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.

Final Thoughts

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.






Join the conversation! 48 Comments

  1. Nice post, Nick.

    Wondering if Schebler could play regular CF if the Reds were to trade Billy Hamilton. That’s a way Schebler, Winker and Duvall could all be in the lineup together. Absent that, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Reds looked to trade Duvall (28) at the deadline.

    • That will be a very though decision to make, the overall offensive/defensive numbers by Duvall and Schebler are really good and both are still years away from FA. On the other hand, when Hamilton gets on base, he really carries the team. They should hang to all four in the roster for some time.

    • Trading Duvall makes sense given his overall value, but he’s not what teams look for in a traditional hitter in this day and age, which could limit value. However, the plus defense in LF is huge, despite the downplay of defense at that spot. On top of that, he seems to finally give a steady presence in the 4 hole that this team has been lacking for years. Do we want to see a Brandon Phillips type hitter forced back into that role? I’m not saying Duvall is the right answer, but he doesn’t seem to be the wrong one either.

    • I like Schebler but don’t think he could be an every-day sort of CF. His reads are so-so out there and although he’s a lot faster than you’d think from looking at him, his range is a plus at the corners but not quite enough for CF. In a pinch he won’t kill them out there but for 140-150 games, I don’t think he’s a reasonable option.

  2. Trading Duvall makes more sense to me. Hamilton is a ‘make it happen’ type ballplayer with his speed and coverage of centerfield. He should bat lower in the order with Winker leading off. And the strongest arm between Schebler and Winker should be in right field.

  3. I’ve said it before but its worth repeating.As Nick said this is year 4 for Billy and if he gets his OBP up to 320 or 330 it becomes a no brainer in that he stays and gets an extension.His speed and defense are elite and the Reds may extend him on just that alone but we will see.Personally I would prefer that Winker become the 4th outfielder and let him share time with the other three.Things have a way of sorting themselves out when there is competition.I would get Winker up here after the break.His power numbers will go up in GABP.Suarez is a star in the making and Duvall/Schebler both bring elite power.Peraza must get on base more and show some of that power he showed last year but he has time since he is only 23 years old.I am guessing but if he does start showing some power and just a little better plate discipline then pitchers will pitch to him much differently.Right now pitchers aren’t afraid of him or Billy so they go right after them.We have some really good position players on this team and as they get their OBP up at league or above league average this team becomes really really good offensively.If Billy and Peraza get on base more watch out.

    • Seems like we’ve been saying “If Billy could only get his OBP up to .320 or .330” for four years now. Problem with “turning a corner” is after you’ve done it four times, you’re back where you started. Hamilton’s 2017 numbers are no better than his career numbers, so far.

      • Well said. On a good offensive team, you can absorb a bat like his. In the NL though with the pitcher batting, you can’t have two (looking at Peraza).

        • Hamilton has to hit better or bat 9th. He may be best used as a late inning defensive replacement and pinch runner in critical situations. I am not sure Winker is a MLB corner outfielder. He is slow and has little power. This does not measure up. It is better to keep Hamilton who has what Winker does not…..speed and defense.

          • I always wondered what people meant when they say a player should be a late inning defensive replacement. There’s a lot more important outs to be had in the innings before. Playing for 3 to perhaps 6 outs doesn’t seem like an optimization of a good defensive player’s value. Hammy isn’t killing the Reds lineup, certainly not this year. And there’s really nobody on this roster that you really want to see playing center field every day.

            And why can’t you have both Winker and Hamilton at the same time. Hamilton covers the outfield so that Winker doesn’t have to range far and Winker can actually get on base at a decent clip.

      • Steve, I will always be baffled at why players like Hamilton keep getting developed. Players who are all about speed and very little offensive skill. I understand that speed plays an important role in baseball. It is quite useful. But it almost seems like when it comes to these types of players that developing their speed becomes the priority while developing their offense takes a backseat. I don’t understand why both offense and speed can’t be developed simultaneously (50/50 as it were) if this is indeed the case. Now, it’s hard for me to imagine that speed is so highly valued that a player could rise through a teams system based on only having speed and hardly any other skills. But I suppose it does happen. So, what I’m saying is that Billy (and plyrs like him) must have shown enough offense in little league/High School/The Minors to justify their ascension. Indeed, Hamilton has shown flashes of being a competent enough hitter. But he don’t seem able to maintain it enough of the time. I believe his offense will mostly be sub-par (not even average) and that’s a crying shame for someone who has such elite speed. It’s almost just as much of a crying shame that he’ll continue to have a job in the majors because of that elite speed. Note, I said, Almost! Maybe Hamilton can maintain an average offense one of these years. But I just don’t see it happening right now. Here’s to hoping I’m wrong.

  4. It was interesting to hear Dick Williams say the Reds might have a major league infield at high A Daytona—Senzel, AlfRod, Shed, LaValley. Honestly, I don’t disagree. Reminds me of back in the day when Dunn, Kearns, Gookie, Corky, and DeWayne Wise all played for low A Rockford near me.

    ou have to be encouraged about the talent manifesting itself. That it is coming in waves tells me this impending window of contention will have legs. Over the last 3 years, the returns from the draft, intl. signings, and trades have far more good than bad. Gotta credit Walt for a lot of it.

