After a long offseason, baseball is finally back, and so are the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds look ready to compete for a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2013. This is due in large part to a change in tune from ownership. After trading away Yasiel Puig and top 100 prospect Taylor Trammel at the 2019 trade deadline to acquire Trevor Bauer, it became clear that the Reds were going all in on competing in 2020. Cincinnati backed that up by going out and spending this offseason, something the Reds are typically not known for doing. The Reds broke their free agent contract record by signing both Mike Moustakas and Nick Castellanos to 4-year, $64 million deals. Add in the additions of Shogo Akiyama, Wade Miley, and Pedro Strop and the Reds look poised to compete in the NL Central. Let’s take a look at how the roster is projected to shape out on Opening Day:
On paper this rotation looks to be one of the best of all time for the Reds. Part of the reason for that is that the Reds haven’t had many good rotations over the years, but part of it is also that all five guys project to be league average or better starters. In a recent article by MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince, he rated the Reds rotation as third in MLB, behind only the Washington Nationals and Tampa Bay Rays. It is also worth noting that the Athletic recently took a poll from baseball insiders and Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, and Trevor Bauer all received votes for being considered an “Ace.”
- Sonny Gray
- After a rough 2018 in New York, Sonny Gray really found himself in Cincinnati. In 175.1 innings, Gray posted a 2.87 ERA, 3.42 FIP, and a career high in K/9 (10.52) and fWAR (4.4). Gray was rewarded for his outstanding 2019 season by being named the 2020 Opening Day starter.
- Luis Castillo
- Since being acquired from the Miami Marlins, Luis Castillo has been electric. Castillo went 15-8 with 190.2 IP, 3.40 ERA, 3.70 FIP, and a career high 4.1 fWAR. Castillo will look to establish himself as an ace by carrying that production into 2020.
- Trevor Bauer
- After being acquired at the 2019 trade deadline, Trevor Bauer did not meet expectations. In 10 starts, Bauer went 2-5 with a 6.39 ERA and a 4.85 FIP. If Bauer’s production can return to something resembling his 2018 season, the top of this rotation will be tough to beat.
- Wade Miley
- After spending 2019 with the Houston Astros, Wade Miley signed a two-year, $15M deal with the Reds. While his 2019 season wasn’t bad, the Reds are hoping that Miley can return to 2018 form where he had a 2.57 ERA in 80.2 innings. His 2018 season took place under pitching coach Derek Johnson, who is now a member of the Reds staff. The Reds hope that with a shortened season and being reunited with Johnson, that Miley can return to 2018 form.
- Anthony DeSclafani
- Since being acquired before the 2015 season, Anthony DeSclafani has quietly had a good Reds career. The only thing that has held him back to this point is injuries. If he can stay healthy, Disco could be the best number five starter in the league. Last season he posted a 3.89 ERA in 166.2 IP. The Reds will be hoping for much of the same in DeSclafani’s contract year.
- Raisel Iglesias
- 2019 did not go as planned for Raisel Iglesias. After signing a three-year, $24M deal, the Reds intended to use Iglesias in the high leverage situations, instead of just to close out ballgames. Raisel came out publicly saying that he didn’t want to do that, instead wanting to be used in a traditional closer role, stating he didn’t feel as comfortable in those other situations. The numbers reflected that notion, he went 3-12 with a 4.16 ERA and 1.61 HR/9, both career highs. The longball has been a killer for Raisel, with HR/9 of 1.5 and 1.61 over the last two seasons. If Iglesias wants to find success in 2020, he will need to find a way to limit the home runs, a daunting task considering the ball flies out of Great American Ballpark this time of year.
- Michael Lorenzen
- Another good season was turned in by Michael Lorenzen in 2019. He posted a career high 9.18 K/9 and accumulated 1.2 fWAR out of the bullpen. Lorenzen has been dependable out of the bullpen for the Reds, eclipsing 80 innings pitched each of the last three seasons, but Lorenzen brings more to the team than just his pitching. As an above average athlete who can hold his own in the outfield and at the plate, Lorenzen could be an x-factor for the Reds in 2020. Look for Lorenzen to be used as a late game defensive replacement or pinch runner late in games this year, especially with the new extra inning rules in place.
