Cincinnati Reds: 7 Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training
The Cincinnati Reds have played just nine spring training games, but as we head toward the second week of March, some players are already turning heads with their impressive play. This mix of players includes Reds veterans, non-roster invitees, minor leaguers and rookies all looking to raise their stock within the organization.
While one of the players in this group may look to take his talents to another team after exercising his opt-out clause at the end of spring training, the rest of them have a chance to make a profound impact on the Reds' success this season.
We'll kick off our look at this seven-player group with an established Reds player, shortstop Zack Cozart.
After ranking as a top prospect in the Reds system—and also as the game's No. 75 prospect according to Baseball America—Cozart has struggled to actualize that lofty potential during his big league career.
In 300 career games, Cozart boasts a slash line of .252/.287/.393 with 162-game averages of 16 home runs, 34 doubles, 55 RBI and 82 runs scored. Cozart displayed good speed and outstanding baserunning abilities in the minors, logging 30 stolen bases during his 2010 season at Triple-A Louisville.
Since graduating to the big league level, Cozart has shown little in the way of discipline and speed, but 2014 looks like it could be a different story.
According to Cozart—via courier-journal.com—his confidence is way up after a stellar showing over his final two months.
I ended the year pretty confident. I wanted to continue on that. My simple thought the last two months was: middle, the other way. I’m staying with that approach. I think you can look back at those last two months and see I hit probably double the amount of balls to right field than I did early in the year. I want to stick to that approach.
Over the two month period Cozart references—52 games played—he put up a .282/.313/.403 slash line with four home runs, eight doubles, 27 RBI and 22 runs scored.
That uptick in production is already starting to carry over into spring training, where Cozart is slashing a lofty 455./.455/.545 with one double, three RBI, three runs scored and one stolen base over 11 at-bats.
Cozart will be allowed to cut it loose on the base paths this year as well. New manager Bryan Price plans to loosen control over the team's baserunning, in an attempt to create more run-scoring opportunities. Price had this to say about the team's speed early on in spring training.
We’ve got a couple guys there in Frazier in Cozart who are capable base-stealers who simply need to seize the opportunity. If we get into a situation where a pitcher is consistently slow to the plate, we need to create those scoring opportunities by getting more guys in scoring position.
It's a small sample size, but Cozart already has more stolen bases this spring than he did in the entire 2013 season. In fact, despite his above-average speed, Cozart didn't even register a stolen-base attempt last year—he already has two in 11 at-bats this spring.
Cozart's hot start could be huge for the Reds, and they'll need it to carry over into the regular season if they hope to log their third straight playoff appearance and fourth in five years.
Neftali Soto signed on with the Reds back in 2007 after being selected in the third round of the same year's amateur draft.
The recently turned 25-year-old has tons of raw power and has logged 14 or more home runs in each of the last four seasons, including 21 and 31 in 2010 and 2011, respectively. However, that power potential has yet to translate into big league success.
The Puerto Rico native put up a solid stat line at Triple-A Louisville in 2013, including a .271/.313/.414 slash line with 15 home runs, 21 doubles, 61 RBI and 54 runs scored.
Soto isn't the big-ticket prospect that he was a few years ago but the power potential is legitimate and, if he could find a position to play, he'd be at the big league level already. Over parts of seven minor league seasons, Soto has five different positions, those being first base, shortstop, third base, catcher and right field.
According to Cincinnati Reds assistant director of media relations Jamie Ramsey, Soto is retrying an old position having entered camp as a catcher in 2014. The news should be taken with a grain of salt though, as Soto has yet to log a single inning of work behind the plate this spring.
Even if he's unable to make the transition, Soto's bat should carry enough value to make him a solid bench bat in the near future.
Soto has been raking out in Goodyear. In 16 at-bats, Soto boasts a strong .500/.500/.938 slash line with one home run, four doubles, two RBI and two runs scored. Although he's yet to register a walk, Soto has also avoided logging his first strikeout, an impressive feat for a player who struck out at a rather unimpressive 20.8 percent clip over the 2013 minor league season.
Soto's bat can be a legitimate asset at the big league level, but only if he's able to find a position in the field. If he's able to stick behind the plate, Soto could have a clear route to a permanent spot in the big leagues by mid-2014. If not, then Soto could be trade fodder by the midseason deadline.
Right now though, Soto's stock within the organization is skyrocketing
With a Twitter handle like @Braunerhulk, one would expect a bunch of power potential in the bat of Donald Lutz. The 25-year-old packs a huge punch in his 6'3", 250 pound frame, and it translated into back-to-back seasons of 15-plus home runs between the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Take a look at Lutz's numbers over the last three minor league seasons.
|2012 (Rk, A+, AA)||107||416||112||25||22||71||.269||.336||.517|
Lutz's numbers have dipped slightly over each climb in competition, but he has displayed outstanding power at every stop along the way.
Lutz struggled early in 2013, but even through a prolonged slump where he hit .211 with an OBP of .294, the young outfielder still managed to slug .513 with five home runs, four doubles, two triples and 14 RBI in just 21 games.
Lutz was promoted to to Cincinnati at the end of April but struggled through his first 58 at-bats as a big leaguer. Over that span of at-bats, Lutz slashed .241/.254/.310 with one home run, one double, eight RBI and a 14:1 K/BB ratio.
After struggling through his first call-up, Lutz returned to Double-A Pensacola, where he appeared much more comfortable. Over 153 at-bats after his reassignment, Lutz put out a solid .261/.329/.379 slash line with two home runs, eight doubles, two triples, 16 RBI, 22 runs scored and a 35:12 K/BB ratio.
