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I am a freelance writer. I've covered the Cincinnati Reds, Bengals and others since 1992. I have a background in sales as well. I've sold consumer electronics, advertising and consumer package goods for companies ranging from the now defunct Circuit City to Procter&Gamble. I have worked as a stats operator for Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, the College of Mount St. Joe and Colerain High School.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

What To Watch For With 2017 Reds

The Cincinnati Reds finished at the bottom of the National League Central Division last season with a record of 68-94, four games better than the 2015 finish

The Reds were 32-57 in the first half but fashioned a respectable if not sensational 36-37 record after the All-Star Break,

“It’s time to go out there and figure out what we can do,” Bryan Price said. “We have a nice group of regulars. We can’t just settle for 72 wins, we have to set much higher goals.To do that we need a lot of step up from a group of young guys.”

Young Pitchers

Two rookies will start the season in the starting rotation to start the season.  Rookie Davis and Amir Garrett will join Brandon Finnegan, who at 23 is two weeks older than Davis and younger than Garrett.  Veteran’s Scott Feldman, 34, the Opening Day starter a and the ancient yet youthful Bronson Arroyo, 40.

Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafanit are recovering from injury.  Bailey had surgery to remove bone chips in early February.  He won’t be ready until at least June 1 and most likely later than that.  DeSclafani was shut down for three weeks.  He will need at least six weeks to build stamina.

Price and his staff chose from a group of five other young arms in Sal Romano, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Tim Adleman and Louis Castillo.  They are knocking on the door and fans can be confident that they will be in the Reds’ rotation in the near future if not this year.

Reed and Stephenson will learn on the job in the bullpen for now, available for emergency starts.

“Last year when we needed an emergency starter, we had to go to Double A and bring up someone we weren’t familiar with,” Price. “This year we know who we can go to.”

The Veteran Arroyo left the Reds after the 2013 season, only Tony Cingrani, among the current pitching staff was with the Reds.

His health and general long term well being is a key.  Arroyo started 14 games for the Diamondbacks in 2014 then spent the next 2 1/2 years on the disabled list.  Arroyo needs to be healthy and effective.  Not only was he a consistent winner for the Reds between 2006 and 2013 but he pitched 200 innings every year except 2011 in which he pitched 199.  If he can perform like that he can help prevent the bullpen from being over worked.

Better Bullpen

A year ago, J.J. Hoover was given the closer’s role to lose when Aroldis Chapman was traded to the New York Yankees.  Hoover lost it.  Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglasias started the spring training intent on being in the starting rotation but Lorenzen made one appearance last spring before he suffered a strained right elbow.  Iglasias was the Opening Day starter but after five starts, he was disabled with a shoulder impingement.  Both returned in June but worked out of the bullpen.  The improved bullpen allowed the Reds to have the better second half.

This year Drew Storen, who was a closer with Washington, signed a free agent contract.  Tony Cingrani, Iglasias and Lorenzen will form the back of the bullpen this year.

“I would like to see all four of them get some save opportunities,” Price said. “Storen, Iglesias and Cingrani have done it before.  Lorenzen not so much but he’s built for it.”

Rookies Barrett Astin,  acquired in the trade for Jonathan Broxton in 2014 and Wandy Peralta, a left-hander, join the bullpen.

Reed and Stephenson will provide long relief and spot starts. 

Three Shortstops

The Reds start the season with an athletic, more youthful infield.  The Reds traded Brandon Phillips, who at 34 was blocking the progress of Jose Peraza.  Peraza, who was a shortstop in the Atlanta system but moved to secondbase, started 29 games at shortstop with the Reds. He can also play centerfield.  He replaces a Gold Glove secondbaseman with a shortstops arm and range.  
Eugenio Suarez was a shortstop coming up in the Detroit Tigers system.  He replaced Zack Cozart in 2015 when Cozart suffered a season-ending knee injury.  Suarez became an everyday player by moving to thirdbase when Todd Frazier was traded.

Zack Cozart returns healthy and stronger two years removed from knee surgery.

This group has the ability to save the young pitching staff by cutting off ground balls ticketed for the outfield.  Healthy all season the group can prevent runs, turn hits into outs to allow pitchers to go deeper in games.