- Pedro Strop
- 2019 was a step backwards for Pedro Strop. Strop posted a 4.97 ERA with a WHIP of 1.272 and an ERA+ of 90, making appearances in 50 games for a total of 41.2 innings. Although, part of the production loss can be attributed to injuries, as Strop dealt with neck tightness and a hamstring strain last season. This is still a good addition to the Reds bullpen. Strop has appeared in at least 50 games every year since 2012 and has posted an ERA+ of at least 131 in every year since 2013, outside of 2019.
- Amir Garrett
- Amir Garrett had his best season to date in 2019, posting a career best ERA (3.21) and K/9 (12.54). This can be contributed to Amir Garrett’s nasty slider, a pitch that he has come to rely on heavily since moving to the bullpen. In 2020, Garrett will likely be the first lefty out of the pen and is set to have another good season if he can find a way to limit walks.
- Robert Stephenson
- Robert Stephenson’s tenure with the Reds appeared to be over after the 2018 season, he was out of options and really struggled to find command at the big-league level. The Reds decided to give Stephenson one final chance, this time out of the bullpen, and it paid off big time. Stephenson posted career bests in K/9, BB/9, HR/9, ERA, FIP, and fWAR. While Stephenson was still a bit shaky at times, 2019 was a huge step forward and if he can find some more consistency then he has a chance to be really good in 2020.
- Nate Jones
- Nate Jones was very good out of the bullpen for the Chicago White Sox when he was able to stay on the field. Health has been an issue for Jones, only pitching in more than 30 innings three times in his career, the last time being 2016. The good news is Jones is healthy again, and after being signed to a non-guaranteed deal, Jones has pitched his way onto the roster. Nate Jones will be a fun storyline this year as he is returning home – he was born in Butler, Kentucky and pitched at nearby Northern Kentucky University. All eyes will be on Nate Jones as he looks to return to his old self in 2020.
- Tyler Mahle
- Tyler Mahle finds himself as the odd man out of the rotation coming into 2020. His 2019 season looks worse than what it really was as he posting a 3-12 record that’s mostly attributable to a lack of run support. Home runs have been his downfall, giving up 1.77 and 1.74 HR/9 the last two seasons. In 2020, Mahle’s role is likely as a swingman, coming in to relieve for multiple innings, while making an occasional spot start.
- Lucas Sims
- Similar to Tyler Mahle, Lucas Sims will be in a swingman type role for 2020. None of the numbers jump off the page with Sims, but he still figures to be a dependable piece out of the pen for the Reds, and like Mahle, could see a start or two.
- Cody Reed
- Cody Reed was bitten by the injury bug in 2019 but looked good in very limited action. The former starter, now reliever is the last remaining piece on the MLB roster from the Johnny Cueto trade. Reed will be a solid left-handed option for the Reds out of the bullpen. One of the things Reed has going for him is that he has never really struggled with home runs, something that will play to his advantage at GABP.
- C: Tucker Barnhart
- Offense has never been Tucker Barnhart’s strong suit, never having posted a wRC+ above 90. Barnhart has decided to drop switch hitting and become a fulltime left-handed hitter. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Reds opt for more of a platoon role this season with Barnhart getting the majority of the at-bats against right-handed pitching. Defensively is where Barnhart brings his value. He brought home a Gold Glove in 2017 and by all accounts the pitching staff loves working with him. Don’t expect anything crazy, but Barnhart should slot in as a dependable catcher this year.
- 1B: Joey Votto
- 2019 was by far his worst season to date, posting a career low 101 wRC+, his lowest since 2008 when he posted a 124 wRC+. Votto has said himself that he was extremely disappointed with his 2019 campaign and has worked very hard to right the ship. The MVP days are likely in the past, but a season like 2018 where he slashed .284/.417/.419 is not out of the question. While its possible father time has caught up with him, if there is one thing I have learned as a Reds fan, it’s to never bet against Joey Votto.
