Projecting Cincinnati Reds' Final 25-Man Roster at the Start of Spring Training

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2014

Projecting Cincinnati Reds' Final 25-Man Roster at the Start of Spring Training

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    Baseball fans everywhere celebrated as the calendar turned to March, which means baseball season is only a few weeks away.

    Many teams have position battles in spring training. The Cincinnati Reds are lucky enough to have their roster pretty much set. Barring injuries, the final bench spot is the spot up for grabs.

    This team has plenty of talent in the lineup, bench and pitching staff. Unless the injury bug strikes, the Reds should be headed for the postseason for the fourth time in five seasons. 

    It's time to see who will be on Cincinnati's roster come Opening Day. Keep in mind that these projections are based on everyone being healthy.

    *All stats via MLB.com

Starting Pitchers

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    1. RHP Johnny Cueto (Age 28)

    2. RHP Mat Latos (Age 26)

    3. RHP Homer Bailey (Age 27)

    4. RHP Mike Leake (Age 26)

    5. LHP Tony Cingrani (Age 24)

     

    When healthy, this rotation is arguably the deepest in baseball. Unfortunately for the Reds, health is a big concern for the team right now.

    Ace Johnny Cueto has dealt with injuries to his side since the 2012 postseason, and he was limited to only 11 starts last season. Tony Cingrani put up great numbers in Cueto's place last season, but he missed some time with a back injury.

    Right now, two other pitchers are dealing with injuries. Mat Latos, who has turned into an ace since coming to Cincinnati, had both elbow (bone chips) and knee surgery (torn meniscus) since the end of last season. Now Mike Leake is dealing with an abdominal injury, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon. Leake will take some time off and hope that it doesn't become a bigger issue.

    Homer Bailey is the only pitcher who hasn't had any injuries in recent seasons. With Latos' status uncertain, Sheldon reported that manager Bryan Price is going to take his time before he sets the rotation.

    If Latos is ready for Opening Day, he and Cueto could flip spots in the rotation. If he is still dealing with his knee injury, look for Cingrani and Leake to swap spots in order to match up with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    Cincinnati's rotation has the ability to eat up innings when healthy. Cueto, Latos and Bailey have all topped the 200-inning mark at least once in their careers. Leake threw 192.1 innings last season and should make a run at 200 this year. Cingrani will likely be limited to around 170 innings, but nothing has been announced.

    Health is a big concern in the rotation. This team doesn't have much depth in the minors, so it will be hoping that all of the injuries will be healed by March 31. 

Bullpen

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    LHP Aroldis Chapman (Closer)

    RHP Jonathan Broxton (Setup)

    LHP Sean Marshall (Setup)

    RHP Sam LeCure

    RHP J.J. Hoover

    LHP Manny Parra

    RHP Alfredo Simon

     

    Like the rotation, the bullpen has to find a way to stay healthy in order to be dominant. The Reds' bullpen had injury problems last year, but it was still able to put up strong numbers.

    Cincinnati's bullpen posted a 3.29 ERA in 2013, which was good enough for seventh in baseball. It did that despite setup men Jonathan Broxton (forearm) and Sean Marshall (shoulder sprain/tendonitis) throwing a combined 41 innings. Manny Parra rebounded from an early pectoral injury to have a career year.

    The Reds were able to piece together innings while their setup men were out. Sam LeCure stepped up in a big way and posted a 2.66 ERA in 63 outings. J.J. Hoover came on strong in the middle of the season and finished with a 2.86 ERA in 69 outings. They have the ability to use their breaking balls effectively and use their fastballs when necessary.

    Broxton and Marshall are the team's highest-paid relievers. They both have plenty of experience that can help lead the rest of the bullpen into becoming consistently dominant. Both of the relievers are still trying to recover from their injuries, and it's unclear as to whether or not either will be ready for Opening Day.

    The front of the bullpen exceeded expectations last season. That bodes well for a team that has Aroldis Chapman closing the door at the end of games. Notice that didn't say "ninth inning." As MLB.com's Mark Sheldon wrote, manager Bryan Price plans to use Chapman for more than one inning if necessary.

    Chapman's numbers declined slightly last year, but now the Reds will be able to get more value out of him. Price has worked with the left-hander enough to know how to use him.

    Cincinnati can do without Marshall and Broxton to start the year if necessary. However, life would be much easier for the bullpen if those two veterans were able to get healthy quickly. 

