Matt Kemp and Chris Carpenter sustained two of the most high-profile injuries last year, but the oblique strain Johnny Cueto suffered in Game 1 of the NLDS against San Francisco had arguably the biggest impact on the 2012 season. The Reds went on to win that game despite losing Cueto in the first inning, but he was unavailable to start either Game 4 or 5, in which the Reds could have closed out the series and moved on to the NLCS. Instead, the Giants rallied from a two-game deficit and went on to win the World Series. Had Cueto been healthy, the story could quite easily have been different.
Now, the Reds enter 2013 with a World-Series-or-bust mentality. They patched the one hole in their offense, acquiring Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks that only cost them one major leaguer, Drew Stubbs. They have a potentially dominant rotation, with Cueto and Mat Latos finally joined by Aroldis Chapman. One through eight, their lineup is as deep as any in the National League, built around Joey Votto, the league's preeminent on-base machine, and Jay Bruce, who should get into the mid-30s in homers. Chapman's move to the rotation might mean the bullpen isn't as strong as it was last year, but Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall and J.J. Hoover give the Reds a reliable back end in the 'pen. Befitting a team with World Series aspirations, the Reds are flush with prime fantasy assets.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF 2. Brandon Phillips, 2B 3. Joey Votto, 1B 4. Jay Bruce, RF 5. Ryan Ludwick, LF 6. Todd Frazier, 3B 7. Zack Cozart, SS 8. Ryan Hanigan, C
1. Johnny Cueto 2. Mat Latos 3. Aroldis Chapman 4. Homer Bailey 5. Bronson Arroyo
The 98-mph fastball and power slider that made Chapman unhittable as a closer should translate well to the rotation. Even if it takes him a while to develop a reliable third pitch -- a necessity with the Reds looking for at least six innings every time out -- those two pitches alone will make him a force as a starter. That third pitch will surely be a changeup, and if he can learn to throw even an average one, it will be a devastating pitch for him. Even if he isn't sitting in the high-90s the way he could when he was coming out of the bullpen, he'll likely throw a fastball that averages around 95. An average changeup that takes off 10 mph would be very difficult for left-handed hitters geared up for the fastball. If Chapman can push up around 150 innings, he should strike out 200 batters. There may be some growing pains associated with moving to the rotation and doubling his innings, but he'll be just 25 this season, and his arm is ready to be stretched out. The Reds will likely limit his innings, but he looks like a fantasy ace in the making.
I think he can. First, the power is for real. Frazier hit 17 homers in 130 games with Triple-A Louisville in 2010, then 21 combined with Louisville and the Reds in 2011. His 13.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio is perfectly sustainable for him over a full season, especially given the friendly confines of the Great American Ballpark. Last year's .316 BABIP suggests a bit of good fortune for a player who isn't going to leg out many infield hits, but not an amount that should concern us. A solid walk rate near eight percent should keep his OBP respectable. He'll also be in a great spot in the lineup, likely hitting sixth behind Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. That should mean a bevy of RBI opportunities. Frazier qualifies at third and first, but you'll probably want to play him at third if you get him. A season with 25 homers is on the horizon.
However, Choo will really be unleashed now that he is in Cincinnati. He'll have protection in the lineup for the first time in a long time. Brandon Phillips, Votto and Bruce will line up behind Choo in the Reds' order. That means the famously patient Choo (he has a career walk rate of 11.4 percent) should see plenty of pitches to hit. If he gets on base, Baker will allow him to run nearly at will, and he'll have three proven run producers coming up behind him. That should set our fantasy cash registers ringing already.
In addition, Choo has left behind pitcher-friendly Progressive Field for the hitter's haven of the Great American Ballpark. Last year, only 10 stadiums saw fewer homers per game than Progressive. An average of 1.59 home runs per game were hit at GABP, second most in the majors. That move alone should provide Choo a few more homers this season. Atop the Reds order, the best year of his career could be coming. A season of .305/.385/.500 with 25 homers, 100 runs, 80 RBI and 20 steals could be in order.
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