The 2013 season ended in brutal fashion for the Reds, as they lost the National League Wild Card Game to a division rival. The offseason wasn’t much better, as they saw one of their best hitters and most consistent pitchers (even if he is flatly average) leave town. They were replaced by internal options who have good upside, but have yet to prove themselves over the course of a full season. They’ll need to hit the ground running, as anything short of a return to the playoffs will be a disappointment in the Queen City.
- CF Billy Hamilton
- 3B Todd Frazier
- 1B Joey Votto
- 2B Brandon Phillips
- RF Jay Bruce
- LF Ryan Ludwick
- SS Zack Cozart
- C Devin Mesoraco
The Reds head into 2014 with only two of their three high-end left-handed bats from last season, with Shin-Soo Choo having moved on to Texas. The lineup overall looks squarely average with the potential for slightly more if the right-handed hitters that augment Votto and Bruce can step up their games. Billy Hamilton could potentially win a category for you, or he could end up back in Triple-A before Memorial Day. Brandon Phillips will try to avoid Father Time from hitting the accelerator once again, but second basemen don’t often age gracefully. Todd Frazier could be his 2012 self again, Devin Mesoraco could live up to his prospect hype and Zack Cozart could… well, maybe he can hit some dingers without killing you in a deeper league. It’s not exactly awe-inspiring.
If Heisey doesn’t win the left field job, which appears unlikely at this point, he becomes the most interesting fantasy option off the bench. He has power than can overcome his batting average issues. The other name to remember of Brayan Pena—Mesoraco is no lock to keep the starting job that his prospect status has given him. If Pena were to wriggle the playing time away from him, he could be this year’s Dioner Navarro. Everyone else can be pretty safely ignored.
Still one of the strongest rotations in the National League, the Reds are led by a three-headed monster of Latos, Bailey, and Cueto. Latos has continued to show that he was no Petco Park creation in his San Diego days, and he’s averaged 210 innings over the past two seasons. Bailey is better than you think, but more about that later on. Cueto has continued to be very good when healthy, but missed a lot of time in 2013 and his durability is in question. Cingrani is worse than you think, but (again) more about that later. Leake is a solid deep-league option, but is unlikely to strike out enough batters to be more than a streaming option in shallow formats.
The bullpen really isn’t of much interest here, at least as far as curiosity goes. Chapman is the guy and he’s fantastic. Hoover and Marshall probably could do the job in their absence (and Hoover would likely get the first shot), but neither is worth speculating on at this point.
Center Field: Billy Hamilton vs. His own limitations in the harsh face of stardom
The risks and rewards for Hamilton in fantasy have been well documented at this point, but the fact is that if he stays on the major-league roster the entire season, he’ll be a top-50 fantasy player—and likely pretty easily. There’s no great option for the Reds in center if Hamilton doesn’t work out, as it’s likely some combination of Skip Schumaker and Chris Heisey if they fill the spot internally. Needless to say, they’ll give him every opportunity to run with this job.
Left Field: Ryan Ludwick vs. Chris Heisey
This isn’t a battle that matters much for shallow leagues, but deep leaguers need to pay attention here. Both players have enough power to hit more than 20 bombs in Great American Ball Park, and that’s nothing to shake your head at. Ludwick has the inside track, as he’s the incumbent and has a higher salary, but don’t discount Heisey, who continues to show impressive power in limited playing time (nine homers in 224 at bats in 2013).
Player to Target: Homer Bailey
It’s partially the market and it’s partially the extended period of not living up to his intense prospect hype, but Bailey continues to be one of the most underrated starting pitchers in baseball. He’s thrown more than 200 innings in each of the last two seasons with a decreasing ERA, decreasing WHIP, and increasing strikeout rate. Oh, and that is also backed with a 1.5 mile per hour jump in fastball velocity. He’s a top-20 starting pitcher for 2014, and it’s only a matter of time before the secret is out.
Player to Avoid: Tony Cingrani
Cingrani was a great story in 2013, but he’s going to need more than just a fastball that he throws 81.9 percent of the time. I mentioned this in Baseball Prospectus 2014 (which you should really buy if you haven’t already), but over the last 10 years, pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings with more than an 80 percent fastball rate have a collective 15 percent strikeout rate. That’s barely more than half of Cingrani’s 28.4 percent rate from 2013. Don’t be surprised if that number decreases significantly for 2014.
Chris Nelson Logan Ondrusek
If you’ve listened to the TINO podcast, you know why I really want to pick Chris Nelson as my sleeper here. But while I’m admittedly a sucker for him, I’m also not an idiot. Ondrusek, on the other hand, finally pitched like someone worthy of his intimidating presence in the second half of 2013. The stat line was good, with a 3.03 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, and 35 strikeouts in 32 2/3 innings, but his velocity was even better—averaging nearly 95 mph (1.5 mph higher than his previous career average). While he’s unlikely to see any saves, barring an Aroldis Chapman injury, he could hold sneaky value in NL-only leagues.