We came into this season expecting it to be a year of sorting. While we want our Redlegs to triumph in every game, most fans understood that 2017 wouldn’t be about wins and losses but learning who was capable of contributing to the next winning team. Even though they have played better than many of us expected, the Reds ultimate goal still needs to be player development.
A few veterans remain, and they will serve varying roles in the future. Joey Votto and Zack Cozart have played like All-Stars, and Devin Mesoraco showed flashes of his old self before his recent slump. The rest of the position player roster consists of younger guys looking to secure jobs and bigger pay days.
We have almost completed a third of the season, and as the calendar has turned to June, it seems appropriate to evaluate how the team’s younger players are developing. As the sample gets larger, we will be able to draw more definitive conclusions, but we can begin to discuss what we think we’ve learned thus far and what questions are left completely unanswered to this point.
What We May Have Learned So Far
Eugenio Suarez is an above-average player…and maybe more. Suarez struggled at times in 2016, especially on defense early in the season. However, producing 1.7 WAR as a 24-year-old in the Major Leagues is pretty good.
He has jumped out of the gate in 2017, hitting ten home runs and generating 1.9 WAR already with stellar defense. His 133 wRC+ is great, and his peripherals suggest he might be able to sustain something similar to that; he’s hitting a higher percentage of line drives, walking more, and striking out less. For the corpse of Alfredo Simon, the Reds may have acquired a star.
Adam Duvall is Adam Duvall and that’s (probably) good enough. Fans and critics had a right to be skeptical about Duvall’s early season performance in 2016. And if you paid attention, he finished as an average(ish) offensive player (104 wRC+). The walk and strikeout rates were poor, but Duvall showed some serious power and that can make up for a multitude of sins.
Duvall still doesn’t walk much, and he strikes out quite a bit, even if he has improved his K% some. However, the power remains elite and when coupled with his impressive defense, Duvall becomes a legitimate starter. He will never be a high on-base guy, but he does what he does and that looks good enough, even if I still have lingering fears it will catch up with him sooner than we’d hope.
Scott Schebler looks like Duvall but might be better. Schebler walks a tad more than Duvall, and he hits a ton of dingers and plays solid corner defense like his friend in left field. We should expect some of his other numbers to improve as well. His .228 BABIP is pitcher like, and once it returns to normal levels, his average and on-base percentage will rise.
We are still working with a smaller sample with Schebler, but his 41.3% Hard% and .309 ISO suggest he is crushing the baseball so far. He seems to have adjusted after a rough start to the season.
Questions That Remain Completely Unanswered
Will Billy Hamilton get on base enough to make a difference? Year four of the Billy Hamilton experiment has yielded mixed results. He continues to electrify on the base paths by stealing 28 bases and doing ridiculous things like scoring from first base on a single. He also projects to have a 30.0 UZR over 150 games, which is the second best mark in all of baseball.
However, his bat remains inconsistent at best, and guys with zero power can’t succeed with a .306 OBP. He shows promise in stretches and as long as he’s running down balls in centerfield and stealing bases, the Reds can live with his struggles. If he doesn’t improve this year at the plate though, he may just be an underwhelming offensive player.
Will Jose Peraza hit enough to be more than a utility player? Peraza represents the kind of player that busts quite often. He never walks (2.5% BB%) and hits for very little power. He derives all of his offensive value from his batting average, which means if he is a little unlucky with balls in play, he will scuffle. His defense makes him playable for now, but if competition arises from Dilson Herrera, Alfredo Rodriguez, or the hot hitting Shed Long, Peraza better figure out how to provide some value at the plate.
The most discouraging part to his early season is that Peraza’s BABIP isn’t that low (.301). He might have to sustain a .330 BABIP to be effective, and that’s hard to do; only 31 players in all of baseball did that in 2016.
Will Jesse Winker get a look at some point this season? When did the Reds accumulate so many good corner outfielders? Duvall and Schebler have played extremely well and so has Winker in AAA. Winker is now hitting .322/.399/.415 with 23 walks and 25 strikeouts. After hitting only four extra-base hits in April, he doubled that number to eight in May; hopefully, that’s a sign that his swing changes are leading to more power.
Barring an injury, no way Winker takes a starting spot from the sluggers in the near future. If he continues to knock around AAA pitching, maybe the Reds get creative later in the season to give him some Major League experience. Having so many good outfielders is a great problem, and I’m thankful that Winker is only 23, giving the Reds time to figure things out.
The Reds offense has been extremely impressive this year, and they have seen growth from some key players. The trades of Todd Frazier, Mat Latos, and Alfredo Simon continue to look great. If you are frustrated by the pitching development, you should be encouraged that the hitters have performed as well as they have. Some of them will come back to earth a little bit; even so, the Reds look as if they have a contending offense for the next few years.