2021 Cincinnati Reds
After six straight losing years with no trips to the postseason, the Reds took advantage of the COVID-19–shortened season to slip into the playoffs with a 31–29 record. Cincinnati has five World Series titles (1919, 1940, 1975, 1976 and 1990) over its 139-year history.
Their success was driven by the league's seventh-best ERA (3.84). They scored only 243 runs (27th) with 90 home runs (7th).
The Reds lost SP Trevor Bauer to the Dodgers in the free-agent market. They also failed to re-sign SS Freddy Galvis, RP Archie Bradley and SP Anthony DeSclafani.
Cincy added RP Sean Doolittle while also picking up SP Jeff Hoffman and RP Noe Ramirez in a pair of minor trades.
The starting rotation still has two frontline starters—Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo, plus SP Tyler Mahle offers upside. The starting staff's backend has risk unless RP Michael Lorenzen can unlock his success in the bullpen over more innings.
The closing role looks to be up for grabs with a trio of arms vying for the saves.
Cincinnati has three power bats—OF Nick Castellanos, 3B Eugenio Suarez and 2B Mike Moustakas. The Reds have a weakness at catcher and centerfield, while 1B Joey Votto isn’t the same player he once was.
A lot would have to go right for Cincy to make the playoffs in 2021. They should battle the .500 mark if their offense plays well. The Reds need to hit on one starter to push higher in the standings.
1. OF Nick Senzel
Senzel battled a finger injury and a groin issue over the first two weeks of 2020 before landing on the injured list for almost a month with a battle with COVID-19. He struggled to make an impact (.186 with two home runs and eight RBI over 70 at-bats).
His strikeout rate (23.6) and walk rate (7.3) need work.
Over four seasons in the minors, he hit .313 with 28 home runs, 132 RBI and 40 stolen bases over 904 at-bats.
Senzel struggled in three straight seasons with injuries, and he had a torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery in September of 2019.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Senzel has a chance at hitting .300 with a 20/20 skill set. With another full season to recover from his shoulder issue, he should be poised for a productive season. The Reds should give him the lead-off job on opening day. His ADP (276) makes him an attractive upside swing in 2021.
2. 1B Joey Votto
Votto checked the approach (strikeout rate of 19.3 and walk rate of 16.6) box again in 2020 while regaining his lost power stroke (average hit rate of 1.976). Unfortunately, he had a career-low contact batting average (.294) tied to his fading hard-hit rate (35.7).
He had no value against left-handed pitching (.178 with two home runs and two RBI over 45 at-bats). Most of his production came in September (.226 with six home runs and 12 RBI over 84 at-bats). His swing path remained balanced while his HR/FB rate (19.6) beat his career average (17.6) for the first time since 2017.
Over the past three seasons, Votto hit .265 with 178 runs, 38 home runs, 136 RBI and seven steals over 1,214 at-bats.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Votto will get on base, but his days of being a trusted high average bat are long gone. He’ll hit some home runs and take walks, but his ceiling only looks like a .270 hitter with a chance at 80 runs, 20 home runs and 75 RBI. Votto now has an ADP (375) that fills the DH role in 15-team leagues.
3. OF Nick Castellanos
In his first full year with the Reds, Castellanos was on pace for 102 runs, 39 home runs and 94 RBI if he had 600 at-bats (averaged 617 at-bats over his previous three seasons).
His average hit rate (2.173) pushed to a career-high level while failing to deliver an impactful RBI rate (15). Castellanos lost his approach at the plate (strikeout rate of 28.5) compared to 21.7 from 2017 to 2019.
After setting a high bar in his contact batting average in 2018 (.394) and 2019 (.377), he finished with a significant step backward to .329 last year. Castellanos posted his highest HR/FB rate (23.7) by a wide margin (14.4 in 2019).
Over the past four seasons, he hit .285 with 90 home runs, 297 RBI and eight stolen bases over 2,067 at-bats.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Castellanos is on the rise, and his shortfall in batting average will be corrected over a long season. His ADP (86) is favorable based on his expected output in four categories (.285 with 100 runs, 35 home runs and 100 RBI). His price point in drafts will have a wide range in 2021.