Lutz's solid minor league campaign has carried over into the spring, showcasing that power. Over 12 at-bats, Lutz boasts a .250/.357/.667 slash line with one home runs, three doubles, one triple, five RBI, four runs scored and a 2:1 K/BB ratio.
Lutz leads the team in RBI this spring and has displayed significantly improved bat-on-ball skills with just two strikeouts to his credit.
With the Reds outfield situation pretty well settled for opening day, Lutz will likely return to Double-A, where he can receive consistent at-bats. However, if he's able to continue his hot hitting, he'll make a strong case for roster inclusion as a midseason or September call-up.
Billy Hamilton's speed is the stuff of legend. Literally.
According to B/R's lead prospect writer, Mike Rosenbaum, Hamilton is the "fastest player I’ve ever seen on a baseball field" and has the "best home-to-first time I’ve ever recorded or heard of."
Despite his blazing speed, Hamilton has one big knock against him, and that's his inability to barrel the ball consistently, providing strong line drives. Consider what Rosenbaum had to say of Hamilton's hit tool.
Legitimate questions as to whether he’ll ever develop the hit tool needed to hold an everyday job in the major leagues; switch-hitter has quick wrists from both sides of the plate; generates above-average bat speed and stays short to the ball; struggles to keep his weight back; lunges at too many hittable offerings; controls the zone relatively well; makes far too much weak contact for someone who projects as a dynamic leadoff hitter.
Those concerns surrounding Hamilton's ability to get on base were going to be tested this spring, but so far, he's been able to keep criticism to an absolute minimum. Over 12 at-bats, the 23-year-old is slashing .417/.500/.500 with one double, two RBI, five runs scored, two stolen bases and a 0:2 K/BB ratio.
Hamilton is a rookie and, like most rookies, he's bound to struggle this season. However, as of right now, he looks to be well on his way to a healthy 2014 campaign.
Last season, Roger Bernadina suffered through the worst season of his big league career. After a stellar effort with the Nationals in 2012, Bernadina laid a dud in the 2013 season, logging a .181/.250/.295 slash line with four home runs, two triples, 10 doubles, 11 RBI, 26 runs scored and just four stolen bases.
This season, Bernadina is looking to revitalize his career after a late-season release from the Nationals—and an equally disappointing showing after signing on with the Phillies in August.
Over 10 at-bats this spring, he's doing just that. Bernadina boasts an impressive .500/.688/.800 slash line with one triple, one double, one RBI, six runs scored and a 1:4 K/BB ratio.
The veteran outfielder has done a masterful job of putting the bat on the ball, and has managed to log four walks (25 percent BB%) and just one strikeout (6.3 percent K%) despite horrible numbers in both categories over the 2013 season.
In all likelihood, Bernadina won't be suiting up for the Reds or any of their minor league affiliates this season. The club signed the 29-year-old to a minor league contract this offseason, but he's making a strong case for inclusion on a team's 25-man roster should he opt out of his deal.
With Mat Latos' immediate future up in the air after an impromptu knee surgery at the start of spring training, the starting rotation picture got significantly fuzzier, and the team needs some insurance at the back-end of the rotation should he prove unable to go when the team breaks camp.
Despite having spent most of his big league career as a relief pitcher, Alfredo Simon is being given the opportunity to earn that hypothetical fifth starting spot this spring—per ESPN.com.
Simon hasn't pitched in a starting role since 2011, and that season proved to be the main reason why the Reds were able to snatch him off waivers from the Orioles. Over 23 appearances—16 starts—Simon allowed a 4.90 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP while averaging 6.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9, 2.08 K/BB and 10.0 H/9.
Since moving to Cincinnati for the 2012 season, the big right-hander has been a great option out of the bullpen, allowing a combined 2.78 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 99 appearances and 148.2 innings pitched.
This spring, we'll see Simon try to continue that success as he stretches out over multiple innings. However, in the early goings of spring training, Simon looks outstanding. Over five innings pitched, the 32-year-old has yet to allow an earned run or a hit and boasts impressive metrics including a 0.40 WHIP and per-nine averages of 7.2 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9.
According to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, Latos said he "feels fantastic" and is hoping to be ready for the team's first series, where they'll take on the rival Cardinals. However, if Latos is unable to go early this season, Simon looks to have the early lead in the race to secure a final starting spot.
Despite concerns surrounding his lack of a second or even third viable pitch, Tony Cingrani had an impressive rookie season in 2013.
Over 23 appearances—18 starts—Cingrani logged 104.2 innings with a 2.92 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP and averages of 10.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9, 2.79 K/BB and 6.2 H/9. The young lefty led Reds' starters in K/9 and finished behind only Manny Parra and Aroldis Chapman in the same category.
This year, Cingrani has employed a diversified approach to pitching, mixing in a changeup and a slider.
Although it's over an extremely small sample size, Cingrani's diversified attack seems to be paying early dividends. In five innings pitched, the 24-year-old has yet to allow a run, and boasts some solid metrics including a 0.80 WHIP and averages of 10.8 K/9, 10.5 P/IP and a slash line against of .071/.235/.071.
Starting pitchers can't get by at the big league level with just one pitch, and that was the main concern with Cingrani coming into the 2014 season. Last season, he used his fastball at an 81.9 percent rate, one of the highest of any starter in Major League Baseball—per Brooksbaseball.net.
If Cingrani is able to continue using his above-average fastball while also mixing in a fair share of changeups and sliders, the young left-hander could have a monster season in 2014.