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.