4. 2B Mike Moustakas
Moustakas developed into a productive power bat over the previous four seasons (.257 with 234 runs, 109 home runs, 294 RBI and eight stolen bases over 1,790 at-bats). Last year he was on pace for 51 runs, 32 home runs and 107 RBI if given 550 at-bats.
His contact batting average (.311) has been low his whole career. Moustakas saw his strikeout rate (22.1) rise well above his career average (16.0). He continues to have an impactful average hit rate (2.031) while posting his best RBI rate (22) since arriving in the majors.
Left-handed pitchers held him to a .214 batting average with one home run and seven RBI over 42 at-bats. Moustakas struggled to score runs last year due to the Reds having weakness at the bottom of the batting order.
He has a fly-ball swing path (44.5% in his career). His HR/FB rate (17.4) has been between 17.0 and 19.5 in four of his past five years.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Moustakas offers an edge in power at second base. His approach is above the league average, but his batting average tends to be negative in most seasons. With an ADP of 124 in 12-team leagues in the high-stakes market, he projects to be a two-category player (home runs and RBI). In 2019 Moustakas ranked 79th in SIscore (0.08) for hitters. This year he’s the 74th player drafted.
5. 3B Eugenio Suarez
There is no doubt that Suarez fell in love with the home runs over the past two seasons. Over his last 773 at-bats, he hit .254 with 116 runs, 64 home runs, 141 RBI and five steals. The trade-off for power was a massive rise in his strikeout rate (28.7 and 23.8 over his first five seasons in the majors). His walk rate (11.6) graded well over the past four years.
Suarez pushed his average hit rate (2.325) to an all-time high with improvement every year in the majors. His batting average downturn was tied to a significant drop off in his contact batting average (.305 and .404 in 2019 and .387 in 2018).
His quest for the long ball also led to a jump in his fly-ball rate (47.0 and 39.4 in his career). Suarez has had a high HR/FB rate over the previous three seasons (23.4, 29.5 and 24.2). He moved to 57th in hard-hit rate (46.2) in 2020.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Suarez is now a pure basher with a chance at 40 home runs with 550 at-bats. His batting average is fading, but a more balanced swing path and fewer strikeouts could move him back closer to the league average. He has an ADP of 82 as the ninth, third baseman off the board. His bar in 2021 is .250 with 85 runs, 40 home runs and 95 RBI.
6. OF Jesse Winker
With the DH added to the National League in 2020, Winker had his best opportunity for at-bats in his career. I view him as a value in drafts, but he was a challenging ride over the first two weeks (4-for-28 with no home runs, one RBI and 10 strikeouts).
With baseball playing only 60 games, fantasy owners didn’t have a lot of patience with him, leading to a quick trip back into the free-agent pool. Winker shined over his last 23 games in August (.397 with 17 runs, 10 home runs and 16 RBI over 73 at-bats), helping new fantasy teams up the standings. In September, he lost the magic in his swing (.104 over 48 at-bats with two home runs and six RBI) while missing some time with a back issue.
His average hit rate (2.132) was a career-high, but Winker has a massive spike in his strikeout rate (25.1 and 15.2 over his first 855 plate appearances in the majors). He continues to have a high walk rate (12.5), with reasonable success against lefties (.265 with two home runs and four RBI over 34 at-bats).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: I’m sensing the National League will end up using the DH in 2021, which is a win for Winker’s playing time. He has a top of the order approach with a rebound in his strikeout rate. Even with his spike in power last year, his HR/FB rate (40.0) was out of line and based on a short sample size. Winker is getting closer to an 80/25/80 player with the minor league résumé (.298 BAA) to support a higher batting average. His ADP (210) puts him in an area of the draft where fantasy owners have to bet on the come.
7. C Tyler Stephenson
Over five seasons in the minors, Stephenson hit .263 with 195 runs, 28 home runs and 187 RBI over 1,348 at-bats. His highest level of experience is AA in 2019 (.285 with six home runs and 44 RBI over 312 at-bats).
The Reds gave him 17 at-bats in 2020, leading to a .294 batting average with two home runs and six RBI.
