We’re headed back to the National League for the upstart Reds who have a strong rotation and some intriguing bats setting them up as a 2020 fringe contender with a few key offseason moves.
Is Joey Votto done as a premier hitter?
After a nine-year run which saw Votto hit .315/.436/.544 with 30 HR, 95 RBI, 102 R, and 9 SB per 162 games, he fallen on hard times the last two years with just a .272/.387/.415 line and 16 HR, 65 RBI, 83 R, and 4 SB per 162. His 2018 and 2019 aren’t that far off outside of his walk rate so while a lot attention is being paid to his 2019, this is now two severely non-Vottoan years.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this production fall off is that when I look under the hood, he’s actually been better than he was in 2017 when he hit .320/.454/.578 with 36 HR and 100 RBI. The only major differences between those seasons (2017 v. 2018-19) are the HR/FB and Barrel rates. The exit velocity and hard-hit rates are better in ’18-19, the launch angle, G/F/L split, and spray chart are basically the same. After HR/FB rates of 22%, 22%, and 20% in 2015-17, he has inexplicably dropped to just 10% each of the last two seasons.
Given all of this, it’s hard not to wonder how much a host of ailments have really impacted him. He has spent time on the IL each of the last two seasons with right leg and lower back injuries, but he’s also had knick-knack injuries to his knee, hamstring, and back that cost games here and there, but also may have lingered beyond that. With the lack of glaring holes in his profile on the surface, one place where I think nagging injuries would show up as a problem tied to his HR/FB is flyball distance.
In 2017, Votto had an average flyball distance of 332.4 ft, good for 35th in the league. In 2018-19, it fell to 315.8, slotting 211th in the league. With injuries primarily to his base over the past two seasons, it’s not surprising to see his power sapped. As such, the answer to the question posed above would seem to come down to whether or not he’s healthy.
I’d lean toward yes, he’s done as a premier hitter because betting on the health of a 36-year old 1B seems like a losing bet, even someone as awesome Votto was during his peak. If there’s a slight positive here, he’s priced to buy as he’s currently going at pick 284 on average in the early NFBC leagues. He will be your CI and UT so if you believe, the risk is definitely mitigated by the cost.
Will Raisel Iglesias hold the closer’s role?
Iglesias outran an ugly 1.5 HR/9 in 2018 as he still managed a 2.38 ERA in 72 IP. He saved 30 games in 34 opportunities and came in as a highly desired closer for 2019. The homers remained problematic in 2019 with a 1.6 mark, but a jump in hit rate and drop in LOB rate left him with a 4.16 ERA in 67 IP. He went 34-for-40 in saves but was also saddled with 12 losses – the most reliever losses since Rollie Fingers and someone named Skip Lockwood (sounds like someone who’d ask Marcia Brady to prom… Oh Skip Lockwood, he’s real groovy!) each had 13 in 1978.
His flyball rate has been rising sharply since 2017, going from 32% to 44% in that time. Obviously, the home runs have come with it. A home run issue is the worst attribute for a closer and I wonder if it puts him jeopardy of losing the job should it continue in 2020. The Reds haven’t been shy about using him in a multi-inning role so maybe even if he doesn’t have the same HR problems of 2018-19, they might be inclined to put him back in that role full time while giving Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson, or Lucas Sims a chance at the ninth inning. Or maybe even Amir Garrett, but he’s their primary lefty so they need to have him at the ready for key lefties in any spot.
Iglesias has a guaranteed contract so they don’t have to worry about saves pushing up an arbitration price, but on the other hand they should be aiming to get as many innings as possible out of him so putting him in that multi-inning role would allow them to get 90-110 IP out of him. Closers are an absolute mess this early in the offseason, so Iglesias has still been somewhat desirable, but I’m not sure he’s going to hold the role all year. Be careful.
What does Aristides Aquino do for an encore?
Aquino already had the fall off from his meteoric rise so I’m not putting him in the Faller category. After sprinting out of the gate with a .320/.391/.767 line and 14 HR in 115 August PA, he hit just .196/.236/.382 with 5 HR in 110 September PA. So where do we go from here? It’d be too much to take those two months and triple them up as a full season because I just don’t see him maintaining a 29% HR/FB rate and hitting 57 HR.
He is definitely a true power threat with a flyball lean in a hitter-friendly ballpark, so I’m putting him down for at least 30 HR. If he gets 600+ PA, I think 35-40 HR come into play, particularly if the ball remains similar to 2019. With health, the Reds have a strong lineup and Aquino has a real shot at 100 RBI if he’s consistently batting fourth or fifth. Of course, that health is far from guaranteed with several guys in their lineup.
The sneaky aspect of Aquino’s game is the speed. He’s a power stud at 6’4/220, but don’t sleep on his raw speed. He was a sneaky 7-for-7 on the bases during his MLB debut and even went 5-for-6 in the minors, too. His 28.7 ft/sec sprint speed puts him in the 89th percentile so it’s not out of bounds to see this as a real part of his game. As such, a .270-42-114-90-20 upside is in play while a conservative projection (one where he plays well enough to maintain his job… obviously the downside is collapse and back to Triple-A) comes in around .240-27-83-71-8.
Senzel is one of the guys the Reds need to have healthy for that potentially strong lineup. Of course, he’s already coming in with an injury after labrum surgery in September. With an offseason to recover, he should be ready to go heading into 2020. The 25-year old only managed a 90 wRC+ during his rookie campaign, but he hit 12 HR and had 14 SB in 414 PA (19/22 paces over 650 PA). There was nothing particularly alarming in his profile that suggests he can’t improve and put up something closer to the .312/.388/.508 line he had in 1028 minor league PA.
