Editor’s Note: I hope you will join me in welcoming Jim Walker to the Redleg Nation staff. You may already know Jim as a long-time RN commenter under the handle “ohiojimw,” and I’m very happy that he’ll be sharing his thoughts on the Reds with us this season. Please make him feel welcome! — Chad Dotson

I still hear that voice booming from my radio alarm at 6AM: Good morning, tomorrow is here!

The voice was authoritative, definitive and unerringly correct. After the last three seasons, I yearn to hear such a voice announce that a meaningful tomorrow is here for the Reds.

My emotional mind imagines scenarios where the Reds go at least .500 in 2017 and a perfect storm of events lands them a Wild Card berth. Then rational Lee Corso interrupts, “Not so fast, my friend!”

My logical mind is concerned that 2017 could end like 2015 and 2016, not so much a step forward that sets the foundation for a future run of playoff contention but instead another season of sorting out. Here is how I see things stacking up.

The corner infield spots look settled for 2017 and beyond. The only question at the corner IF spots is  quality of defense. Joey Votto will be Joey Votto at 1B. Hopefully his offseason work on defense will pay dividends. Eugenio Suarez should be more than competent at 3B in 2017 especially if he can continue to improve his defense. Meanwhile just under the horizon lurks the rising star of Nick Senzel.

Centerfield is set as long as Billy Hamilton is healthy. Hamilton’s game-changing speed on defense and the base paths make him unique. However, his injury history indicates he will miss a number of games. Who plays center when Hamilton is unavailable?  The cupboard looks bare at both the MLB and AAA levels.

The corner outfield situation seems mostly settled; but questions remain. Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, and Jesse Winker figure to get the bulk of the playing time. Metrics suggest Duvall’s 2016 production level was a fluke; was it? Can Schebler post an entire season as good as or better than his 2016 partial-season bottom line? Will Winker demonstrate that he can provide sufficient power to go along with his projected outstanding OBP?

Middle infield is a very unsettled area with more questions than answers. Jose Peraza will play a lot at the two middle infield positions; but will he be at 2B or SS? Zack Cozart’s status is an enigma. Will he be healthy enough to play regularly? If he is sufficiently healthy, how long will he remain a Red? Dilson Herrera has yet to play defense this spring due to an ongoing shoulder issue. Help is needed, but help from the minor league system appears to be at least a season away.

The catching is unsettled. Devin Mesoraco is trying to return from consecutive seasons lost to hip and shoulder surgeries. He will catch as much as his body allows him to. Nobody knows when or how much that will be. Tucker Barnhart will catch a lot. The only other catcher on the 40 man roster is light-hitting Rule 5 pick Stuart Turner. There isn’t an MLB-experienced journeyman at AAA for contingency needs. Prospect Chris Okey projects as at least two years away.

The pitching is very unsettled. I see great talent and depth in the pitching. However, there are still more questions than answers. Anthony Desclafani’s elbow issue makes 60% of the starting rotation unsettled. Nick Kirby wrote about the competition to fill those spots just prior to the latest bad news about Desclafani. Who besides Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen can be trusted in the bullpen?

My Final Pitch

In three weeks, real games start. My logical mind looks at the Reds up the middle of the diamond and sees too many question marks remaining to allow my emotional mind much joy about the current state of the Reds rebuild. The organization still does not have enough quality players ready to compete at the MLB level. The tomorrow that starts on Opening Day 2017 has a greater chance of being 2016 with a few more wins than the jumping off point to a new window of playoff contention.

79 Responses

  1. VaRedsFan

    Thanks Jim and welcome to the already great list of writers here. I usually saw eye to eye with most of you posts from the past. This one is no exception. However, with the recent starting pitching news, I’m not sure they will achieve as many wins as last year.