Bench

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    INF Jack Hannahan

    OF Chris Heisey

    C Brayan Pena

    SS Ramon Santiago

    2B/OF Skip Schumaker

     

    The Reds' bench will have a much different look this year.

    Outfielder Chris Heisey continues to be the team's most dangerous threat off the bench, and Jack Hannahan returns for his second season with the club. Other than those two, it's a whole new group of players for the bench.

    Cincinnati recently announced, via MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, that Hannahan had surgery shortly after last season to repair a torn labrum. He unknowingly suffered the injury during last spring, and he is still recovering from the surgery.

    Skip Schumaker was arguably the team's biggest acquisition this offseason. His average has dropped slightly in each of the last two seasons. However, he has a career slash line of .285/.344/.372. That line is much better than what the Reds have gotten from the likes of Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez in recent years.

    The Reds decided to save some money by addressing the catching situation. The club signed Brayan Pena to be the backup, which subsequently led to it trading veteran Ryan Hanigan. If Pena can duplicate last season's numbers, he will bring some offense behind the plate. He hit .297 with four home runs and 11 doubles in 71 games with the Detroit Tigers last season.

    Four players are locks to make the 25-man roster, so that leaves one spot still up for grabs. It will come down to shortstop Ramon Santiago, infielder Chris Nelson and outfielder Roger Bernadina.

    With Heisey and Schumaker on the roster, the Reds have plenty of outfielders on the roster. Unless Bernadina puts on a hitting display in the spring, he looks like a long shot. Between Santiago and Nelson, only Santiago has played regularly at shortstop.

    Cincinnati doesn't have a true backup shortstop on its roster, so the team's need will decide the final spot. Nelson may have more potential with the bat, but the team still needs someone who can give Zack Cozart a day off every once in a while.

Catcher: Devin Mesoraco

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    By signing Brayan Pena early in the offseason, it was clear that the Reds were ready to give Devin Mesoraco a shot to play every day.

    The 25-year-old hit only .238/.287/.362 with nine home runs and 13 doubles last season. Those numbers don't look great on the surface, but he thrived when he got to play nearly every day.

    Mesoraco played in 20 games in a month only twice last year. He put up his two best monthly numbers, including a .296 average in July, when he played in 20 games in a month.

    Also, his average has gone up each year since he debuted. It's a great sign that the young catcher is adjusting at the plate, and now he will finally get a chance to show what he can do.

    The biggest area in which he needs to improve is his hitting with runners on base. He hit .258 with the bases empty, and his average dropped to .213 with runners on and .239 with runners in scoring position. He will hit near the bottom of the order, so there won't be a lot of pressure on him to drive in a ton of runs. His role should allow him to relax and continue to improve.

    Mesoraco impressed on defense last year. He isn't quite on Ryan Hanigan's level behind the plate, but he did a terrific job of handling Mat Latos and Mike Leake last season.

    Former manager Dusty Baker liked to assign catchers to two or three pitchers. It's unclear how new manager Bryan Price will handle the catchers. Latos and Leake thrived with Mesoraco, and Bailey even looked comfortable with him. Pena caught Cingrani's first start of the spring, but that doesn't mean that he will catch him every time.

    No matter how Price handles the catchers, Mesoraco is going to be playing nearly every day. He's had time to develop, and now is his time to shine. 

First Base: Joey Votto

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    Cincinnati fans can use pen when writing Joey Votto into the lineup for the long haul.

    Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage in each season since 2011, although he technically didn't qualify for the title in 2012. His .435 on-base percentage last year was the highest of his career when he played in at least 130 games. That number put him behind only American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera.

    Many Reds fans still were disappointed with Votto.

    Yes, he has an enormous contract. Fans want to see the man who hit 37 home runs and knocked in 113 runs in 2010. That's not happening in anymore. Pitchers aren't going to give Votto a chance to put up those numbers, and the veteran isn't going to give away at-bats.

    Votto's job is to get on base. Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick and Todd Frazier have all shown the ability to knock in runs. If those players do their jobs, Votto's incredible ability to reach base will pay off.

    The 30-year-old hit .291 with runners in scoring position last year. That's not too bad.

    If Reds fans want to get on Votto's case, point out the defensive miscues. The first baseman committed a career-high 14 errors just two years after winning a Gold Glove. He had committed just 12 in the previous two seasons combined.

    Votto takes pride in his work on both sides of the ball, so expect him to show improvements in the field this year.

