Cincinnati Reds' Biggest Early Season Surprises and Disappointments

Kyle NewportFeatured ColumnistApril 13, 2014

Cincinnati Reds' Biggest Early Season Surprises and Disappointments

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    Jeff Roberson

    Although the 2014 MLB season is only two weeks old, the Cincinnati Reds have been able to see who has been a pleasant surprise and who hasn't lived up to the billing early on.

    It's been a rough start to the season for the Reds. The pitching has kept the team in every game, but the offense has rarely scored enough runs to reward the pitchers. Between all of the team's injuries and the difficult schedule, it needs to figure out a way to get timely hits before it's too late.

    The team's season has been defined by the surprises and disappointments. Unfortunately for Reds fans, there haven't been enough surprises to overcome the disappointments.

    The important thing to remember is it's only two weeks into the season. There is no need to panic just yet or give up on any of the players who have disappointed early on.

    Keep reading to see who has been the team's biggest surprises and disappointments through the first two weeks. 

     

    *All stats are via MLB.com as of 4/13/14.

Disappointment: SS Zack Cozart

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    Al Behrman

    2014 stats: 10 G, 4-for-35, 2 2B, 3 RBI, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 HBP, 6 K

    Zack Cozart entered this season hoping for a breakout year on offense. Instead, he is just hoping to get a hit whenever he can.

    Through the first eight games, he reached base via hit or walk only once. If there was a good sign, it was the fact he wasn't striking out much. He has struck out only six times through his first 10 games. 

    Luckily for the Reds, Cozart has been able to put good wood on the ball recently. He was having a hard time finding holes, but he started to find some holes lately.

    In his past two games, Cozart reached base in five of his seven plate appearances. He had two extra-base hits and drew his first walk of the season. The Reds need him to continue to hit in order to have depth throughout the lineup.

    Although his offensive numbers aren't impressive, the shortstop hasn't let his struggles affect him in the field. Defense can only carry a player so far before a team has to start looking for other options that can help at the plate.

    Cozart is entering his third full season, and he looks like he is going to be a .250 hitter with some pop. The Reds can accept numbers like that down in the lineup, especially if Cozart's defense remains steady. However, he has to get going soon if the Reds expect to break out of their offensive slump. 

    Cozart was almost as close to an automatic out as it gets in Major League Baseball for the better part of two weeks, but it looks like he is starting to see the ball better.

Surprise: RHP Alfredo Simon

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    2014 stats: 2 GS, 1-1, 15 IP, 9 H (1 HR), 2 R, 10 K/2 BB

    When Mat Latos went on the disabled list, not even the most loyal Reds fan could have predicted how well Alfredo Simon would do once he joined the rotation.

    Simon has been arguably the best pitcher in Cincinnati's rotation this season. Johnny Cueto has been terrific early on, but Simon has held his own and then some.

    Entering the season, starting pitching depth was a major weakness for the Reds. With Simon's great start to the season, it looks like the team can survive a prolonged absence by Latos.

    In his first start of the year, Simon allowed only one run on four hits in seven innings (79 pitches). He managed to pitch even better in his most recent outing, against the Tampa Bay Rays at Great American Ball Park. The veteran allowed a home run early in the game, but he put up zeros the rest of the way. He threw only 102 pitches in eight innings and probably could have finished the game had the Reds given him any runs to work with.

    Simon has received only two runs to work with in his two starts combined. Even with the pressure to be perfect, he hasn't faltered.

    The 32-year-old hadn't started since he was a member of the Baltimore Orioles back in 2011. So far, he has been one of the Reds' biggest bright spots of the season.  

Disappointment: CF Billy Hamilton

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    Michael Keating

    2014 stats: 10 G, 6-for-39, 1 2B, 1 3B, 3 R, 2 BB, 9 K, 2 SB, 1 CS

    Outside of one game this season, it's been a painful learning process for young Billy Hamilton.

    Sure, the speedster has already shown just how much he can change a game. When he gets on, he can steal bases, advance on shallow flyouts and make a pitcher's life miserable.

    However, he has to get on base first.

    Hamilton started the season by striking out in each of his four at-bats on Opening Day. He struck out only nine times in 55 at-bats during spring training, so Reds fans were hopeful he would be able to put the ball in play this season. That hasn't been the case. He's been chasing pitches out of the zone routinely, but that's to be expected from a young player.

    Everyone knows speed is his biggest weapon. Fans have expected Hamilton to be running within the first pitch or two after gets on base, but he hasn't done much of that yet. Whether it's because the batter doesn't give him time or he doesn't feel comfortable running, Hamilton has yet to run loose.

    Even after an excellent spring, nobody expected Hamilton to hit .300 this season. His inability to make solid contact has kept him from reaching base, which can help explain why the Reds have struggled to score this season. 

    Manager Bryan Price will eventually face a tough decision if Hamilton doesn't show improvements at the plate in the next month or two. At minimum, the skipper would have to consider moving the speedster down in the lineup.

    Hamilton is in the majors out of necessity. The 23-year-old could use another season in the minors to work on his hitting, but the Reds need him in the majors. Two weeks is way too early to give up on him, especially considering all of his at-bats have come against the stellar pitching of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Rays.

    No rookie is under more pressure to perform than Hamilton. If he is able to start getting on base and use his game-changing speed, the Reds' offense should begin to hit its stride.

