December 9, 2014
Fantasy Team Preview
The Reds were coming off two straight 90-plus win seasons heading into 2014, and featured almost exactly the same roster that had vaulted them to consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1976 (if you consider losing the Wild Card Game a playoff appearance). However, Bryan Price’s first season as manager was filled with injuries and disappointment—leading to 76 wins and a distant fourth-place finish in the NL Central.
Fortunately for the Reds, returning talent in 2015 is the easy part. Keeping it collectively on the field and productive is going to be a different story. And while they’ve been involved in trade talks for an outfielder—usually dangling one of their soon-to-be-free-agent pitchers—any 2015 success in the Queen City will be heavily based on the names you know bouncing back to the levels you’re accustomed to. And that won’t be helped by their farm system either, which despite having some interesting players, isn’t set up for immediate contribution.
The jarring thing when reading this fantasy preview is how many strong contributors the Reds could have in 2015—both in the batter’s box and on the mound. They could potentially field elite contributors at seven different positions (catcher, first base, third base, left field, center field, starting pitcher and closer), but the risk factors are evident everywhere, and exist for a variety of reasons.
A note for our readers. While informative, since we are still months away from pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, these previews are far from definitive or complete. Free agent signings, trades, and other offseason news will change the landscape for most if not all teams. For any moves that take place after a team preview is written, please look to our Transaction Analysis coverage for instant reactions, and then check back on the Team Previews for more detailed updates (including lineups, rotations, bullpens, etc.) as we get closer to Opening Day.
Another note for our readers. The characterizations below (for example, “stud”) are designed to be taken in context for each team. Not every team has a Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton, so the “stud” category represents the best player or players on each team, not necessarily in comparison to the league.
Joey Votto – 1B
There are certainly plenty of fantasy owners out there who would object to Votto being in this category, and that thought is drenched in both recency bias and unrealistic expectations. Injury risk is clearly in play—as Votto is just not the same contributor when he doesn’t have his whole lower body at his disposal—but at just 31 years old, there’s no reason to believe that he’s forever doomed to diminished playing time. His HR/FB rate should bounce back, and while expecting more than 20 homers out of him isn’t the smartest idea, he’s still reliable for elite batting average and run production. He remains a top-seven first baseman, and could make for a very good value this spring.
Johnny Cueto – SP
For the 2014 Cy Young award winner (non-Kershaw division), it’s all about innings. When Cueto pitches, he’s very valuable. He’s also been increasing his strikeouts at both a gradual and surprising rate. In the last four seasons, Cueto has seen his strikeout percentage rise from 16.5 (in 2011) to 19.1 to 21.1 to 25.2 (in 2014). And while that jump isn’t wholly supported by more whiffs or more strikes, it’s unlikely to completely reverse course. Cueto should be drafted as a strong SP2 this year, but expectations should be for a strikeout rate back around 21 or 22 percent.
Aroldis Chapman – RP
Amazingly, the ultimate fire baller had 36 saves and 106 strikeouts for the Reds in 2014—and that was after missing the first six weeks of the season after being hit in the face by a line drive during spring training. He should be drafted with confidence as the first closer off the board in 2015.
Billy Hamilton – OF
This may seem like it’s too soon to put him here, but despite having a very uneven season, Hamilton still produced like a stud—earning $27 in NL-only formats behind only 10 other hitters, and being a top-12 outfielder in mixed formats. It’s now Hamilton’s turn to make the adjustments that held him to .200/.254/.257 line in the second half. And yes, the stolen bases are that valuable.
Brandon Phillips – 2B
No matter which numbers you look at, Phillips is a man in decline. The last time he hit more homers than the previous season was 2007—and he’s certainly going to need to top the eight bombs from 2014 in order to even be worth rostering in deep mixed leagues. He doesn’t run or get on base anymore (though it’s not like he was every particularly strong at it), and you were better off owning Yangervis Solarte this past season. Phillips is, at best, an endgame target in 14-16-team mixed leagues.
Alfredo Simon – SP
For a change, Simon was the recipient of some positive press in 2014 when he was a surprise All-Star for the Reds, after winning 12 games with a 2.70 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in the first half. Unfortunately, his luck ran out and his 4.52 ERA and 1.44 WHIP after the break are a better representation of what to expect in 2015 and beyond.