    Fans need to accept the 2010 NL MVP for who he is. Votto is going to put up a great average and on-base percentage. He's going to hit anywhere from 25 to 30 home runs and drive in at least 80 runs. That's who he is. Enjoy watching one of the best hitters of his era at the plate.

Second Base: Brandon Phillips

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    After an offseason filled with trade rumors, Brandon Phillips is still a member of the Cincinnati Reds.

    The 32-year-old remains arguably the most versatile hitter in the majors. He went into last season expecting to hit second all season. After only a couple of innings into the season, his role changed. Along with the change in role came a change in mindset.

    When a player hits second, getting on base is important. When he shifts to the cleanup spot, driving in runs is all that matters. Phillips made that clear from the moment he dropped down in the order. He knocked in more than 100 runs last season, which meant that he did his job.

    Some people look at his .261/.310/.396 slash line and see a disappointment. Those numbers didn't matter to Phillips. He was all about driving in Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto.

    Don't forget that he got off to a hot start last year. At the end of the day on June 1, he was hitting .296/.347/.481 with nine home runs, 13 doubles and 45 RBI. He hit only nine home runs, 11 doubles and 58 RBI over the final four months of the season. 

    What happened? On June 1, he was plunked on the wrist by a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher. Phillips missed a few games but played through the pain the rest of the year.

    He took care of the ligament damage in the offseason, as his Instagram account showed.

    Phillips made the NL All-Star team for the third time and won a fourth Gold Glove. Not a bad year.

    Now that he is back near the top of the order (and healthy), Phillips will adjust his approach to get on base. 

Shortstop: Zack Cozart

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    The Reds will likely put Zack Cozart at the bottom of the lineup to start the year, so there won't be much pressure on him. Hopefully he will be able to carry the momentum from the end of last season into this year.

    Despite all of the criticism sent his way, the shortstop's average and RBI total increased last season. However, he has the talent to continue to improve.

    Cozart hit .282 in August and .281 in the final month of the season. Those numbers indicate that he can be a strong hitter, but consistency will be the key.

    In 2013, the 28-year-old had three months in which he hit above .275 and three months in which he was below .250. Luckily two of his better months came on at the end of the season, which gives the club hopes that he has made adjustments.

    Oddly, his home-road splits didn't go as expected. Cozart hit only .236 at Great American Ball Park compared to .272 on the road. Those numbers were virtually flipped back in 2012. Now the Reds need him to be able to put up strong numbers wherever the game is played.

    Cozart is a strong defensive player, and he can turn into a solid overall player if he can carry the momentum at the plate over into this season. 

Third Base: Todd Frazier

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    Todd Frazier silenced critics with his play at third base, but he also showed weaknesses at the plate. 

    He was a big part of the team's success in 2012. The right-handed batter hit .274 with 19 home runs and 67 RBI in 128 games that year.

    In 2013, Frazier hit .234 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles and 73 RBI in 150 games. He didn't have a huge problem hitting at Great American Ball Park. He posted a decent .258 average at home, but his .210 average on the road needs to improve.

    Even though his overall average wasn't very good, the Reds lucked out. Frazier hit .237 with nobody on base. When runners were in scoring position, his average jumped to .281. Fifteen of his 19 homers came with nobody on base, so it appears that he made adjustments in different situations.

    When Ryan Ludwick went down on Opening Day, Frazier became a more important player. He wasn't able to step up the way he did two years ago, but he still did a solid job of driving in runs.

    Frazier will be expected to put it all together in 2014. The team needs hitters in the bottom half of the lineup to produce, and Frazier is one of the most important hitters on the club. 

Right Field: Jay Bruce

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    Jay Bruce put up more strong numbers in 2013, and now he will have even more pressure on him to produce.

    The left-handed hitter will likely hit fourth the majority of the time this season. Joey Votto is going to get on base a lot, so it will be Bruce's job to drive him in. If his career numbers are any indication, he's going to produce.

    The right fielder tied for second in the NL with 109 RBI. Although he just missed increasing his home-run total yet again, he has increased his RBI total each season since he debuted. He has driven in at least 97 runs in each of the past three seasons.

    Bruce's .262 average was the highest that it had been since he hit .281 in 2010. He found a way to eliminate the 0-for-19 streaks, and his average slightly increased. From May through July, he hit at least .280 in each month.