His strikeout (24%) and walk rates (7%) need to come closer to his 20% and 10% marks from the minors if he wants to get that average. With more consistent contact and his premium speed (29.4 ft/sec, 96th percentile), he can sustain higher BABIPs than the .319 we saw in 2019. He ranged from .367 to .392 in his minor league stops where he had more than 50 PA. I’m reluctant to tab him for any sort of power surge on the heels of labrum surgery. I’m looking at a potential of .280 AVG, 22 HR, and 33 SB in a full, healthy season. That’s the rosy upside, but as long as he stays relatively healthy (500+ PA) I think he should at least post a 15/15 season.
This is less about a major fall off and more that I just don’t see another sub-3.00 ERA. I actually like Gray quite a bit, but even a 3.45 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 25% K rate would be both great and a severe drop from his 2019.
A MOVE TO MAKE
Sign Avisaíl García
With magic health dust, the Reds OF is locked in with Aquino in right, Senzel in center, and Jesse Winker in left, but magic health dust doesn’t exist. In the real world, both Senzel and Winker have rough injury histories making it tough to ink them in for 600 PA. I’m a Winker fan, but his health outlook is even worse than Senzel’s as he has yet to reach 400 PA in his three MLB seasons. Plus, when he does play, he has a putrid .543 OPS against lefties in 147 PA, making Garcia a perfect match for him.
Garcia has a career .808 OPS against lefties. If Winker has to miss time again in 2020, Garcia can be a full-time option as he’s made sharp improvements against righties to the tune of a .786 OPS in 1065 PA, including an .837 in 2017 and .805 in 2019. Our crowdsourced contracts put him down for a very affordable 2-year, $13.5 million dollar deal and the Reds should take a look at the 29-year old corner outfielder.
If the outlook on Senzel is rougher than expected, they could pivot to someone like Brett Gardner or Cameron Maybin on a 1-year deal as both are playable in center while Garcia is best left to the corners.
PLAYING TIME BATTLE(S)
Early offseason reports have linked the Reds to Didi Gregorius, which would bring him back to his original organization and push Galvis into the 2B battle. If they don’t sign Gregorius, Galvis likely slots in as the everyday SS, leaving VanMeter and Peraza to battle it out in spring while India looms in the high minors (finished ’19 in AA).
VanMeter put himself on the map with an obscene .336/.431/.736 line and 13 HR in 131 PA at Triple-A during the first month of the season and earning himself a call-up. He bounced up and down through the remainder of the first half before finally settling with the Reds over the second half and acquitting himself fairly well with a decent .240/.324/.437 line, 8 HR, and 8 SB over 207 PA (a 20/20 pace). He has the skills to be a league average bat with ~20 HR/12 SB.
Peraza couldn’t build on a 2018 breakout that saw him hit .288/.326/.416 with 14 HR and 23 SB in 683 PA mainly because it was fraudulent in the first place, especially his power “surge”. While his exit velocity and hard-hit rates rose from 2017 to 2018, he remained bottom 3% and bottom 4% in the league, respectively. He actually added to both again in 2019, but still remained bottom 5% and 7%, respectively, generating a horrific .272 wOBA that was very much in line with his 2017 mark of .273. Defense is his only edge on VanMeter, but I’m not sure it’s enough to take on the dead lineup spot.
India wasn’t great in a two-level season that saw him hit to a .767 OPS across High- and Double-A. Then he ended the season on a very sour note, hitting just .133/.254/.333 in 71 PA during the Arizona Fall League. He’s a midseason threat at best and he’d have to show out in Triple-A to push his way into the majors. A 3B by trade, Eugenio Suarez has him blocked off there so the Reds might consider using him at 2B throughout 2020 with the idea that he can challenge for the role in summer-2020 and/or eventually take the job in 2021.
PROSPECT CONTRIBUTORS FOR 2020
Hitter: Tyler Stephenson | Catcher
After talking about how much I don’t like catching prospects in fantasy just yesterday, I’m now back recommending one as the 2020 contributor for the Reds. Part of it is that I already discussed India and part of it is that Stephenson is a rising stud with a huge arm and emerging bat. His plate skills give him a strong foundation as he can take walks and doesn’t strike out too much. He hasn’t quite taken the leap with his raw power, but it’s in there and portends a 20-home run hitter down the line.
After a Gold Glove season and improved bat in 2017, Tucker Barnhart earned himself a 4-year deal so he’s not going anywhere, but he has faded from that peak season and Stephenson could come up in the summer and get into a timeshare with him.
Pitcher: Tony Santillan
Santillan didn’t carry over is 2018 success as he repeated Double-A and struggled throughout most of the year. If he can’t get back on track as a starter, he could find his way into the bullpen and make his debut with his 70-grade heater that sits in the mid-90s with 98-99 peaks. As with many young arms, the lack of a reliable third pitch is his biggest issue which is why a potential relief future seems so viable. There just aren’t many pitching prospects on the cusp for Cincinnati in 2020.
Quick note for those of you still reading, I’m planning a follow up once all 30 ACLs are done where I run back through every team and do a little something on one guy I didn’t get to talk about because they didn’t fit into any category and/or I just forgot to bring them up. Sometimes it’ll be someone I already have in mind, other times it’ll be someone y’all mention in the comments that you want to read more about.
A few examples from the teams we’ve already done include Jake Fraley (SEA) and Austin Hays (BAL). So, in addition to letting me know what you think about the piece in general, don’t hesitate to include your “should’ve talked about” guy as well!
UP NEXT: Los Angeles Angels