Let’s be honest: we knew what we were getting ourselves into this year. We knew from the outset that the Reds were going to be lousy. None of this is a surprise.
After a couple of years hoping that the Reds could catch lightning in a bottle before the window of competitiveness closed, the club finally admitted last summer that it was time to begin rebuilding the franchise. (Actually, they called it a “reboot,” but you get the point.) The 2016 season was the first year in recent memory that the organization actually admitted that they didn’t expect to compete for a playoff spot.
The was somewhat refreshing, though it’s not like the Reds could pretend otherwise. They lost 98 games last year. No one was going to believe a season ticket campaign that claimed the Reds were going to be playoff contenders in 2016. Better to admit that this was going to be a lost season, and urge fans to look to the future.
So that’s what we, the fans, did. We bought into the rebuild, or at least some of us did—mostly because we didn’t have much choice. The Reds were going to be a bad baseball team this year, so choosing to be optimistic about the future seemed like a reasonable decision, if only to maintain our mental health. The choice was binary: look to the future or complain about how we got here.
I chose to look to the future. As we entered this season, it became clear that there were a number of questions facing this organization—and really, in a season where you aren’t going to win, you might as well try to gain some information that will help you move forward as a franchise.. Now we’re almost 100 games into the campaign, and it’s reasonable to ask whether the Reds have been able to get any answers to those questions. After all, if the Reds aren’t gaining a better understanding of where they are and where they need to go, this will be a lost season in every sense of the term.
Let’s dig in.
How will the young pitchers develop?
Obviously, this was/is the single most important storyline of the 2016 season. Walt Jocketty and crew loaded up on young starting pitchers over the last couple of years, and the development of that group was always going to be key to the Reds’ attempt at revitalizing the franchise.
The results thus far have been a mixed bag. I would remind you once again, however: Be Patient. Young pitchers are going to struggle.
There are plenty of reasons, in my opinion, for optimism about Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, and Amir Garrett. Reed was dominant enough in AAA to force his way onto the big league roster, which is exactly what the Reds had hoped would happen this year. He has had difficulties in the majors, without question, but that’s to be expected and the Reds aren’t hurting his development by having him work out the quirks with the big club. (Plus, he had a good start last night, showing some progress.)
Finnegan is 5-7 with a 4.66 ERA, which is not particularly remarkable. But there have been high spots: three starts into the year, his ERA was 2.04, and it was 3.86 as he entered May. Finnegan threw a gorgeous complete game against LA six weeks ago, and he’s sprinkled in outstanding performances here and there. Up and down, just like we would expect from a 23-year-old pitcher. There are still a lot of questions about the kid, but I’m more convinced now than I was before the season that Finnegan will be able to stick in the rotation long-term.
The season Amir Garrett is having in the minor leagues has been an unqualified success, and it bears mention here. Over two levels—Double-A and Triple-A—Garrett has posted a 7-4 record and a 1.86 ERA. For the second straight year, he performed well in the All-Star Futures Game. This kid’s star is really rising, and he may just end up being the best pitching prospect in the bunch.*
*I won’t be able to cheer for him, unfortunately. You see, part of the reason why Garrett is making such huge strides this year is that he’s just now starting to learn how to pitch. Garrett was only a part-time ballplayer until recently; he played Division-1 basketball for St. John’s University. And therein lies the rub; I went to school at one of SJU’s rivals in the Big East Conference, Georgetown. I have a sworn duty to oppose Garrett for the rest of his career. Does that make sense to you non-Hoyas?
Some of the other young pitchers have not given us as much reason for hope (although we still need to have patience!). Robert Stephenson has been good, though not great, in Triple-A, thanks to a disturbing inability to throw strikes with any regularity. He looks good otherwise, so there’s no reason to give up on a guy who has been one of the highest-ranked pitching prospects in baseball over recent years.
Michael Lorenzen has been sick and he’s been hurt, was relegated to the bullpen upon his return, and has pitched very well on occasion and poorly on others. I’m skeptical that Lorenzen will ever be able to return to the starting rotation, but he certainly has proven that he has the stuff to be a shutdown reliever. In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lorenzen were the closer on the next good Reds team.
Really, of all the young guys, there’s only one who has been a disappointment. John Lamb’s star (such as it were) has probably fallen more than anyone after going 1-7 with a 6.43 ERA for the Reds and earning a demotion to Louisville. I’m not sure what to make of Lamb. He’s 26 now, and this season has been a huge setback for him. He’s a lefty; maybe time to try him in the bullpen? Your guess is as good as mine.
Does Raisel Iglesias have the chops to be a number one starter?
