Ranking the Cincinnati Reds' Under-the-Radar Players to Watch in 2014
Baseball season is now just a little over a month away. Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers reported to camp February 14, and it is time to look at the Reds' under-the-radar players to watch in 2014.
This is not a ranking for the longtime Reds like Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto or Jay Bruce. The players included here are not the star players but rather the role players who need to step up for the Reds to advance in the postseason.
Rankings were determined based off of each player's potential impact this season. For that reason, players with higher upside can be ranked above players with a lower ceiling.
Mike Leake and Zack Cozart were close to making the cut, but they were ultimately left off the list. This will be Leake's fifth season with the Reds, so I determined that he is no longer under the radar. Meanwhile, Cozart missed the cut due to his lack of offensive upside.
*All stats from Baseball-Reference unless noted otherwise
5. Ryan Ludwick
Ryan Ludwick missed most of last season after he tore cartilage in his right shoulder. However, his play was instrumental to the Reds' success in 2012. His offensive production could not be matched by the platoon of Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul and Derrick Robinson in 2013.
Ludwick is getting up there in age at 35, but he provides a veteran presence in the lineup and does not fade under pressure. Just look at his walk-off home run against the St. Louis Cardinals above.
In 2012, he hit .296 with runners in scoring position and had an OBP of .396.
Ludwick came in at fifth on the list due to his lack of upside. The players ranked above him are all younger and have higher upsides. However, the Reds will benefit from having his bat back in the lineup in 2014.
2012 Season Stats
4. Todd Frazier
After a great start in April last season, Todd Frazier looked like he was going to build on his successful rookie campaign. He had six home runs in the month, including the memorable home run for Teddy Kremer (see video above).
However, his play really plummeted in 2013. He only hit 13 home runs after April, and he ended up hitting just .234 on the year.
Frazier especially struggled away from the hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. He hit just .210 on the road.
The Reds could really use Frazier's rookie-year production this season. He has shown he has the ability to be an above-average MLB starter, so hopefully he can find his stroke again in 2014.
Frazier came in above Ludwick because of his higher upside. However, he came in after Devin Mesoraco due to the importance of having a reliable catcher. Mesoraco will have to manage an entre pitching staff at the highest level; his success will have a greater impact than Frazier at third base.
2012 vs. 2013 Stats
3. Devin Mesoraco
With Ryan Hanigan gone, Devin Mesoraco is officially the starting catcher in 2014.
Mesoraco was a highly rated prospect coming out of the minors, but he's still developing his game. According to Baseball America's top 100 prospect list, he was the second-highest-rated catcher and 16th overall prospect in 2012.
The Reds will be relying on Mesoraco to step up his game this coming season. He will need to get his average and OBP up from a season ago. He has the talent, which is why he was rated so high as a prospect, and he should continue to improve this year.
I ranked him above Frazier because if he can live up to his potential, he will have a bigger impact on the Reds' success. Tony Cingrani has already had success at this level, which gave him the edge over Mesoraco.
2. Tony Cingrani
When Johnny Cueto went down in 2013, Tony Cingrani came in and pitched like a top-of-the-rotation starter. He posted an ERA of 2.92 for the season.
He has an electric fastball that put him among the league leaders in K/9 at 10.3. Just look at his performance against the Washington Nationals from last year (video above). He struck out 11 in the win.
If he can pitch like he did a year ago, the Reds will have one of the top rotations in the league.
Cingrani relies on his fastball too much and still needs to develop his secondary pitches. According to Fangraphs, he threw his fastball 81 percent of the time in 2013. At this level, hitters will start to pick up on a one-pitch pitcher.
I ranked Cingrani over Mesoraco because he has already shown consistent success at this level. He has pitched like an ace, while Mesoraco has simply been adequate at catcher.
His success is part of the reason why the Reds were comfortable letting Bronson Arroyo walk away. Cingrani just barely missed out on taking the top spot.
1. Billy Hamilton
Billy Hamilton has big shoes to fill this season. With the departure of Shin-Soo Choo, he'll be the Reds' everyday center fielder.
Choo was one of the Reds' best hitters last season and was an OBP machine. However, Hamilton is already a better fielder than Choo in center. He will have to make up for what he lacks in OBP with his speed on the basepaths.
Hamilton also brings a weapon that the Reds have severely lacked over recent years: pure speed. He stole an incredible 155 bases in 2012! He stole four bases in his first four games in the big leagues (see video). And in his 13 games as a Red, he already has 13 stolen bases.
To be a successful player in pros, Hamilton will need to improve his hitting and OBP. He became a switch-hitter in the minors, so he is still developing as a lefty. Batting left-handed will allow him to beat out more infield hits and bunts.
Hamilton ranked above everyone else because he is a game-changer. He possesses the speed that no other player in the MLB has.
While Cingrani has been great so far, Hamilton has a higher ceiling as an everyday player. He can impact the game everyday, while Cingrani can only impact it every fifth game.
2013 Triple-A Stats