    Even though it can be risky to put two left-handers in the lineup back-to-back, Bruce has shown the ability to have success against southpaws. He hit 10 of his 30 homers against left-handers last year. His .246 average against southpaws could use some work, especially considering he hit .272 against right-handers.

    Great American Ball Park is a great place to hit for most hitters, but Bruce oddly struggled at home in 2013. He hit .224 with 16 home runs and 47 RBI at home last year, and he hit .298 with 14 home runs and 62 RBI on the road. For whatever reason, he had a lot more success away from hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

    Bruce was snubbed of a spot on the NL All-Star team and the Gold Glove last year. The 26-year-old is one of the premier run producers in the game. His approach at the plate was much better last year, and his average should continue to rise.

Center Field: Billy Hamilton

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    No rookie will be under the amount of pressure that Billy Hamilton will face in 2014.

    The 23-year-old will have to replace Shin-Soo Choo, who finished second in the NL in on-base percentage last year, at the top of the lineup. That's a pretty daunting task.

    Sure, Hamilton will be a huge defensive upgrade over Choo. However, all eyes will on the switch-hitter's offensive numbers.

    Everyone knows about his speed. He racked up 395 stolen bases in five seasons in the minors, and he stole 13 bases before getting caught in his first month in the majors.

    Hamilton hit .256/.308/.343 in his first season at Triple-A. Reds fans would probably be content if he hit for that average in his first full season in the majors, but they would like his on-base percentage to be higher in order to utilize his speed.

    The speedster had nine hits in his first 19 at-bats (.368 average) in the majors. That's pretty impressive, but he will have a lot of pressure on him to succeed.

    Cincinnati fans have seen speed disappoint in the past. Drew Stubbs had plenty of speed, but he had a hard time getting on base. Hamilton is faster, but he will face the same challenge of trying to find a way on base.

    Early in spring, Hamilton has opened games with long at-bats. It's a good sign that he has been able to work the count, but it's only the first few games of spring training.

    When Hamilton gets on base, he is going to put pressure on pitchers. That should allow guys like Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to see some mistakes.

Left Field: Ryan Ludwick

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    Some people will argue that Billy Hamilton is the most important player in Cincinnati's lineup. The speedster is going to be worth keeping an eye on, but Ryan Ludwick is the team's X-factor.

    The Reds know what they are getting from Brandon Phillips, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce. The rest of the order is a bit of a mystery. 

    Ludwick's bat will go a long way in determining how well this team does in 2014. If the Reds get the hitter of 2012, they can make a serious run at the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central. If last year's Ludwick shows up, the club would have a tough time keeping pace in the division.

    Two years ago, the left fielder stepped up when Votto went down with a knee injury. He hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 home runs and 80 RBI. He missed most of last season after suffering a torn labrum on Opening Day. The veteran hit .240 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 38 games last year.

    The injury certainly contributed to his poor offensive numbers, but Cincinnati needs him to put that in the past after an offseason to recover. 

    Ludwick is a career .262 hitter, and he averaged 86 RBI from 2008 to 2012. The Reds need him to put up numbers similar to those in order to be serious contenders this season.

    Right-handed power has been an issue for Cincinnati. Phillips has been the team's only consistent bat from that side of the plate in recent seasons. Now the Reds need the bottom of the lineup to produce.

    Ludwick and Todd Frazier were big bats in 2012, so there is plenty of potential. Now this team needs at least one of them to find their swing again.

Projected 25-Man Roster

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    Projected Lineup

    1. CF Billy Hamilton (S)

    2. 2B Brandon Phillips (R)

    3. 1B Joey Votto (L)

    4. RF Jay Bruce (L)

    5. LF Ryan Ludwick (R)

    6. 3B Todd Frazier (R)

    7. C Devin Mesoraco (R)

    8. SS Zack Cozart (R)

    9. Pitcher

     

    Bench

    INF Jack Hannahan (L)

    OF Chris Heisey (R)

    C Brayan Pena (S)

    SS Ramon Santiago (S)

    2B/OF Skip Schumaker (L)

     

    Rotation

    1. RHP Johnny Cueto

    2. RHP Mat Latos

    3. RHP Homer Bailey

    4. RHP Mike Leake

    5. LHP Tony Cingrani

     

    Bullpen

    LHP Aroldis Chapman

    RHP Jonathan Broxton

    LHP Sean Marshall

    RHP Sam LeCure

    RHP J.J. Hoover

    LHP Manny Parra

    RHP Alfredo Simon