2014 Record – 76-86, 4th NL Central
Mat Latos, Alfredo Simon, Ryan Ludwick
Projected 2015 Lineup
- CF Billy Hamilton
- 3B Todd Frazier
- 1B Joey Votto
- 2B Brandon Phillips
- RF Jay Bruce
- C Devin Mesoraco
- LF Marlon Byrd
- SS Zack Cozart
Projected 2015 Starters
- Johnny Cueto
- Homer Bailey
- Mike Leake
- Anthony DeSclafani
- Jason Marquis
The NL Central, like the AL Central, is pretty wide open, the difference is that the AL Central has a definite cellar dweller and the NL Central has a very very likely top team. Cincinnati may have a chance to compete in this division, but they need more things to go right than just about any other team.
The likelihood that all of those things go right is small, which is why the Reds find themselves as the first preview for the NL Central. They actually have a decent looking team, but the depth is not fantastic. If players start to go down, the record will quickly follow, which will lead to the Reds selling players like Cueto.
X-Factor – Joey Votto
The on-base machine only played 62 games in 2014 and hit just .255, but still had an amazing OBP of .390. There have been rumors of discontent with the passive style of Votto that has drawn such praise of stat types. While there is certainly a downside to having your first baseman being a moderate (for a first baseman) power hitter, the upside of having someone that can get on base at a 45%ish clip is undoubted.
Even hitting just .255, Votto still had an OPS+ of 127, making him 27% better than the average hitter. If he can get back to playing a full season, one of the many requirement to a successful Reds season will have been met.
Most To Prove – Billy Hamilton
This speedster has been the heir apparent to the stolen base crown ever since he got hype in the minors when he stole 155 bases in 2012. However, the bat has held the speed back. After hitting very well in 13 games in his first call up, Hamilton hit just .250/.292/.355 in 611 plate appearances. The six home runs were nice little amount as any come as a bit of a surprise for the slight center fielder.
Hamilton has the potential and the skill to be one of the best offensive center fielders in the game solely built around his speed. The defense will be fine based on his ability to make up for misreads in the outfield. Base running is, surprisingly, the biggest area that Hamilton needs to improve. Even if you steal 56 bags, you just can’t get caught 23 times to lead the league.
2015 Impact Prospect – Ben Lively – LHP
If Cueto finds his way out of Cincy this season, there will be an opening in the starting rotation. As much as I think Tony Cingrani should keep getting these opportunities, the Reds have shifted him to a bullpen role. If Lively starts the year well in the minors, he could get one of the first looks. With a fastball that touches the low-to-mid 90’s from the left side, Lively could parlay his deceptive and deep, if unrefined, arsenal into a career as a back end starter in the majors.
Why They’re Worth Watching
This team isn’t out of contention just yet and could be one of the surprise stories of the year. If things start to click they’ve got the assets to improve on some of the bigger issue spots like shortstop. This could be the surprise time, though likely won’t be. Tune in to find out.
Mesoraco, Votto, and Frazier will all probably have fine seasons. It is the offensive profile of players like Cozart, Phillips, Hamilton, and a possible return to form of Bruce that matters most. The defense should be fine for the reds, but they’ll have to score enough runs to make up for having a defense first profile, if they do, they will compete for a wild card slot in the NL. 84-78
The more likely of the two outcomes. If injuries start to bite, like the almost invariably do for every single team in baseball, the depth won’t be able to hold them afloat. Cueto will get traded in this scenario, helping an already decent farm system, but taking away their best current starter. 68-94