His average hit rate in the minors came in below 1.550 in all season, making 15 home runs a challenging task early in his career. Stephenson will take walks (10.4%) with a slightly better than league-average strikeout rate (19.9).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Stephenson will compete for the starting job in 2021. He has no AAA experience, but his natural path had him in the majors this year if the minor league schedule wasn’t canceled due to COVID-19. His ADP (372) puts him in the free-agent pool in most fantasy leagues. With 375 at-bats, .270 with 10 home runs and 50 RBI.
8. OF Shogo Akiyama
The Reds thought they found a lead-off type bat who offered a high walk rate (10.8).
In his first season with Cincinnati, Akiyama posted a contact batting average (.314) and average hit rate (1.211) well below his last three seasons overseas while failing to hit a home run. His walk rate (13.7) fits his expected approach with a higher strikeout rate (18.7).
Akiyama only missed five total games over his last five seasons in Japan, where he hit .321 with 531 runs, 94 home runs, 350 RBI and 78 stolen bases over 2,948 at-bats.
His swing path delivered many ground balls (54.5%) with a weak fly-ball rate (21.5). Akiyama had no success against lefties (.190 with no home runs or RBI over 21 at-bats).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: The luster in Akiyama is lost for fantasy owners and most likely the Reds, at least as their lead-off hitter. He should have to rebuild his opportunity by batting at the bottom of the order while sitting on many nights against left-handed pitching. His Japan résumé painted a 15/75/15 skill set with help in batting average. Akiyama will be found in the waiver wire in most leagues based on his early ADP (422).
C Tucker Barnhart
Over the past three seasons, Barnhart hit .237 with 26 home runs and 99 RBI over 874 at-bats. His batting average has been a steady decline since 2017 (.270, .248, .231 and .204) due to a rising strikeout rate (16.1, 18.4, 22.8 and 25.5).
His stats in 2020 projected over a full season with similar playing time would have come to 27 runs, 14 home runs and 35 RBI.
Barnhart changed his swing path last year, leading a jump in his fly-ball rate (43.3 and 30.0 in his career) and another step forward in his HR/FB rate (17.2).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Even with a fading approach and sliding batting average, Barnhart may very well end up with the most catching at-bats for the Reds. He’s trying to hit more home runs, but his hard-hit rate (18.6) in 2020 came near the league's bottom—only a short-term dart as a C2 in deep leagues with possible at the second catcher position.
OF Aristides Aquino
Aquino dominated in his first season in the majors (.320 with 22 runs, 14 home runs and 33 RBI over 103 at-bats) after an August call-up from the minors.
His bat was exposed in September (.196 with five HRs and 14 RBI over 102 at-bats with 36 strikeouts). He had risk in his strikeout rate (26.7) with a slightly below-average walk rate (7.1).
Aquino also had a ton of home runs (28 over 294 at-bats) at AAA in 2019, with a spike in his batting average (.299). He’s moved slowly in the minors while repeating AA in 2017 and 2018 (.227 with 37 home runs, 111 RBI and 13 stolen bases over 863 at-bats).
Over nine seasons in the minors, Aquino hit .248 with 124 home runs, 442 RBI and 70 stolen bases over 2,909 at-bats. His strikeout rate (23.8) in the minors came in behind the league average (21.5).
The Reds only gave him 47 at-bats in 2020, which led to a .170 batting average with two home runs and eight RBI. His strikeout rate fell to 32.1%.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Aquino has a swing-and-miss bat that will be exposed with more playing time in the majors. At best, a platoon player with plenty of power if he makes contact and his strikeouts don’t push him to the bench or back to AAA.
Kyle Farmer (IF): Farmer played well over his six seasons in the minors (.295 with 33 home runs, 279 RBI and 21 stolen bases over 1,890 at-bats), but he’s struggled to find a starting job in the majors.
He came into the minors as a catcher while also seeing time at every infield position. The Reds gave him the most at-bats (183) of his career in 2019, leading to a .230 with 22 runs, nine home runs, 27 RBI and four steals. Last year he hit .266 over 64 at-bats with no home runs and four RBI.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: With a respectable resume at AAA (.293 with 70 runs, 14 home runs and 74 RBI over 515 at-bats), Farmer could surprise with regular at-bats. For now, he’ll work as the utility infield for Cincinnati.