Iglesias is the only important young pitcher that I didn’t mention in the section above, and there’s a reason for that. Around Opening Day, I noted that Iglesias has the chops to be a #1 or #2 starter. I still believe that to be the case, but the waters are a bit murkier at this point. After more shoulder problems, the Reds sent Iglesias to the bullpen for the rest of this season. He has pitched well out of the pen, and similar to his fellow Cuban Aroldis Chapman, Iglesias has now declared that he likes coming out of the bullpen.
That’s fine, I guess, and a Lorenzen/Iglesias tandem in the Reds bullpen could be the second coming of the Nasty Boys. But I’m still hopeful that the Reds will try Iglesias in the rotation again next year (and there have been indications that they may do this). There’s one reason, and one reason only, that I hope Iglesias can be a starter: He has the best stuff of any of these young Reds pitchers. The kid can flat-out throw, and if he ends up in the pen, I’ll enjoy watching him but always lament “what might have been.” (Again, just like Aroldis.)
The problem, of course, is that Iglesias’ shoulder just may not be able to sustain the beating that being a starting pitcher will inflict upon him. I expect we’ll learn more about that during the early part of 2017.
How about the young position players?
We knew going into the season that the Reds had a bunch of young pitchers to choose from, and that some of them would pan out. In terms of position players, the cupboard has been a little barer, but there are four guys age-25 or younger that have been identified as possible long-term contributors.
The first of those is Billy Hamilton. I remain of the opinion that Hamilton has made real progress this year, although there’s room for disagreement. I think he can be the Reds center fielder for the long-term, though I’m less enthused about the possibility that he might hit near the top of the order. Whatever you think of Hamilton, you can’t argue with the fact that he’s a comic book superhero.
Please remember: Eugenio Suarez is just 24 years old. He’s way ahead of where former 3B Todd Frazier was at this age. He’s going to get better, both in the field and at the plate.
That said, I’m not sure what conclusions can be drawn about Suarez at this point. I definitely believe he can be a good big leaguer for a number of years. He started off hot at the plate, then went into an extended cool streak, but his career numbers are not bad for a guy who has always been a middle infielder. And there’s the issue: Suarez has struggled mightily at third base, with 16 errors and counting. I wouldn’t give up on him, since he’s basically learning the position at the big league level, but early returns are not promising.
Here’s my idea: he needs to be a second baseman. More on that in a future column.
Another guy who many think should be playing second base is young Jose Peraza. As far as I’m concerned, the Reds have learned nothing about whether the 22 year-old Peraza has the game to be a starter for this club, because Bryan Price refuses to play him with any regularity. It’s one of the few real beefs I have with Price, and it’s difficult to reconcile given that this is supposed to be a rebuilding year.
What I want to see is Suarez at second base and Peraza at shortstop. I think there’s a chance that could be a pretty good middle infield combo.
The only other young guy worth mentioning is the Reds left (or right) fielder of the future, Jesse Winker. Winker has had some minor injury problems in Triple-A, but he’s hitting .305/.396/.412 and continues to look like he has a future in the Reds lineup. Expect to see him there sometime in the next month or so.
Will Jay Bruce or Zack Cozart bring assets at the trade deadline?
Remains to be seen, though I think the Reds need to try to sign Bruce to a contract extension. That’s another topic for another day.
I wrote the following sentence back in April: “We’ll know by the end of the season whether Devin Mesoraco is going to be a long-term solution at catcher.” Well, Mesoraco just had another hip surgery, to go along with an earlier shoulder surgery, and he won’t be playing again this season. So, to the extent that we know whether Mesoraco will be a long-term solution at catcher, the answer has to be negative.
The Reds maintain publicly that they think Mesoraco will be better than ever next spring. I’m doubtful, though I hope it happens. Mesoraco seems like a great kid, and I’m rooting for him. But I’m just not sure where he can play going forward. That will be the number one storyline from Reds spring training in 2017. (Expect to read all about it here at Nuxhall Way!)
How will Homer Bailey recover from Tommy John surgery?
To be determined. I hope to see Bailey pitch in a Reds uniform within the next couple of weeks, but the club would be foolish to rush him.
Can the Reds take advantage of their highest draft pick in years?
The answer to this one is an unqualified “yes.” Cincinnati selected Nick Senzel, a third baseman from Tennessee, with the number two selection in the draft. Obviously, it remains to be seen whether he’ll pan out, but the early returns are very encouraging. And even if he doesn’t turn into a star, taking a third baseman who can play defense and has a good command of the strike zone was an excellent risk. We can only hope that they do as well in next year’s draft, when the Reds are likely to have another high pick.
What to do with Bryan Price?
I’m not going to touch that one. Everyone has an opinion. Just close your eyes and pretend that I wrote something that agrees with your assessment.
Hang in there, Reds fans. With every passing day, the answer to the one big question facing the Reds—will this club be able to compete again in the near future?—comes into focus a bit more.
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.