Zack Cozart – SS
There was absolutely nothing fun about owning Cozart in 2014, but it would be wise to expect at least a bounce back to his 2013 numbers next season. Of course, even that wouldn’t be enough to get fantasy owners excited, but it might make them put down those sharp objects.
Up and Coming
Devin Mesoraco – C
The last three seasons of Mesoraco’s career illustrates perfectly why it is so mind-bendingly frustrating to invest in young catchers (whether you’re in a dynasty or redraft format). This was the Mesoraco we were supposed to be getting, as he hit .273 with 25 homers and 80 RBI, en route to a top-three finish among backstops. Of course, he did it by siphoning off the HR:FB rates of his teammates to give him a mark that was double his previous career rate. Right now, he’s too risky to be a stud, but that could change quickly.
What You See is What You Get
Jay Bruce – OF
The 2014 season may have been the worst of Bruce’s career, but there’s little reason not to think he’ll step back into being that solid producer, despite the best attempts of some owners to convince themselves he’s a stud. His batting average may not bounce back up much past .250, but 30 homers is still realistic for the slugger who will turn 28 just before Opening Day. Even with the power shortage in the game, he’s just an average OF2 option.
Mike Leake – SP
After being a fantasy afterthought throughout most of the first three years of his career, Leake has turned himself into a very reliable 14-16-team mixed-league starter. He’s eminently streamable in shallow formats, but it’s less about where he’s pitching and more about who he’s pitching against. In fact, last year he was noticeably better at Great American Ball Park in both ratios and strikeouts.
Todd Frazier – 3B
It’s rare that you find an X-Factor section with as much upside as this one, but here we are. Frazier is an interesting classification, but he falls here because he’s going to be a huge swing based on where he’s being drafted. Likely to be taken in drafts right around where Josh Donaldson went heading into 2014, Frazier could make or break drafts about as much as a borderline top-50 player can. If he repeats, he provides big relative value. If he regresses, that’s a tough blow at a weak position.
Homer Bailey – SP
Mat Latos – SP
There’s no question that both Bailey and Latos are top-25 fantasy starters when healthy, but talent isn’t why these two are risks. Bailey has a somewhat scary combination of a bulging disk in his neck and elbow surgery (to repair his flexor tendon), and is expected to be fully healthy for spring training. Latos started off 2014 with a knee injury and ended it with elbow inflammation (while seeing his strikeout numbers drop nearly five percentage points while he was on the mound). The trends in both of their draft prices will go a long way towards determining whether they are strong values, despite the risks, this season—but as of now, it feels like the opportunity for profit is greater with Bailey than with Latos. Both of these guys will be important players to watch in Arizona.
Yorman Rodriguez – OF
The odds are very high that the Reds will either sign or trade for an outfielder before Opening Day, which would leave Rodriguez buried in the depth chart. However, on the off chance it doesn’t happen, he could be a surprise contributor in homers and steals but with the added benefit of torpedoing your batting average or on-base percentage.
Tony Cingrani – RP
Both the left-hander’s one-dimensional arsenal and shoulder failed him during 2014, but he’ll look to get back on the map in a relief role during 2015. There’s certainly a chance he could end up back in the rotation at some point, but with the shine worn off, he wouldn’t make for a good mixed league option even if that does happen. In fact, in NL-only leagues, he’s likely more valuable in the pen.
Prospects for 2015
Raisel Iglesias – RP
The latest big money Cuban signee for the Reds appears ticketed for the bullpen just like their first foray into the market. He’s unlikely to return much fantasy value without either a rotation spot or saves in his future, but live arms often find their way into relevance during the summer—and Iglesias certainly qualifies.
Robert Stephenson – SP
The top prospect in the Reds system, Stephenson struggled throughout most of 2015 with both the consistency of his stuff and his command. Talent-wise, he has the potential to be a rotation candidate in the second-half, or if they find themselves in a playoff chase, a potential impact arm for the bullpen. Redraft leaguers can ignore him in drafts, but a strong start could make him very stash worthy.
Ben Lively – SP
The numbers in the Cal League made Lively interesting to many, but while he could get a look later in the year, his lack of a strong fantasy upside makes him a poor bet for the upcoming season.
Daniel Corcino – RP
A sinker/slider guy without a great chance of starting or much command? Yawn.
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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