- 2B: Mike Moustakas
- The Reds signed Mike Moustakas to a four-year, $64M deal this offseason, the largest free agent contract in Reds history. Moustakas will slot in as the full time second baseman, despite spending the majority of his career at third base, only appearing in 47 games for the Milwaukee Brewers at second last season. In 143 games, Moustakas slugged 35 home runs while slashing .254/.329/.516. Moustakas will never be a high on-base guy due to his high flyball rate that brings down his batting average and a moderate walk rate, but hitting the ball in the air from the left side will play to his advantage at GABP this year and beyond.
- 3B: Eugenio Suarez
- Eugenio Suarez went off in 2019. In 159 games, he hit .271/.358/.572 with 49 HR. He also had a 133 wRC+, a .381 wOBA, and 4.5 fWAR. His 49 HR was second in the league behind Pete Alonso and broke the records for most home runs in a season for a Venezuelan born player and for most home runs by a National League third baseman in a season. The Reds signed Suarez to a seven-year deal back in 2018 and that contract looks better and better every day.
- SS: Freddy Galvis
- Freddy Galvis is nothing special at shortstop, never posting a wRC+ higher than 89. He is just filling the gap at shortstop until top shortstop prospect Jose Garcia is ready to take over. Expect solid defense and slightly below average hitting from Galvis this season, but nothing more.
- LF: Jesse Winker
- Known for his offense, Jesse Winker has the potential to get hot and put up some crazy numbers in this shortened season. Winker has always had good on-base skills, and likely will see an uptick in power and average because he will see mostly right-handed pitching. Winker will most likely platoon in the outfield and see some time at DH this year.
- CF: Nick Senzel
- Nick Senzel will look to bounce back after an underwhelming rookie season. Senzel dealt with injuries and some bad hitting advice, as someone told him to make changes to his swing causing a dip in production. By all accounts Senzel’s swing is back where it should be, and he looks as though he spent some time in the weight room during quarantine. Nick Senzel has hit at every level since college and I expect much of the same this year.
- RF: Shogo Akiyama
- Shogo Akiyama is a bit of a mystery coming into this season. Shogo is coming over from NPB in Japan where he was a member of the Seibu Lions, and it is yet to be seen whether his production is going to carry over. Akiyama probably isn’t going to wow anyone with his home run numbers, but should have some gap to gap pop with a high average. Since David Bell has said that Senzel will see the bulk of the time in center, Akiyama will likely spent most of this time in the corners as one of the better defending outfielders on the team, sliding to center whenever Senzel needs a day off.
- DH: Nick Castellanos
- Possibly the biggest acquisition of the offseason for the Reds, Nick Castellanos signed a four-year, $64 million deal with opt outs after each of the first two season. Castellanos will likely see a lot of time in the corner outfield for the Reds, noting that was part of the reason he signed with an NL team, but Castellanos is much better known for his offensive production. Castellanos has also shown that he can carry a team over a short period after what he did in Chicago after the trade deadline. In 51 games for the Cubs, he hit .321/.356/.646 with 16 HR. Over that stint he had a 154 wRC+, .408 wOBA, and 2 fWAR.
- Curt Casali
- Curt Casali will serve in the backup catcher role for 2020. With Tucker Barnhart dropping switch hitting, there is a chance that Casali slides into more of a platoon role. Casali would benefit from a platoon as he has had more success against lefties over the course of his career.
- Phillip Ervin
- Phillip Ervin is likely to see the majority of his playing time against left-handed pitching. Ervin slashed .349/.411/.638 against lefties, compared to a measly .227/.285/.373 versus righties. Carrying that production forward against lefties will be key for Ervin to get playing time in the crowded Cincinnati Reds outfield.
- Kyle Farmer
- Kyle Farmer is expected to be the teams third string catcher. There is a chance that if Freddy Galvis goes down with a minor injury and doesn’t have to miss much time, Farmer could slot in as a back up shortstop. Production won’t be anything great but by being able to play catcher and every infield position, Farmer brings a lot of value.