Mesoraco’s Health

Devin Mesoraco had a break out year with the bat in 2014 but injuries limited the 28-year old former first round draft choice to 39 games the last two years.

Mesoraco appears to be fully recovered but the Reds want him to work back to 100 percent before he is activated.   Tucker Barnhart will be the number one catcher until Mesoraco is ready to share the workload.

Stuart Turner is making the jump from Double A to the Major Leagues. His presence is tenuous. Turner had a good spring at the plate and was able to learn the pitching staff but the Reds have to keep him on the 25-man roster all season or offer him back to Minnesota. 

Rob Brantly was signed to a minor league contract and sent to minor league camp.  Brantly also had a good camp.
“Rob showed more power than we remembered from seeing him with Florida,” Price said. “I am comfortable with both catching games for us,”

When Mesoraco comes back the Reds will have a forced decision on which catcher to keep in the sytem. They could offer Turner back to the Twins or work out a trade for him.  They could send him back to Minnesota and have Brantly in the system if needed.

Schebler/Peraza Added To LIneup

Scott Schebler and Peraza are new additions to the everyday lineup.

“I am excited about having Schebler and Peraza for a full season,” Price said.

Schebler replaces Jay Bruce, who was traded to the New York Mets.  The 26-year old struggled early last season trying to platoon with Adam Duvall in leftfield.  As the left-handed bat, he didn’t get enough to stay sharp.  The Reds sent him to Louisville to play everyday.  Schebler responded by hitting .311 with 13 home runs.  After Bruce was traded, Schebler came back to Cincinnati and hit much better finishing with a .265 average and belted nine more home runs.

Peraza hit .281 in 71 games at Louisville and .324 in 72 games in Cincinnati. Even limited to half a season Peraza ranked high among rookies in seven offensive categories.  Price will put him behind Billy Hamilton at the top of the lineup to give the team two speedsters in front of Joey Votto.

Votto just needs to be himself.  He struggled until the All-Star break then hit nearly .400 the second half of the season.  Staying healthy is the only question mark for the 33-year old veteran, who finished seventh in the MVP voting in November.

Adam Duvall took control of the leftfield position with surprisingly good defense in leftfield for a player who was a thirdbaseman in the minor leagues.  Duvall was slow out of the gates this spring but finished strong, hitting three home runs in the last two games. His improved timing was obvious.  Last season he led all leftfielders with 33 home runs, six triples and 103 RBI. With Hamilton, Peraza and Votto hitting in front of him, he should be able to drive in a lot of runs this season.

Eugenio Saurez started 2016 as one of the hottest hitters in the National League last year.  He went into a slump but recovered late in the season to finish strong with a .240 average. Suarez hit 21 home runs.

Zack Cozart’s  .252 batting average last year was consistent with his other years but he contributed a career-high 16 home runs in 121 games.

‘I’ve worked on a new stance over the winter,” Cozart said. “I worked on it and feel relaxed at the plate.”

At a little over five years of Major League tenure, Cozart is behind just Arroyo, Votto and Bailey in service time within the organization.
“He has a great maturity about him,” Price said. “Zack is an awesome team player.”

Cozart believes this Reds team is better than its given credit.

“We have that underdog mentality,” Cozart said.  “We’re going to surprise some people this year.”

Tucker Barnhart has steadily improved as a hitter, setting caree-highs with a .257, seven home runs and 51 RBI, the most of his professional career.  A natural left-handed hitter, Barnhart has improved as a right-handed hitter which is the side he uses least.  Last season, Barnhart improved 30 points to .207.  Continued offensive improvement will help the offense from the eight hole.

“He does such a good job hitting eighth,” Price said. “He understands how to hit in front of the pitcher.”

Billy Hamilton will lead off.  The Reds’ offense was better after Hamilton was moved from the bottom of the lineup to the top.  The Reds couldn’t do that until Hamilton found a way to get on base more.

‘It is important that Billy sees himself as a leadoff guy,” Price said. “That’s what we started to see at the end of last year. His two strike approach and his management of the strike zone was vastly improved.”

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