Scott Heineman (OF): Heineman hit .303 over his four seasons in the minors with 48 home runs, 222 RBI and 65 stolen bases over 1,616 at-bats. In 2019, he looked the major league part at AAA (.347 with 10 home runs and 31 RBI over 176 at-bats) while missing two and half months with a shoulder injury to start the year.
Heineman hit .189 over 127 at-bats with three home runs, 14 RBI and four steals in the majors. He’ll compete for a back outfield for the Reds.
Mark Payton (OF): The Reds claimed Payton in the 2019 Rule 5 Draft. Over six seasons in the minors, he hit .286 with 62 home runs, 280 RBI and 39 steals over 1,963 at-bats.
In 2019 his bat was much improved at AAA (.334 with 30 home runs, 97 RBI and seven stolen bases over 395 at-bats). Payton only had 31 home runs over his previous 1,568 at-bats.
The Reds gave him his first chance in 2020. He finished with three hits in 18 at-bats with no home runs and no RBI.
1. SP Luis Castillo
The start of 2020 was frustrating for Castillo and fantasy owners. He had four matchups in his first five games against the Tigers and the Royals, leading to an 0–3 record with a 4.10 ERA and 1.519 WHIP. After two more losses to end August, Castillo needed to bail out his season with a strong September (4–1 with 2.20 ERA, 1.90 WHIP, 0.9490 WHIP and 37 strikeouts over 32.2 innings).
His strikeout rate (11.4) was a career-high, but Castillo still walks a few too many batters (3.1 per nine). He continues to have an elite fastball (97.7 mph) while offering one of the best changeups (.164 BAA in his career) in the game. His slider also played well (.190 BAA), but he doesn’t get enough swings and misses.
Last year he induced a ground ball 58.4% of the time while setting a career-low in his fly-ball rate (22.5).
Over the last two seasons Castillo went 19–14 with a 3.35 ERA and 315 strikeouts over 260.2 innings.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: When Castillo gets his walk rate under 2.5 and locates his fastball better in the strike zone, he will have a sub 2.50 ERA and a winning WHIP while pushing his strikeouts well over 250. His ADP (28) placed him 9th in the starting pitching rankings in 2021. For a fantasy owner looking for dual aces, Castillo is the right kind of edge as an SP2 while also having the ceiling a foundation arm.
2. SP Sonny Gray
Gray began 2020 with seven excellent starts (5–1 with 1.94 ERA and 55 strikeouts over 41.2 innings), but he gave away his early edge in stats after struggling in back-to-back games (11 runs and 17 base runners over four innings).
His failure was tied to a back issue that led to a 10-day stint on the injured list. Over his final two starts, Gray allowed three runs and nine baserunners over 10.1 innings with 12 strikeouts.
Despite success in 2020, his walk rate (4.2) remains a problem while also being high in 2017 (3.7), 2018 (3.9) and 2019 (3.5). In his two seasons with the Reds, Gray set career-highs in his strikeout rate (10.5 in 2019 and 11.6 in 2020).
His AFB (93.4) is trending slightly lower. Batters struggled to hit his slider (.235 BAA), sinker (.157 BAA) and four-seam fastball (.220 BAA) while his curveball (.244 BAA) also had upside.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: With a career 3.54 ERA and a top-tier run over two seasons (3.07 ERA) with the Reds, Gray gives the appearance of being a productive backend SP2 (22nd starter drafted) with a rising ADP (65). His struggles with his command could lead to a significant decline in his results. At the same time, Gray would be that much better with a sub 3.0 walk rate—more of a coin flip for me.
3. SP Tyler Mahle
In 2019 Mahle showed growth in his foundation skill set (walk rate of 2.4 and strikeout rate of 9.0), but he still allowed too many home runs (1.7 per nine) while being too easy to hit (.266).
Last year he didn’t allow over three runs in any games. Mahle did get a quick hook in four starts (pitched four innings or fewer). His highlight run in 2020 came over three starts (2.61 ERA, .125 BAA and 24 strikeouts over 20.2 innings).