  2. WVRedlegs

    Congratulations Mr. Jim on expanding on your writing. Look forward to your future posts.
    You are putting it bluntly. Too much uncertainy for this stage of the re-build. My Rose colored glasses see it like your emotional side. While my 20/20’s see it like your logical side. Each team has a little sorting out to do as the season progresses, but yet again this year the plate is full in that regard for the Reds.
    The C, SS and 2B positions have to be settled this year because next winter and spring it will be 3B, LF, possibly RF, and a looming position switch for Suarez that will need to be settled or settled again. The Suarez switch would then open 2B as needing settled again.
    The disappointing aspect is that 6 of 8 position spots are still sorting out.
    And that doesn’t even include the pitching. The attrition of Lorenzen and Iglesias from the starting rotation hurt the rotation’s development. It now has to be re-built around Finnegan.
    Three or four of the five SP”s spots are in play now. Bailey and DeSclafani aside, the Reds need 3 of Reed, Stephenson, Garrett, Romano, and Davis to really step up and set themselves apart from the others and be above-average ML pitchers.
    There really are no service time considerations for Reed and Stephenson. But with Garrett, Romano, and Davis there are. A possible prudent maneuver from Price might be to rotate those three through the #5 spot where each will spend a few weeks at AAA and a few at the ML level. That will save the year of service time on each of those three, give those 3 some ML experience, and management some time to evaluate each. Once DeSclafani and Bailey return, the Reds will have information on all 3 to use to chisel out a final 5 for their rotation going forward. Reed and Stephenson will have to perform because if they don’t, any of those other 3 will have the opportunity to pass them up. The ones that show results will be the ones that start.

    • lwblogger2

      I don’t think we can forget that Votto gets older in 2018, 2019, 2020… This can’t go on too long before we start to perhaps be less productive at 1B than we’re used to.

      • Jim Walker

        I agree. There is no doubt that coordination of cost and periods of productivity across a roster is a major piece of the puzzle.

  3. Scott Carter

    There’s no logic in baseball. Just kidding good read Jim. I always enjoy your posts, I may not always agree with them, but they are always well written and thought out.

  4. seat101

    I hope the promotion comes with a raise in pay. More importantly though, welcome!

  5. Streamer88

    Good stuff Jim. Your point about depth is important. I feel as you do – we have depth at pitching and it’s close to MLB ready. But elsewhere I don’t ‘feel’ we have as many young upcomers position guys climbing thru the ranks. Am I wrong? Is it because we have so much depth in pitching it’s a relative paucity and not an objective paucity?

    • Jim Walker

      I had the same thought about position players. I haven’t researched the situation enough to have a solid opinion.

      Running through in my head, I came up with BHam and Tucker Barnhart as the last two truly homegrown position guys to come up and stick. This seems like not a very substantial number; but then during much of the time in question, the Reds probably considered themselves set everywhere except LF and 3B.

  6. lwblogger2

    Nice first piece Jim! Looking forward to reading more of your stuff.

  7. redsfan06

    Welcome to the staff, Jim. Good first outing. Hope we are saying the same about the Reds starting pitching this year.

  8. Sliotar

    Jim, great to see you writing “above the line.”

    My logical part is worse than yours, feeling that the Reds should not think about contending until 2019, at the earliest. Too many internal questions, and a slew of NL teams in “go for it” mode in ’17 and ’18. Better to hold service time clocks, do more find and flips (a la Dan Straily) and build a more complete core, IMO.

    One thing I am curious about as the 2017 season begins….as Dick Williams revamps how the Reds operate, how will he evaluate Bryan Price? What metrics are being used to determine if he returns on a team option in 2018? Or, is it already a probability that he will return?

  9. Old-school

    Thanks for the contribution Jim. A lot of unsettled-ness. Can schebler play some CF? Billy needs rest.

  10. Jim Walker

    Thanks to everyone for the kind comments. Also my thanks to the RLN site management, Chad and Steve, for allowing me this opportunity. I’ll try my best to do right by everyone.

  11. msanmoore

    Welcome, Jim! Looking forward to what you share.

    As for the Votto bum … he just can’t hit. I mean, have you seen the Spring Training numbers?

    The regular season can’t get her soon enough for me so we can see our Reds settle into a routine. I’m still hopeful we get good views of our future, but I’m nervous on many fronts just the same as you are.

  12. sezwhom

    Has anyone else noticed Votto is having a quiet Spring? AVG, OBP and SLG are all .000.

    Time to cut him. Congrats Jim.

  13. Shchi Cossack

    I was wondering why you had adjusted the moniker on your avatar, Jim. Mystery solved!

