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  • The Reds made aggressive moves toward competing in 2019. Do they have a chance?
By Matt Martell
March 19, 2019

2018 record: 67-95, last in NL Central

SI's predicted 2019 record: 81-81, fourth in NL Central

Key additions: OF Yasiel Puig, SP Sonny Gray, SP Tanner Roark, SP Alex Wood, OF Matt Kemp

Projected Lineup

1. LF Jesse Winker

2. 1B Joey Votto

3. 3B Eugenio Suarez

4. 2B Scooter Gennett

5. RF Yasiel Puig

6. CF Scott Schebler

7. SS Jose Peraza

8. C Tucker Barnhart

Bench

C: Curt Casali

INF: Jose Iglesias

INF/OF: Derek Dietrich

OF: Matt Kemp

Projected Rotation

LHP Sonny Gray

RHP Luis Castillo

RHP Tanner Roark

LHP Alex Wood

RHP Anthony DeSclafani

Bullpen

RHP Raisel Iglesias (closer)

RHP Jared Hughes - Setup

RHP David Hernandez - Setup

LHP Amir Garrett

RHP Michael Lorenzen

LHP Zach Duke

Movin On Up! Luis Castillo. Despite losing 95 games last season, the Reds went into win-now mode this winter, trading for three starting pitchers and outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Still, the pitcher in their rotation with the most upside, 26-year-old Luis Castillo, has been with the club for two seasons already. He was great in limited action in 2017––posting a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts––before faltering in the first half of last year. However, in his 11 starts after the All-Star Break, Castillo went 5-4 with a 2.44 ERA. Look for him to build off that strong second half and emerge as a true top-of-the-rotation arm.

Sell! Even before Scooter Gennett suffered an injury that will keep him out until close to the All-Star Break, he was unlikely to repeat what he did at the plate last season. He ranked second among MLB second basemen with a .310 batting average, and his .362 wOBA ranked No. 4 at the position. However, using expected statistics via Statcast, Gennett performed far better than he should have. His xBA was .257 (17th among MLB second basemen) and his xwOBA was .309 (20th).

A Modest Proposal From Joe Sheehan: The Reds overhauled their roster in an effort to snap a string of four straight 90-loss seasons. As important as Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Sonny Gray, and the rest of the new players will be to that effort, the most important addition may never swing a bat or take a pitch. Derek Johnson has been hired away from the Brewers, where as pitching coach the last three years he helped drop the team ERA from 4.28 in 2015 to 3.73 last year. Johnson brought along Jimmy Nelson, Chase Anderson, and Brent Suter as starters in Milwaukee. The Reds are particularly hopeful that Johnson, who was Gray’s coach at Vanderbilt, can save the struggling righty’s career. Johnson’s experience running that incredible Brewers’ bullpen last year could be a factor as well, as the Reds have the raw material (Amir Garrett, Raisel Iglesias, Jared Hughes) for comparable success. 

Appreciate This Man! Raisel Iglesias. Seven relief pitchers since the start of 2016 have logged 200 innings and posted an ERA+ of at least 150. Iglesias ranks third on that list with a 176 ERA+, behind the elite Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen and all-star Blake Treinen of the Athletics. Iglesias is the only one of the seven that has not been to the postseason in that span, which is perhaps why he’s so underappreciated. Either way, he’s someone we all should be pay attention to in 2019.

MLB.TV rating: 8.3

-- Yasiel Puig bat-flipping in a hitter-friendly park, Joey Votto’s artful approach to hitting AND Michael Lorenzen raking as a pitcher and (hopefully!) as a part-time outfielder? SIGN ME UP!

Keep an Eye Out For…: Nick Senzel has done nothing but rake during his seasons in the Reds’ organization, slashing .314/.390/.513 across all minor league levels. After playing only the infield in his three minor league seasons, the Reds have given Senzel an extended look this spring to replace Billy Hamilton in center field. All reports say he’s adjusted well to the position, using his speed and natural instincts to take good routes in the outfield. He will probably start the season with Triple-A Louisville so the Reds can delay his service time for another year and allow him additional game reps in center before bringing him up. But there’s no reason to expect Senzel can’t be Cincinnati’s everyday centerfielder for the bulk of this season. Phil Ervin has been impressive at the plate this spring. He struggled in his first two big league stints with the Reds last season, but once he was returned for good on July 20, he posted a 110 OPS+ in 59 games. Cincinnati traded for outfielders Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp this offseason, so it’s uncertain how much playing time Ervin gets right away or if he makes the Opening Day roster. However, expect Ervin to be a key contributor for the Reds upon his return to the majors. Michael Lorenzen isn’t a prospect, but his legitimate push to be a two-way player is definitely worth monitoring. The righthander posted a 3.11 ERA in 45 games last season, but garnered more attention as the relief pitcher who slashed .290/.333/.710 and hit four home runs, including a pinch-hit grand slam. He was drafted out of high school as an outfielder, but elected to go to Cal State Fullerton instead, where he was an outfielder and a pitcher. Reigning AL Rookie of the Year Shohei Ohtani opened the door for two-way players, but there’s no designated hitter in the NL (yet), which is why Lorenzen could see time in the outfield this season in addition to his time on the mound and pinch-hitting.

Scout's Takes

A rival scout analyzes the 2019 Cincinnati Reds.

What is the key question surrounding this team in 2019?

Will Sonny Gray bounce back now that he’s out of NYC? I think that’s the biggest question. Joey Votto did not have a true Votto year last year, but  I don’t think that’ll carry forward. He’ll figure it out. There are a lot of personalities on the team now that Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp are there. Is that going to work?

Who is the most overrated player on the team?

