As we head toward the first games of spring training, the Cincinnati Reds' roster contains quite a few "ifs." Fortunately, some of those "ifs" are in a position to break out both in spring training and the 2014 regular season.
The 2014 version of this list contains a few familiar faces. However, two prospects joined the rank of breakout candidates, with one holding the potential to make himself into one of the most dynamic players in all of baseball.
If the Reds hope to compete for a playoff berth in 2014, they will need three of these four players to step up and outproduce their 2013 seasons, but there is some hope that this can be accomplished.
First up, Devin Mesoraco.
Despite a disappointing start to his big league career, Devin Mesoraco is primed for a huge breakout in 2014.
The 25-year-old owns a .225/.282/.359 slash line over 175 career games, but some of his metrics indicate that he has been a victim of some bad luck and that better days could be on the horizon. Over said 175 games, Mesoraco boasts encouraging measurables, including a 22 percent LD% (line-drive percentage), an 8.0 HR/FB%, a 17.7 K% and a 7.5 BB%.
Aside from his walk rate, all the metrics listed above are above the MLB average over his three seasons. Last year, Mesoraco bested his career averages in line-drive rate and strikeout rate with marks of 26 percent and 17.3 percent, respectively.
Despite his outstanding line-drive rate and better-than-league-average strikeout rate, Mesoraco was slapped with an ugly .248 BABIP last season—a mark hardly indicative of his contact percentages.
Mesoraco puts the ball in play at an above-average rate, posting career IP% and I/Str% marks of 72 percent and 31.8 percent, respectively. As If he continues to put the ball in play at a high percentage, while keeping his line-drive rate constant, the Punxsutawney native should see his fortunes reverse.
When they do, Mesoraco will have no problems eclipsing the .250/.320/.400 marks, while logging somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-20 home runs.
Many have discussed the potential for Billy Hamilton to have a disappointing season in 2014. With concerns surrounding his ability to get on base, and more so with his inability to barrel the ball on a consistent basis, the potential is certainly there for a poor season.
However, Hamilton has an opportunity to silence some of his critics early this season as he enters his first spring training as a prospective starter.
The 23-year-old has a good feel for the strike zone, sporting a career strikeout rate below 20 percent. However, he has a tendency to commit far too early to pitches in the strike zone, resulting in less-than-ideal contact.
Hamilton isn't particularly strong, but he does have very quick wrists. Should he adjust his approach at the plate and let the ball travel a little further in on him, Hamilton would barrel the ball with far more consistency.
Hamilton can also improve his stock this spring by working deeper into the count. Not only would it benefit him, but it will also benefit the rest of the lineup—especially Joey Votto—by making starting pitchers show their whole arsenal early in games.
If Hamilton proves he can get on base during spring games, and subsequently the regular season, fans can sit back and enjoy one of the best rookie seasons in MLB history.
Yorman Rodriguez reinserted himself into the top-prospect discussion last year after a solid 2013 campaign that covered two levels of minor league play—High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Pensacola.
Last year, as a 20-year-old, Rodriguez slashed .259/.324/.427 with 13 home runs, 35 doubles, six triples, 66 RBI, 71 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. Over his 567 plate appearances Rodriguez also put forth a K/BB ratio of 153-47.
While Rodriguez flashes plus power to all fields, he also displays an inability to recognize breaking balls, resulting in a career strikeout and walk percentages of 26.2 percent and 6.6 percent, respectively.
Rodriguez is still just 21 years old as we enter the 2014 season. Although his strikeout percentage sits comfortably in the stratosphere, he showed made a huge impression in the Arizona Fall League.
Over 22 games—85 at-bats—Rodriguez managed a .271/.323/.435 slash line with four home runs, two doubles, 13 RBI, 14 runs scored, three stolen bases and a 27-7 K/BB ratio.
While the K/BB ratio is still higher than most would like to see, Rodriguez impressed while playing against some of the best talent minor league baseball has to offer.
Rodriguez is also an outstanding defender. The young outfielder utilizes above-average speed and fly-ball recognition skills to track down balls in the gap, and his plus arm will be a defining trait for him at the big league level.
While his defense is above-average, Rodriguez's power is his calling card, and he'll look for every opportunity to showcase it in Goodyear, Ariz.
Rodriguez will get an extended look this spring, and although he won't break camp with the team, the 21-year-old has a chance to make a name for himself this year as a possible midseason call-up.
Baseball America's No. 75 prospect prior to the 2012 season, Zack Cozart has struggled to actualize that potential at the big league level. Through 300 games, the 28-year-old owns a .252/.287/.393 slash line with 29 home runs, 63 doubles, 101 RBI, 152 runs scored and a 221-57 K/BB ratio.
Cozart's numbers are hardly confidence inspiring, but his late-season showing in the eighth spot in the order brings optimism for the 2014 season.
Over his final 38 games—25 percent of his season total—Cozart went on a tear, slashing .304/.329/.435 with three home runs, seven doubles, 23 RBI, 16 runs scored and a 21-6 K/BB ratio. In his 148 plate appearances over that time, Cozart managed strikeout and walk rates of 14.2 percent and 4.1 percent, respectively.
While the 4.1 percent walk rate is slightly lower than his season average of 4.2 percent, Cozart's 14.2 percent strikeout rate was a substantial improvement over his 16.5 percent mark over the entire season.
In batting at the bottom of the Reds lineup, Cozart was able to best utilize his free-swinging nature, and it showed in his aggressiveness in a given at-bat.
Should he return to the bottom of the lineup this spring, and subsequently for the entirety of the 2014 season, we should expect to see an accompanying increase in his overall offensive production in relation to his 2013 output.