    This looks like as good a place as any to comment on the bench competition heading into the final 3-week crunch time…

    Tony Renda (RH / IF-OF) non-roster
    .407/.500/.704 in 32 PA
    Patrick Kivlehan (RH / IF-OF) non-roster
    .400/.419/.633 in 31 PA
    Stuart Turner (RH / C) 40-man roster
    .389/.476/.500 in 21 PA
    Dilson Herrera (RH / 2B) 40-man roster
    .304/.448/.478 in 29 PA
    Ryan Raburn (RH / OF) non-roster
    .222/.300/.556 in 20 PA
    Jesse Winker (LH/ OF) 40-man roster
    .323/.400/.419 in 35 PA
    Hernan Iribarren (LH / IF-OF) non-roster
    .345/.367/.345/ in 30 PA
    Arismendy Alcantara (SW / IF-OF) 40-man roster
    .206/.229/.471 in 35 PA
    Desmond Jennings (RH / OF) non-roster
    .182/.286/.318 in 28 PA

    I don’t believe any of the other players (Ervin, Dixon, Brantly, Aquino, Wallach, Vincej, etc.) have any realistic chance of making the 25-man roster. With Barnhart and Mesoraco penciled in for catching duties, 4 of the above listed players should make the 25-man roster when the team breaks camp. Herrera and Winker need consistent, regular playing time as true prospects and both have limited flexibility in a utility role, so they should be headed to AAA until their starting opportunity opens up.

    Stuart Turner represents an interesting case study. He’s never hit worth a lick, but he’s a solid defensive catcher with MLB potential as a backup catcher. The trouble is that the Reds will lose him if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster. Price is on record that the Reds will not carry 3 catchers, but if does carrying a 3rd catcher really hamstring the bench utility? With only 2 catchers, Price never (and that’s pretty close to an absolute never) uses the backup catcher as a pinch hitter, leaving only 4 players available for pinch hitting duties in a game. With Turner on the roster as a 3rd catcher, the backup catcher (Barnhart or Mesoraco) becomes available as a pinch hitter, leaving 4 players still available for pinch hitting duties. I’d like to see Turner get serious consideration for a roster spot. When Mesoraco departs after the 2018 season, the Reds will need another catcher and Turner would make a nice option to backup/platoon with Barnhart.

    Right now, based on performance and flexibility, Renda, Kivlehan, Iribarren & Alcantara look to have the inside track on the 4 available roster spots.

    • Eric The Red

      I agree with you 100% about Turner. Quality catchers don’t grow on trees, we’re not going to win anything this year anyway, and no matter what Mesoraco does in the spring we can’t really be sure he can stand up to a full season of heavy use until he does it. I certainly wouldn’t dismiss out of hand the idea of keeping him.

    • Hotto4Votto

      I’ve been against carrying 3 catchers as a general rule. But I’m being persuaded to rethink that due to Mesoraco’s health and the lack of true MLB caliber catchers in the system that have any experience beyond Dayton. Turner seems to be solid catcher who’s handled his own with the bat so far in ST (I know, ST stats). With the flexibility of many of the Reds bench options being able to play multiple positions (Irribarren, Kivlehan, Renda, Alcantara and Dixon can all play 4+ positions) it allows the Reds to get by with a 3rd catcher. Plus Peraza has positional flexibility. Plus, like you said, it’s not as if we’d lose a PH under this set up.

  14. Jim Walker

    Alcantara could be an important piece moving forward if he can recover even close to his prior projected level. He could be the super sub who plays 3 or 4 days a week to keep the regulars fresh while sparing the team a big drop off in talent when he was on the field. But his performance is a big “if” at this point.

    • lwblogger2

      I am pulling hard for him to be a STEAL!

  15. cfd3000

    Welcome Jim. I’ll look forward to another season with you and the regulars commenting about the articles and events in RLN, and now to your more detailed insights to get the conversations rolling. If the Reds can add capable arms from the minors as well as RLN adds capable writers from the feeder system this could be a good year. As for emotion and logic, I’ve been saying this for a few months now. The bullpen looks better, this team will go as far as the starters’ arms will carry it. Bring in the games that count!

  16. Tom R

    I think this has high quality possibilities. I’m excited about Peraza and Herrera. The battle for the corner OF positions should be awesome – it’s slugging v OBP! The young pitchers are exciting if not an emotional roller coaster to watch. And we still get to watch Billy Hamilton zoom and Joey Votto take (and walk).

    It ain’t gonna be pretty but it might just be fun! And we added Arroyo as extra pitching coach and that’s bound to help one or two young players (remember Mike Leake?).

  17. Chuck Schick

    Very nice job, Jim. You’re a talented man and its nice to see you take this next step.

  18. Preach

    I thought your first name was Ohio! Wow, my mind is blown.

    Where abouts in the Dayton area do you reside?

    Great article and it highlights all the uncertainty around this club. I, for one, am looking forward to the games starting.