He pushed his strikeout rate (11.3) to a career-high and impactful area. On the downside, Mahle walked 4.0 batters per nine innings.
His AFB (94.2) pushed higher (93.7 in 2019). The growth of his cutter (.125 BAA) was the key to his positive development while moving to his number two pitch. Mahle throws a split-finger fastball (.143 BAA) that is getting closer to being a different-maker as far as volume of usage.
Mahle has a 46–31 record over seven seasons in the minors with a 2.87 ERA and 548 strikeouts over 596.2 innings with success at AAA (2.85 ERA and 84 strikeouts over 98 innings).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Mahle has the tools to become an impactful arm if he can throw more strikes and eliminate some of his struggles with home runs allowed (1.5 per nine in his career with the Reds). His ADP (174) paints him as an SP4 in 12-team leagues. Trending toward double-digit wins with a sub 3.50 ERA and 175 strikeouts with a full season of starts.
4. SP Wade Miley
Miley missed time last year with a groin injury while also battling a left shoulder issue in September. His two stints on the injured list led to six poor showings (5.65 ERA and 1.674 WHIP).
He helped Milwaukee and Houston in 2018 and 2019 (19–8 with a 3.52 ERA and 190 strikeouts over 248 innings), but his walk rate (3.2) and strikeout rate (6.9) suggest further success isn’t repeatable.
Miley struggled with right-handed batters (.267 with 16 home runs and 47 walks over 501 at-bats) in 2019.
His fastball (90.7 mph) continues to fade. In 2019 batters struggled to hit his changeup (.210 BAA) and four-seamer (.198 BAA) while throwing a high-volume cutter (.287 BAA) as his top pitch.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Over 10 seasons in the majors, Miley went 85–85 with a 4.24 ERA and 1,127 strikeouts over 1,418 innings. Risky inning eater with plenty of WHIP risk and low value in strikeouts.
5. SP Michael Lorenzen
With the Reds over six seasons, Lorenzen went 22–21 with a 3.97 ERA, 385 strikeouts and 10 saves over 444.1 innings while only working as a starter in his rookie season in 2015 (5.40 ERA).
Cincinnati needs another starter in 2021, and Lorenzen will have a shot at moving back into the starting rotation. His walk rate (4.5) regressed in 2020 while being high in his whole career (3.7). He did push his strikeout rate (9.4) to a career-high level.
His AFB (97.2) continues to be an edge in velocity. Batters struggled to hit his four-seam fastball (.170 BAA), slider (.229 BAA), changeup (.147 BAA) and curveball (.172 BAA) over the last two seasons. Lorenzen needs to lose his cutter (.330 BAA) and sinker (.3399 BAA).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Lorenzen has a live arm with a developing strikeout rate, but his command holds him back. His failure as a starter came when facing batters the second (.301 with nine home runs over 196 at-bats) and third (.320 with two home runs over 103 at-bats) time through the batting order. Only a flier if he shows life in spring training.
SP José De León
2017 was a lost season for De León. His season started with a right forearm issue that led to a stint on the injured list in the minors.
He pitched poorly in his three starts at AAA (nine runs and 20 baserunners over 14 innings) plus a failed outing in the majors (10.13 ERA). In June De Leon was back on the injured list with a lat injury. Later in the season, he missed time due to a right elbow issue that required TJ surgery in March of 2018.
In 2019 De León made 17 short-inning appearances at AAA (3.54 ERA and 74 strikeouts over 56 innings) while battling his command (4.7 walks per nine). Tampa gave him four innings of work in September (2.25 ERA and seven strikeouts).
Last year he struggled in his five appearances with the Reds (18.00 ERA and 2.833 WHIP over six innings).
Over six seasons in the minors, De León went 27–16 record with a 3.35 ERA and 564 strikeouts over 425 innings.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: De León flashed over the winter in Puerto Rico (3.18 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 17 innings). He did battle walks (5.3 per nine) while serving up three home runs. Only a wild card until his arm shows success on the field.