Surprise: C Devin Mesoraco

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    2014 stats: 4 G, 7-for-14, 2 HR, 3 2B, 6 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB, 6 K

    Devin Mesoraco has always been seen as a potential middle-of-the-order hitter. In his first couple of games off the disabled list, he has shown why the team views him as such.

    The Reds' starting catcher missed the first week of the season while dealing with an oblique injury. Although backup Brayan Pena did a solid job of filling in, Cincinnati missed Mesoraco's presence. He brings a solid bat to the lineup, and his absence created a hole on the bench.

    Just how much did Mesoraco help the lineup once he returned? Through his first three games, he was already leading the team in extra-base hits with four. He has started his 2014 campaign with a four-game hitting streak in which he is batting .500 with an on-base percentage of .529. Five of his seven hits have been for extra bases.

    The 25-year-old has come off the disabled list scorching hot, which gives the Reds a strong bat down in the order. The way he is swinging the bat, manager Bryan Price may have to seriously consider moving Mesoraco up in the order.

    Mesoraco's only downside has been his propensity to strike out. Of his first seven outs, six have been strikeouts. That trend is somewhat troubling, but as long as he continues to put the ball in play, he's going to be a tough out.

    It's an extremely small sample size. However, Cincinnati has to be excited Mesoraco came off the disabled list swinging a hot bat. The rest of the lineup has struggled, but the catcher has been able to come up with some hits. 

Disappointment: RHP J.J. Hoover

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    Al Behrman

    2014 stats: 4 G, 1-1, 2.1 IP, 3 H (1 HR), 5 R, 2 K/5 BB

    With how banged-up the Cincinnati bullpen was to start the season, the Reds needed J.J. Hoover to be a big force late in games. Unfortunately for the club, the third-year pitcher has struggled early on this season.

    Fans had hoped Hoover's control problems in spring training didn't continue into the regular season. They did. He walked seven batters while striking out only four in eight innings. So far this season, he has walked five batters and recorded only two strikeouts.

    Hoover had a really rough outing in New York that really hurts his overall numbers. In his first save opportunity of the season, the right-hander allowed a walk-off grand slam to the Mets' Ike Davis after allowing a hit and two walks without recording an out. Yikes.

    Runs have been at a premium this season, so the last thing the Reds needed was a blown save.

    Again, the Reds needed Hoover to step up with Aroldis Chapman, Sean Marshall and Jonathan Broxton all on the disabled list. Broxton is now back, so Hoover won't be relied upon so heavily now.

    Let's not forget how good Hoover has been through the first two seasons of his career. The right-hander posted a 2.08 ERA in his first season and a 2.86 ERA in 69 games last season. Right now, the Reds absolutely need him to regain his old form.

Surprise: C Brayan Pena

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    Al Behrman

    2014 stats: 8 G, 6-for-21, 2 2B, 0 RBI, 1 R, 4 BB (2 IBB), 5 K, 1 SB, 1 CS

    When the Reds signed Brayan Pena this offseason, they were hoping he'd be able to bring some offense to the lineup. He's not knocking the cover off the ball, but he's been a very nice pickup thus far.

    He has done a good job of making pitchers throw strikes. When pitchers throw him strikes, he has made solid contact more often than not.

    Pena was forced into action from the start after Devin Mesoraco went on the disabled list with an oblique injury. The switch-hitter was not only expected to get on base, but he also had to learn how to work with the pitching staff quickly.

    In the six games Pena has started, Reds pitchers have allowed a total of 12 runs. He has also thrown out one of the two runners who have tried to steal off him this season. His veteran presence has helped the Reds in ways that don't show up on stat sheets. If a pitcher gets flustered, Pena gets him back on track.

    Pena may not be Ryan Hanigan behind the plate, but he's no slouch.

    The way he has been swinging the bat, Pena has given manager Bryan Price a nice option off the bench. It's tough to use the backup catcher as a pinch-hitter, but the Reds can afford to use Pena knowing they have Neftali Soto as an emergency catcher.

    Cincinnati hasn't done much on offense this season, but its catchers haven't been the problem. 

Disappointment: RHP Homer Bailey

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    Jeff Roberson

    2014 stats: 2 GS, 0-1, 9.1 IP, 16 H (2 HR), 8 R, 8 K/5 BB

    It may be a little unfair to call Homer Bailey a disappointment thus far, but after he signed a six-year, $105 million contract this offseason, everyone expected a big season out of him from the start.

    Bailey has put up impressive numbers in recent seasons, but his career numbers indicate he has always been a slow starter. Throw in the fact he battled a groin injury in the second half of spring training and it would be tough to expect him to be on top of his game from the start.

    It also doesn't help he has had to face the St. Louis Cardinals—a team he had struggled against until last seasonin each of his first two starts.

    However, the Reds haven't needed him to throw shutouts. They just needed him to be able to protect a couple of first-inning leads. Cincinnati scored at least three runs in the first inning in both of Bailey's starts this season, but the veteran has not been able to hold those leads. 

    Although the 27-year-old hadn't gotten this kind of run support in recent seasons, he's pitching on the right days this year. Now, he has to do a better job of protecting leads.

    Had it not been for the contract extension, this start may not have been such a disappointment. Bailey is 2-6 with a 4.60 ERA in 15 career April starts. His 1.466 career WHIP in April is the second-highest he has posted of any month.

    Bailey's breaking balls have been pretty filthy so far this season, but locating his pitches consistently has been a problem. The groin injury could be playing a role in his inability to locate pitches, or he could just be off to another slow start. Either way, the Reds need him to get going quickly, especially if the team continues to give him early leads.