  19. Reaganspad

    I thought his dog would be bigger

    I did not fashion Ohiojim as a lapdog kind of guy

    Always read your posts

    Good stuff

  20. Eric The Red

    Good stuff, Jim. I, too, thought your first name was Ohio 🙂

    I just had a thought about the pitching and the rebuild: you could argue that we’re not “only” missing Disco and Bailey from what should have been the 2017 starting rotation. Lorenzen and Iglesias should also have been starters in 2017 if not for health. Not many GMs are going to successfully navigate around that kind of hit to starting pitching depth.

  21. Kyle Farmer

    Congrats Jim. Always enjoyed your comments and I’m sure I’ll enjoy your posts just as much!

    I had allowed myself to feel really hopeful about 2017. Maybe push slightly above .500 and dream about a Wild Card right up until the last week or so of the season. Homer’s latest setback didn’t really put a huge dent in my hopes because it wasn’t unexpected. At this point, anything Homer does other than whine about the front office while sitting on the DL would be a bonus.

    The bungled handling of Disco’s elbow really has me gloomy though. Maybe it’s the time of year and the stupid bipolar weather in Ohio. Or, maybe, it’s just the stark realization that this team is still far away from contending.

  22. MrRed

    Welcome to the big leagues, Jim! It will be good to see your posts on here this season and great start with this one. Who knew that roster construction could be this complicated!?

    I, like you, am bracing myself for a season that looks more like the past couple of years than it does a step forward toward contention. That said, I hope I’m setting myself up to be pleasantly surprised. Especially if some of the young pitchers take a step forward and prove themselves as capable starters. I’m sure the Reds could use a few more good arms if the recent past is any indication of future events.

    If anything positive will be accomplished this season, it had better be the sorting out of the middle infield and pitching staff. If not, the rebuild engine is going to lose its steam.

  23. greenmtred

    Good to see you commenting, Jim. I’ve always enjoyed your analysis and writing and look forward to seeing more. I’m a little more hopeful (if not optimistic) about this year than nearly everyone else who commented, if only because unexpected stuff happens, and the more young players on a team, the greater the probability of surprises. I also think that the Reds have a good chance of being really fun to watch this year, so I’m looking forward to the season. Even more so because I’m about to excavate my truck, wood shed and paths from the 2 feet of snow that fell yesterday.

    • Jim Walker

      I agree that at least at times the Reds will be very exciting to watch. The season is just such a grind that I don’t think they have the depth to maintain a high level of play consistently.

      The rotation figures to be a real roller coaster ride. We will see flashes of brilliance alternating with the depths and frustrations of rookie struggles. On the whole I think 2 or 3 rookies plus a 2nd year guy in the rotation works out to more lows than highs in terms of results.

      Good luck with the snow. Here in Reds home country, we missed out on any real snow just as we have virtually all winter. However after having April temperatures for most of February, we now have early February in mid March; but, it beats snow 🙂

  24. Shchi Cossack

    Now it feels like spring is just around the corner, despite the wind shill in single digits!

    Today’s game is broadcast live from Goodyear on FSOH with gametime @ 4:00.

    • Preach

      Awesome. And I am off today! Lets see if I’m a good luck charm.

      • Shchi Cossack

        Preach, I’m stoked for todays game. It may be only you me & Jim, but we’ll do what we can to carry the day

      • Preach

        Just tuned in. Ordered a pizza and have my tablet. Go Reds!!!!

      • Preach

        Game thread. I wonder how long it will be before THOM! Irritates me.

  25. Hotto4Votto

    On CF I think we have plenty of options to give Hamilton a break or to fill in short term. Peraza, Alcantara, Irribarren, Jennings, and Ervin should all be on the squad or in AAA. Schebler could fill in as well. But yeah, none will be as good as Billy in the field or on the bases, but few in all of baseball are. Ervin is the only prospect that may be viewed as a long term option, outside of a position change for Peraza. Beyond that, you have to go down to rookie ball for a viable replacement (Trammell, Friedl).

    As far as catchers go, the Reds brought in Rob Brantley for AAA depth, he’s got MLB experience in parts of three seasons. But until you get down to A ball the system is scarce on catching talent. Although I would not sleep completely on Wallach, he’s got good genes and has shown the ability to get on base and hit for some power.

    As far as MIF, it is unsettled. But options abound with Peraza, Herrera, Long, Blandino, Renda, Dixon, and potentially Suarez down the road. Most those guys do nothing for SS, but 2B seems to have lots of talented options. Even if only a few are high end prospects.

