, Mesoraco needs to continue to improve with runners on base. The 25-year-old hit .258 with six home runs with the bases empty. He hit only .213 with runners on and .239 with runners in scoring position. 

    The catcher is going to have high expectations in 2014. Now that he is going to play every day, Mesoraco will be able to show what he can do at the plate.

     

    SS Zack Cozart

    No player in the Cincinnati lineup received more criticism last year than Zack Cozart. The Reds finally had a strong leadoff hitter in Shin-Soo Choo, but Cozart couldn't fill the void at No. 2.

    Oddly enough, the shortstop put up relatively better numbers last year than he did before. He hit slightly fewer doubles, triples and home runs last season, but his average and RBI total increased significantly. 

    Many fans don't give Cozart enough credit for doing what was asked of him. He tied for the second-most sacrifice flies (10) and the third-most sacrifice bunts (13) last year. Those don't got a lot off attention, but they are crucial to a team's success.

    Like Mesoraco, Cozart was much better with the bases clear. He hit .272 when nobody was on base, but his .228 average with runners on should go up as he is asked to drive in runners more rather than just move them along.

    Assuming he bats down in the order, the 28-year-old won't have a lot of pressure on him. There was a lot of pressure on him in 2013 to perform well hitting behind Choo and ahead of Votto. Now he will get a chance to relax and find his swing.

Position Battle Predictions

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    Final Bench Spot:

    INF Ramon Santiago (Age 34)

    2B/2B Henry Rodriguez (Age 23)

    2B/3B Chris Nelson (Age 28)

    OF Roger Bernadina (Age 29)

     

    Unless he just puts on an absolute show in spring training, the odds of Roger Bernadina making the Opening Day roster aren't very good. Cincinnati has its outfield set, and with Chris Heisey and Skip Schumaker on the bench, outfield isn't a huge need.

    That means the battle for the final bench spot will come down to Ramon Santiago, Henry Rodriguez and Chris Nelson.

    If it comes down to who gives the Reds the most off the bench, Rodriguez should be the pick. However, this battle is probably going to be won based on need.

    Neither Santiago nor Nelson provide much offense. Santiago hit .224 with only 10 extra-base hits in 80 games with the Detroit Tigers last year. Nelson was slightly more productive while splitting time among three teams, hitting .227 with three home runs, four doubles and four triples. 

    In 2012, Nelson hit .301/.352/.458 with nine homers, 21 doubles and three triples with the Colorado Rockies. If he can get back to that form, the Reds would be thrilled.

    However, the 2014 Reds are lacking a backup shortstop. That's how the final roster spot is likely going to be won. Back in December, Cincinnati GM Walt Jocketty, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, set out to find a switch-hitting infielder for the bench. That's exactly what he got in Santiago.

    Zack Cozart is a solid starter, but nobody else on the current roster has much experience at shortstop. Nelson has played a total of three games in the majors at shortstop, whereas Santiago has played the majority of his games at the position. Rodriguez has played only 58 games at shortstop in the minors.

    Nelson may give the Reds more on offense, but the Reds need someone who can give Cozart occasional days off. As of now, it looks like Santiago has the inside track for the final roster spot.

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