It’s that wonderful time of the year again. The telltale signs of spring have begun to peek through the cracks of a relatively short winter. Trap music is blaring in the streets of Oxford, “Sun’s out, Guns out” posts have replaced pictures of bundled up couples on Instagram, and, yes Reds fans, Homer Bailey is already injured.

With training camp starting over a week ago, the 2017 MLB season is officially in our sights. As a lifelong Reds fan, Spring Training has come to represent many different things to me in the last 21 years. When I was younger, February and March were spent listening to the radio and being sold on the potential of players like Wily Mo Pena, Austin Kearns, and even Eric Milton. Every spring introduced a new set of players to complement the “lethal” trio of Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr. and Aaron Harang. Every fall served as a unceremonious exit for the players that failed to live up to expectations. Seasons came and went, and the Reds continued to underachieve. I quickly became a very cynical 12-to-14-year-old baseball fan.

Then in 2010, everything changed. Highly regarded prospects began to stick around for more than a couple years, and it appeared as if a genuine MLB franchise had once again been formed in Cincinnati, Ohio. From 2010-2013, the Reds sent at least three players to the MLB All-Star Game, and twice sent four. The Reds tied the Detroit Tigers for the sixth best record in the league in the same four year span.

Key free agents came to town, and, for the first time in a very long time, the Reds’ free agents didn’t leave. Four different players won Gold Glove Awards. Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce won Silver Sluggers. Joey Votto won an MVP! For the first time in my life, my favorite franchise in my favorite sport was not only relevant, but succeeding.

Then, success left the Redlegs as quickly as it appeared. Some people point to the firing of Dusty Baker, others to the mishandling of Joey Votto’s knee issues and mental health, but I personally chalk it up to the natural lifespan of a mid-market team in a game dominated by its lack of a salary cap. As Reds players climbed to new heights, their salaries were bound to follow. Votto was the first to ink a mammoth contract extension, and Bailey, Phillips, Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco soon followed suit.

As players were selected to extend their future with the Reds, other key contributors decided to take their talents elsewhere, where higher salaries and playing time were more readily available. Baseball, at its core, is a business, and its employees are well within their rights to seek their best employment situation. The Reds’ lack of depth and a remarkably unlucky stretch of injuries soon sent the Reds from one of the top franchises in baseball to their current location at the bottom of the standings in the MLB.

This brings us to the upcoming Spring of 2017. Aside from Votto, the familiar faces that Reds fans grew to love from 2010-2013 are gone. Billy Hamilton, Zack Cozart, and Devin Mesoraco still hold important roles in the franchise, but even their days in a Reds uniform may be numbered. Newly-appointed GM Dick Williams has made it clear that the Reds are rebuilding for the future, and these players have suddenly become pricey veterans.

So where does this leave the rest of the Reds’ players? The Reds rebuilding plans are built around Joey Votto for better or worse due to the seven years and $177 million remaining on his current contract. Outside of Votto, though, essentially every other player in the organization has been presented with an opportunity to either play himself into or out of the Reds’ future. That being said, here are a few players with the best shot of making their way into the Reds’ long-term plans.

Peraza and Herrera Headline Batting Class

Although the trade of Brandon Phillips was a sad day for Reds fans, the move was relatively necessary and done with confidence that his successors could fill his role. Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera, acquired in the Johnny Cueto and Jay Bruce trades, respectively, represent the long-term hope for the middle infield of the Reds. In limited playing time last season, Peraza played spectacularly, putting up a .324/.352/.411 triple slash line (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) while stealing 21 bases. Although he may not have the same pop that Phillips displayed in his prime, Peraza’s speed and ability to get on base could make him a steady contributor at the top of the Reds lineup.

Herrera may have a less impressive Major League resume to pull from, but he also spent the majority of his time in the majors playing bit roles for the playoff-driven Mets. Nonetheless, at 22 years old, Herrera is the same age as Peraza and has demonstrated a decent amount of power in the minors to the tune of 15 home runs in 2016 and slugging percentage of .511 in 2015.

A future centered around both Herrera and Peraza would more than likely involve the Reds trading Zack Cozart, and shifting Peraza to shortstop, as Herrera is more of a natural fit at second base. Luckily, this season will serve as a test for the duo to determine whether this is the appropriate approach for the future.

Other names to keep an eye on include:

  • Third baseman Nick Senzel – Last year’s 2nd overall pick is a bona fide blue chip prospect who mashed minor league pitching in Dayton last season. Despite being in only his second season of professional baseball, Senzel could be a mid-to-late season call-up this year.
  • Outfielder Scott Schebler – This power hitting lefty pieced together a very strong second half for the Reds in 2016 and projects to be the starting right fielder.
  • Outfielder Jesse Winker – Winker may finally get his call to the majors after many years spent as a Reds top prospect.

Disco A Lock, the Rest Up for Grabs in Rotation and Bullpen

Anyone familiar with the Reds in 2016 knew the majority of their struggles were due to their pitching, or their lack of thereof. Last season, the Reds broke the all-time MLB record for the most home runs allowed in a season and their bullpen made a strong run for the worst bullpen E.R.A. in modern history. However, amid all of the chaos and balls leaving the yard, Anthony “Disco” DeSclafani managed to emerge as genuine front-of-the-line starter. DeSclafani posted a 9-5 record with a 3.28 E.R.A. and all signs point to Bryan Price tabbing Disco to start on Opening Day.

Another player generating a ton of interest in camp is top pitching prospect, Amir Garrett. Garrett, a 6’5” lanky left-hander and former basketball player at St. John’s, made a full-time commitment to pitching three years ago, and has since seen consistent success in the minor leagues. Garrett’s 2.55 E.R.A. in 23 starts last year earned him his second consecutive Reds’ Minor League Pitcher of the Year Award, and he will surely be a name to keep an eye on this season and onward.

Other pitchers who could work their way into key roles this season include:

  • Relievers Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias – These flame-throwing former starters project to play key late-inning roles for a revamped bullpen.
  • Starter Robert Stephenson – Like Jesse Winker, Stephenson has been a top Reds prospect for what seems like ages. 2017 may finally be his time to shine.
  • Starter Scott Feldman and reliever Drew Storen – These sneaky free agent signings have histories of past success that could translate to respectable campaigns this season.

All in all, 2017 projects to be another rebuilding season for the Cincinnati Reds outside of the top of the standings. There will be ups and downs, but the main objective will be determining which players are built for the Reds future and which are not. Only time will tell whether this class of players will be long-term pieces for the franchise, but their growth and development will be an interesting narrative to follow. Here’s to another year of Reds baseball, and hopefully more calls of “…and this one belongs to the Reds!”

 

Questions, comments, accusations that I am biased against your favorite team? E-mail me at hausfemj@miamioh.edu!

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