  26. Patrick Jeter

    Glad to see you penning your thoughts here, Jim! I’ve always appreciated your comments! 🙂

  27. Preach

    A-team lineup for us. I haven’t a clue who most of these Padres are

  28. Preach

    Billy stole second as the pitcher was picking him off.

  29. Preach

    Hamilrun!!!!! Joey just muscled that one into the outfield.

  30. Preach

    The Pads are working a hard shift on every hitter.

  31. Sliotar

    After the hard work of doing an in-game, on-camera interview, Bronson heads for the cooler and gets a snack. One of a kind, that guy.

  32. Preach

    Mes caught 3 innings. Good to see. Turner in now.

    • lwblogger2

      How did he look back there Preach? I wasn’t able to watch.

      • Shchi Cossack

        Mes actually looked pretty comfortable and mobil behind the dish. He did unleash one pretty wild pickoff throw to 1B that ended up in right field. At the plate he looked just a tad bit off his stroke, but just a tad. He was barreling up the ball but topping everything, resulting in hard ground outs into the shift. He gets a little elevation on that swing and he’ll be fun to watch again.

  33. sandman

    Congratulations Jim. But sorting, sorting and more sorting. That and uncertainty are a couple more reasons I hate rebuilds.

    • MrRed

      I’m not sure I know of anyone who likes rebuilds. But here we are, right?

      • sandman

        MrRed, sure could’ve fooled me. Almost every Reds fan I’ve come across on social media seemed to want this rebuild.

      • Chuck Schick

        I think there’s a huge difference between wanting something and understanding it’s necessary. Every team rebuilds at some point

      • sandman

        Chuck, what I overwhelmingly came across was “Want” not “understanding”. But there were those that said that they understand the need.

      • lwblogger2

        Put me in the “understand why but sure as heck didn’t want” camp please Sandman.

  34. Preach

    COZART!!!!! Nice deep drive. He’s changed his stance a bit.

  35. Preach

    Renfroe ran a long way to track that one down. Nice catch

  36. Preach

    Ok, I made it into the 7th inning before THOM! Got on my nerves.

    • greenmtred

      That’s a remarkable feat, Preach.

    • lwblogger2

      7 innings is impressive. I’m usually gassed after a single frame of Thom.

      • Preach

        It was the first time I listened to him call a game this season. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, I guess.

  37. Preach

    That was one heck of a catch by Alcantara in CF.

  38. larsbenders

    I would like to know what this sentence means:

    “Will Winker demonstrate that he can provide sufficient power to go along with his projected outstanding OBP?”

    In particular, what is “sufficient”? I have read over and over about the absolute necessity of Winker increasing his power. But look at his minor league numbers. His OBP alone would be enough to make him a useful player. Besides Votto, the Reds haven’t had too many high OBP guys throughout the years. I say “let him play”, power or no.

    • lwblogger2

      Would love to see the power come back but if it doesn’t, it doesn’t make him a bust. What does Thom want, 20-30 HR power? I don’t think he’s that kind of hitter. 15-20 are more likely and with his OBP, I think somewhere around 15 over 500-550 ABs would be just fine.

  39. sandman

    Question: Anybody think I’d make a good writer for RLN (he asked mostly serious)? I’ll give you my answer to this later.

      • Chuck Schick

        How would anyone know unless you write something? Take a topic that you’re interested in and put something together. It might be great, it might suck..but at least you tried

      • sandman

        Chuck, I don’t know if I would be. Maybe one of these years I’ll try.

      • lwblogger2

        I’ve sent stuff to them before and they’ve published it. It’s been a couple years but it’s happened. They publish stuff from guest writers pretty regularly. Find something you want to write about and send it to Chad or Steve.

      • sandman

        Lw, that’s pretty interesting. I don’t think I have any confidence right now though. The answers I’ve gotten from you & Chuck have kinda surprised me, but in a good way. I expected there would be a lot of Heck No’s. That’s why I was joking a little in there.

  40. Earl Nash

    OhioJim has been here since the old days, cool he has moved up to the front office.

    My comment for tonight is i think the Reds got to carry Turner with them, he’s looking too good to let walk back to Minnesota.

    • Preach

      SSS warning, but he really looked like he was comfortable and knew what he was doing our there today. For a defensive specialist, he has a nice swing.

      • lwblogger2

        Turner is a legit defensive catcher from all I’ve seen and heard.

    • sandman

      Earl, is that you’re way of saying no?