Reds’ Playing Time Battles: Hitters

A few weeks ago, we introduced depth chart discussions in the form of playing time battles. RotoGraphs staff have discussed and assessed noteworthy battles for playing time and/or starting gigs for position players and, separately, pitchers, and such analysis will continue until the season’s commencement. Here, specifically, this author will investigate the Cincinnati Reds‘ position player situations.

The Reds don’t expect to contend, but it doesn’t mean you can’t! Actually, the Reds aren’t that bad. They have a sneaky-good, or at least a sneaky-upside, rotation alongside some interesting bounce-back candidates and buried prospects.

Catcher

The Reds expect Devin Mesoraco back for opening day, but reports indicate he’ll be eased into spring training. The former is a big deal, given Mesoraco missed almost the entire 2015 season due to a hip injury that eventually required surgery. He had a monster 2014 season, making him one of said bounce-back candidates.

Should he come close to 2014’s production — a 40% fly ball rate (FB%), a 15% HR/FB, a 35% hard-hit rate (Hard%) — puts him right at Steamer’s projection of 16 home runs in 400 plate appearances. And I wouldn’t be surprised if he pushed his playing time closer to 500 PAs given a clean bill of health and solid production, and robust playing time ain’t easy to come by from a signal-caller.

This author thinks Mesoraco’s NFBC ADP of roughly 154th, or 7th among catchers, splits his outcomes down the middle, as it should. This author also thinks Mesoraco’s downside outweighs his upside but that the projections (Steamer, namely) sell him short in terms of PAs.

Should the projections be correct, though, Tucker Barnhart will shoulder the burden of Mesoraco’s absence. Once a Carson Cistullian top-5 prospect, Barnhart doesn’t come without value, but it mostly resides in his arm. He demonstrated admirable plate discipline in the minors but routinely posted ISOs (isolated power) less than .100. In terms of fantasy value, there’s nothing to see here, although he could hit for a decent average, like a cheap Francisco Cervelli.

Second Base

Brandon Phillips did not depart Cincinnati. And that’s fine because, at 34 — I’ll be honest, I thought he was older, so mentioning his age would pack more punch, but anyway — at 34, he generated 2.6 WAR en route to solid middle-infield value. He won’t hit 18 home runs again, like he did every season from 2010 through 2013, but shoot, he’s running again. And maybe he will hit 18 home runs. Do skills magically reappear like that?

Before this author signs off on Phillips, let him remind you that Martin Prado and Daniel Murphy pulled off unexpected baserunning spurts just to revert to normal next year. Phillips’ situation is different — he burned before once, and he obviously did it again — but this author thinks you would be crazy to expect 20, or even 15, stolen bases in 2016.

With that said, Brandon Phillips did not depart Cincinnati. And that’s a big issue, dude, because he now blocks Jose Peraza. Peraza doesn’t walk, but he doesn’t really strike out, either. And that’s fine. A contact-heavy approach suits Peraza’s 70-grade speed as reflected by the 60 stolen bases he stole in each of 2013 and 2014. The pace slowed in 2015 but Peraza, entering his age-22 season, should not be underestimated on the basepaths.

Peraza patrolled the outfield for a hot second in 2015, but it’s not where he belongs nor is it where he’ll end up. He’ll have to pry playing time out of Zack Cosart’s highly-rated glove. Or, perhaps, he’ll crowd Eugenio Suarez out of playing time at third base should Suarez sputter for a prolonged period of time. He’s not a natural third baseman, and while he offers marginal thump — certainly more than Peraza — his plate discipline leaves something to be desired.

Best-case scenario, Peraza assumes some kind of infield utility role. That’d be nice but also difficult to rely on. With Phillips in Cincinnati until the 2017 offseason — barring a trade Phillips will actually accept — the Reds have buried Peraza’s elite speed.

Outfield

Billy Hamilton and Jay Bruce will hold down two-thirds of the outfield fort, leaving Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Yorman Rodriguez and Jesse Winker to fight for the left field job. It’s an interesting array of talents.

Duvall has massive power and but poor contact skills that prevented him from debuting until his age-26 season. He’s cut from the same cloth as Chris Carter; his home runs will be his helium, and his batting average will be his anchor. In other words, his power will have to carry him and carry him far. Fortunately for Duvall, that’s not out of the question.

Schebler, like Duvall, doesn’t have a prospect pedigree, but he has enough tools loud enough to make noise that turned some heads. With above-average power and speed, but slightly below-average plate discipline, Schebler looks like he could be 2016’s Steven Souza — a 15-15 threat with power upside and potentially severe batting average downside.

Kiley McDaniel graded out Rodriguez’s raw power at 65; his game power, 35. This author has never personally witnessed Rodriguez perform, but his minor-league production thus far validates the assessment. Rodriguez’s speed also grades out plus, but that, too, has yet to show up in an especially meaningful capacity. With plate discipline that’s arguably as poor as Duvall’s, the parts to the whole don’t quite add up. If Rodriguez earned a full-time job outright, think double-digit homers and steals, but even that’s a bit optimistic — as would be a batting average north of .240.

Winker, entering his age-23 season, is a former first-round pick and the long-shot to win even a platoon share of the left field job. Still, he has fulfilled his promise thus far, demonstrating excellent plate discipline and moderate power. He has yet to officially graduate Double-A, and with the Reds in rebuild mode, there’s no reason to rush Winker. But one could argue he’s ready for the real thing, and one could further argue he’s capable of holding his own. The remaining tools may lag, but Winker could post a high OBP (on-base percentage) from the get-go and quickly become Joey Votto’s protégé.

The probable outcome? Duvall and Schebler split time as a lefty-righty platoon. No idea how their splits look, though, so consider the situation fluid and monitor the news out of Arizona during the next month.





Currently investigating the relationship between pitcher effectiveness and beard density. Two-time FSWA award winner, including 2018 Baseball Writer of the Year, and 8-time award finalist. Previously featured in Lindy's Sports' Fantasy Baseball magazine (2018, 2019). Tout Wars competitor. Biased toward a nicely rolled baseball pant.

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