- Josh VanMeter
- Josh VanMeter put everything together in 2019 and forced his way onto the big-league roster. In 48 games at AAA, VanMeter hit .348/.429/.669 while hitting 14 HR and driving in 43 runs. VanMeter didn’t have nearly the same level of success in MLB but the potential is there for him to be a quality bench bat this season.
- Alex Blandino
- Alex Blandino missed most of 2019 after suffering a knee injury in 2018. Blandino has decent on-base skills but doesn’t really bring much else to the table offensively. Defensively he’s pretty average but can play second, third, and short. Blandino will likely fall victim to the roster cutbacks a few weeks into the season.
- Matt Davidson
- Matt Davidson has come out of nowhere as a candidate to break camp with the club. Davidson was signed as an organizational depth piece, but the slugging corner infielder has impressed in summer camp. Davidson has a chance to slide in as a DH against lefties in the early season but will need to produce in his limited opportunities if he is going to stick around.
- Travis Jankowski
- Travis Jankowski brings a lot of speed and solid defense to the table, something that could help the Reds with the new extra innings format. With the Reds outfield being as crowded as it is, Jankowski will likely struggle to find playing time and will be one of the first few players sent back to the taxi squad.
Players to Keep an Eye On:
- Aristides Aquino
- Aristides Aquino set the world on fire when he was called up in August last season, hitting 14 HR in 29 games. Aquino came crashing back to earth hard in September where he hit .194 with 34 strikeouts in 27 games. Despite struggling at the end of the season, Aquino seemed like a lock to make the roster in 2020, but the additions of Castellanos and Akiyama made Aquino the odd man out, since he was the only outfielder with options remaining.
- Tyler Stephenson
- Cincinnati’s top catching prospect has an outside shot at seeing some time on the roster this year. It will likely take an injury, but Stephenson will be the first name called if there is one. Stephenson was slated to start the season from AAA after a solid year in AA and a good season in the Arizona fall league. Tyler looks to be the heir to the catcher position from Barnhart and it could be coming sooner rather than later.
- Tejay Antone
- Tejay Antone really came out of nowhere; if you aren’t a huge reds fan then you’ve probably never heard of him. He’s always had good secondary pitches and fastball that would sit 92-93 with some movement. What got Antone on this list, though, was the fact that he showed up to spring training throwing 97-98 with the breaking stuff looking even better. He’s been a starter his entire career and has a chance to stay there, but for this season don’t be surprised if we see him out of the pen at some point.
- Nick Lodolo
- 2019 first round draft pick Nick Lodolo did not disappoint in his short 2019 season. In 30 innings between rookie and A ball, Lodolo punched out 30 batters without issuing a single walk. As a college arm, Lodolo is a bit more polished and as a left-hander with good stuff, there is a chance he could be added to the bullpen late in the season to give hitters a different look.
- Jose Garcia
- The Reds top shortstop prospect came into his own at Single-A last season. Garcia continued to impress in spring training before things were shut down, earning him an invite to the taxi squad. Garcia will benefit greatly from facing tough competition at the Reds secondary site. Unless Garcia just dominates at Prasco Park it is unlikely we see him this year, barring injury to Freddy Galvis. If Galvis does go down long term, then Garcia seems like the right guy to call upon. Garcia has the potential to be a perennial All-Star, the question is just can he get there?
The Cincinnati Reds were the one team in the NL Central that made a huge effort to get better during the 2019 offseason. The Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers are all good teams still, but the Reds closed the gap and possibly surpassed them with the new additions to their roster. PECOTA projects the Reds at 33-27, with a first-place finish in the NL Central. Its worth noting though that PECOTA has the top four teams finishing within three games of each other. Getting off to a good start will make or break the Reds season. Recently they have struggled with that, getting off to a 3-18 start in 2018 and a 1-8 start in 2019. The schedule does work in the Reds favor this year as six of their first 10 games are against the Detroit Tigers. If the Reds can take advantage of that easy start, then I think they bring home the NL Central division title and with their rotation and lineup, anything can happen in the Postseason.
Featured Photo: @Reds on Twitter