Puig. He’ll hammer mistakes but good pitching still should get him out. The wild personality on the field also eclipses some of his talent. I think that the Dodgers did a really good job utilizing the data and I think he benefited from that. If hitting coach Turner Ward can continue to unlock him, that’s good. I just have some questions with his free swinging approach and selling out for power.  

Who is the most underrated player on the team?

Scooter Gennett. He’s a gamer. He loves to play baseball and it shows every time he’s on the field. Some think that the bat came out of nowhere but he’s a .289 career hitter in the big leagues. He deserves more recognition.

What young player(s) is/are on the cusp of stardom?

Nick Senzel and Jesse Winker. If Senzel really can play centerfield, which it looks he can, that’s an impact bat to add to their lineup. Winker manages the strike zone really well, he has power, and is a professional hitter all the way. He doesn’t really have any holes, you can’t jam him up in and he goes the other way extremely well. He’s going to be a doubles machine.

What young player(s) is/are the biggest bust candidate(s)?

Chris Okey used to be one of their more intriguing minor league guys but he’s never hit and he never will hit. His defense behind the plate isn’t good enough to make up for his lack of a bat. He was a first-round pick but they should probably move on.

Who gets the most out of his talent?

Tucker Barnhart. The pitchers absolutely love throwing to him, he works super hard back there. At times he’s a smart hitter so he takes very good educated guesses and he doesn’t miss on the pitches he guesses on. If he gets the pitches he’s looking for, he does not miss.

Who gets the least out of his talent?

Luis Castillo has huge stuff, 93-97 with sink and a hard slider, but his numbers should be so much better than the stuff that rolls out there. He seems to pay for every mistake that he makes.

Who has the nastiest stuff on the team?

Raisel Iglesias. I think the Josh Hader-style role fits him really well. He’s very much an Andrew Miller, Hader-style guy to put the fire out when needed. With the season on the line, they should start him as an opener. He’s versatile, he changes arm slots, power fastball-slider mix. He really knows how to pitch and has great instincts and feel out there.

Who has the best baseball instincts/IQ?

It’s Barnhart because of the way he leads the staff, puts down the right fingers, the pitchers trust throwing to him. There were no shakeoffs when he was back there in spring training. The staff last year just loved throwing to him. It’s hard to emphasize that enough.

Whose batting practice makes your jaw drop?

Puig is just top of the scale raw power.

Name two guys on this team that you would immediately trade for.

Nick Senzel and Iglesias. Senzel is the future and Iglesias is so tough to read.

Name the guy (or guys)on this teams that you would never want in your clubhouse.

Probably Puig, honestly. He’s a high-maintenance type persona he’s always a bit of a show out there. If he’s putting 40 in the seats they’ll love it. If not, I don’t know.

Whose effort could use a jolt?

It’s still Puig. This guy just needs to show up and try to bring his A-Game every day. I think that there are times when he takes games off and he carries his ABs to the field; you see some bad defense when he’s not hitting. The bounce isn’t quite there with Kemp, but it’s not as bad as it was 2-3 years ago. The defensive liability is real with him and I don’t see a fit there. To get Alex Wood, the Reds took Kemp.

Who do you want at-bat or on the mound in a season-defining moment?

It’s 100% Joey Votto. He’s as professional of a hitter as you’ll ever find. He craves pressure and loves it. He is so fun to watch with two strikes. He wills himself not to get defeated. Nobody digs in better and changes their approach. He’s the guy I want in Yankee Stadium with 50K fans screaming at him. I’d take Iglesias on the mound because you’ve gotta take the stuff.

Who don’t you want in that situation?

Sonny Gray. It’d be hard to trust him because of how badly he struggled under the lights in New York. I wouldn’t want a city on his shoulders. … the biggest thing was that he couldn’t throw any of his breaking balls for strikes. He can pitch to quadrants but he doesn’t have pinpoint command. Now you’re trying to command his fastball 2-0 because he spiked a curveball in the dirt and yanked a slider. Some guys don’t like the big markets, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Gray has a career year this season now that he’s out of New York.

Which under-the-radar prospect/non-roster invitee could make a splash this season?

Senzel is not on the roster right now, but if they’re in contention at all, you just can’t keep him in the minors. The bat is real, the centerfield defense is real. He’s a middle-of-the-diamond, middle-of-the-lineup bat. He’s an Andruw Jones-style three-hole in centerfield.

Is the current manager one that you would hire to run your club?

I absolutely would. He’s a perfect fit for these guys. He’s got a player development background, and people speak unbelievably highly of him. I’d say he’s a damn good hire.

What is the ceiling for the team this year? What about the next three years?

This is a really tough division and I think they’re going to take their lumps. They’ve got a nice package of prospects with Taylor Trammell, Senzel and I think Hunter Greene is an impact starter. I saw Jonathan India last year and he’s a polished college hitter. There are a lot of indications that he’ll be an impact hitter.

Emptying the notebook:

There are a bunch of questions because this is a weirdly constructed roster. Their rotation is just okay: Gray is a bounceback candidate, Alex Wood is dependable, Castillo is an underachiever, Tanner Roark is OK, DeSclafani is hit or miss. … Their bullpen is somewhat intriguing. Jared Hughes has bowling ball sinkers. Amir Garrett is the wild card here but he couldn’t get anybody out in spring training. If they can get him going along with Hernandez and Hughes then you can go with a two-headed monster of Garrett/Iglesias on the righthand/lefthand. Garrett needs to be steady enough to be used in that scenario. … Eugenio Suarez is a really good bat-to-ball guy, there’s great value there. He can really, really hit. Peraza is a good defensive shortstop. They don’t have a bad team, it’s just a weird one. They’re not a playoff-caliber team.

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