SP Riley O’Brien
Riley went 16–10 with a 2.83 ERA over three seasons in the minors and 250 strikeouts over 232.2 innings. His walk rate (4.0) has been an issue every year while flashing a high strikeout rate (9.7).
In 2019 he had 14 appearances at AA (3.93 ERA and 72 strikeouts over 68.2 innings). Last season he should have seen his first action at AAA.
His fastball projects to be in the mid-90s. Riley has a swing-and-miss slider, but he needs to locate it better.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: At age 26, Riley needs to push forward in his game to reach the majors. With a year and a half off since his last appearance, his arm could surprise in spring training with more velocity on his pitches.
CL Amir Garrett
Since moving to the bullpen in 2018, Garrett has a 3.60 ERA and 175 strikeouts over 137.1 innings. His walk rate (5.6) was a mess in 2019, but it improved to 3.4 last year over short innings (18.1).
He looked closer-worthy last year based on his ERA (2.45), WHIP (0.927) and strikeouts (12.8 per nine), but Garrett did allow two home runs per game. He had success against righties (.231 BAA) and lefties (one hit over 23 at-bats).
His AFB (95.0) is elite while offering a plus slider (.128 BAA). His struggles came from his sinker (.546 BAA over the last two seasons).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Garrett only has one save in his career, but his arm is trending up while Sean Doolittle seemed to lose his way and arm over the past two years (4.26 ERA). His ADP (388) puts him in the flier territory for saves in 2021. Garrett is getting closer to the ninth inning while needing an endorsement from the manager this spring.
RP Sean Doolittle
Doolittle has been a tease as a closing option over the previous seven seasons. He has an elite walk rate (1.8) and strikeout rate (10.5) in his career with some great seasons in WHIP (0.734, 0.857 and 0.600), but injuries tend to catch up with him while failing to deliver any impact years in saves.
In 2019 Doolittle set a career-high in saves (29), but he pitched his way out the 9th inning over the last three weeks in August (10 runs, 14 baserunners and five home runs over four innings).
Last year a knee injury and an oblique issue led to 11 lousy appearances (5.87 ERA and 1.696 WHIP).
His AFB (90.7) was 3 mph lower than 2019 (93.8) and well below his peak in 2016 (95.6). He relies heavily on his four-seam fastball (.251 BAA with 11 home runs allowed over 271 at-bats over the last two years), which he threw over 85% of the time over the past two seasons.
Doolittle throws two low-volume off-speed pitches (changeup of .389 BAA and slider of .167 BAA).
2021 Fantasy Outlook: The bottom line here is the lost value of his fastball. His drop in velocity leads to his mistakes in location, leaving the ballpark. He doesn’t have enough trust in his secondary offerings to push back once his skill set starts to decline. Doolittle lives at the top of the strike zone (fly-ball rate of 55.7 in 2019 and 52.2 in his career). He has saves on his career résumé, but the fountain of velocity has left the building. Easy avoid for me even with some spring success.
RP Lucas Sims
Sims flashed in 2013 at single-A for the Braves (12–4 with 2.62 ERA and 134 strikeouts over 116.2 innings). After success at AA (2.86 ERA) despite a massive walk rate (5.5), he failed to master AAA (18–15 with 4.66 ERA and 407 strikeouts over 345.2 innings) over four different seasons.
The Braves gave him a chance as a starter in 2017, but his arm wasn’t ready (5.62 ERA and 1.509 WHIP). Cincinnati shifted him to the bullpen in the majors in 2019.
Over the last two seasons with the Reds, Sims went 5–1 with a 3.80 ERA and 91 strikeouts over 68.2 innings. He still walks too many batters (3.9 per nine innings) while battling home runs (11 over 68.2 innings).
His AFB (94.3) is trending upward while relying on a slider (.130) and curveball (.130 BAA). His four-seam fastball (.219 BAA) has also been tough to hit with Cincy.
2021 Fantasy Outlook: Sims can’t pitch in the ninth innings without throwing a lot more strikes and correcting his issues with the long-ball. He has the pitches to get batters out if/when his command develops. Sims should man the seventh innings in 2021.
2021 Fantasy Baseball Team Outlooks