  5. To me it comes down to one question. Is 2018 the year? If it is then you try everything within reason to keep Cozart and maybe you try to move Winker or Peralta to an Outfield/hitting challenged team like Oakland for a solid starter! They don’t have anyone under 28 in their outfield and Rajai Davis (.551 ops) & Matt Joyce (.626 ops) are journeyman playing out the string.

    If 2018 isn’t the year (and that’s where I’m at) and your new face of the team might a 18 yr high school kid in Green…..then why not talk to Votto and see if you could move him? Houston is playing Yuli Gurriel at 1B (.691 ops). Can you imagine Joey in that lineup? That would be MLBs version of Durant going to Golden State! Then obviously Duvall can play 1b. Go strong one way or the other but if you keep trying for both then you’ll get neither!

  6. Topical and poignant post Nick. This is what the 2017 should accomplish…sorting so intelligent decisions regarding the future of the ballclub can be made.

    From the Old Cossack’s perspective, Suarez becomes a VERY important cog to the future team. If Hamilton or Duvall are traded, then the team becomes committed to Winker as a corner OF moving forward. I’m pretty comforatble with that commitment, but Winker is still an unproven commodity at the major league level, while Schebler & Duvall still have a limited sample size of performance at the major league level and Hamilton has questions regarding durability and on-base skills. If one of the OF fails to produce as expected or needed, Suarez may be needed in the OF with Senzel moving into 3B. In addition, the middle IF remains a BIG question mark regardin Peraza’s offensive capability and no major league track record for Herrera, Long or Rodriguez. Suarez may also be needed for a middle IF position with Senzel moving into 3B. Of course if the OF works out as we all hope and the middle IF works out as we all hope, then the Reds have a future decision regarding the IF, just like the OF decision currently facing the team.

    I would be very comfortable with the Reds keeping all options available for the future and not trading an OF this season, while working Winker into the OF with a 4-man OF rotation then leaving the decision for the off season. Of course, if a team makes an offer for Hamilton or Duvall, that DW simply can’t refuse, as the trade deadline approaches, then pull the trigger and don’t look back.

    Cozart has really thrown a wrench, a very nice wrench. into the discussion and decision. No one, not even the most enthusiastic optimist, expected Cozart to become an offensive juggernaut through the 1st 2 months. He represents an entirely different set of circumstances. If Cozart has actually become an offensive force, even if he hasn’t become the offensive juggernaut, then should the Reds persue a possible 3-year contract extention for the hometown SS, or take the best offer that becomes available, with the same caveat, if a team makes an offer for Cozart, that DW simply can’t refuse, as the trade deadline approaches, then pull the trigger and don’t look back.

    These are the decisions we are counting on for DW to make with all the information available to him. If DW makes the correct decisions, he sets the Reds up to be competitive for 8-10 seasons. If DW makes the incorrect decisions, the rebuild becomes a flop and bloggers have a field day as the Reds flounder haplessly. I don’t know if anyone has the definitive answers yet, but the offensive rebuild looks pretty good so far.

    Now, about that starting pitching…

    • Haha the pitching is for another post, a less encouraging one. You summarize some important decisions that need to be made.

      I doubt the Reds trade any of their outfielders this year; the depth is a nice thing to have. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Reds rotate outfielders as you say, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Billy gets nicked up at some point and Schebler slides to centerfield for two weeks while Winker mans right.

  7. I’m always skeptical when a guy magically hits his groove in a contract year. The once in a lifetime opportunity to create generational wealth, mixed with a rather high BABIP raises major red flags with Cozart. Why pay him 2-3x’s more for what will likely be less production?

    • Agreed. Even if the Reds were interested in signing Cozart to a short extension, his great season will mean he gets multi-year offers at good salary. But if the Reds can suck it up and trade him like they should, it should bring a good return, assuming there’s another club that needs a SS.

    • My big concern with trading Cozart, and the reason I am in the “extend” camp is that the drop off to whoever mans short right now is severe. Yes, Cozart’s production seems unsustainable but even a modest regression leaves him far and away the best option in the system offensively and, with the possible exception of a too young unproven light hitting Cuban in the low minors, defensively as well. I understand that Cozart may bring value in a trade IF a market develops but who takes his place? I still prefer Cozart in Cincinnati for three more years.

      • I don’t think 3 years is going to get it done. I’m thinking Cozart is going to get at least a 4-year deal and I’m thinking it is going to be for a really strong salary too. That’s just not where the Reds need to be on a deal for a guy who will probably decline in the last year or two of such a deal and who is likely to be coming off the best season of his career.

  8. IF…I was gonna have another favorite Reds player from this new crop, it MIGHT be Suarez. He’s looking like he could be a superstar and we did get him for Simon. I wasn’t all that tore up over losing Simon the first time (even though it was right after that one solid season he had as a starting pitcher for us). And IF… I was gonna have another favorite player from the minors that hasn’t made it to the big league club yet….it MIGHT be Senzel and/or Winker. But I will remain steadfast in my assertion that I won’t have any more favorite players after Votto. Those young players I mentioned are just a few that I could see myself appreciating a little more than the other youngsters. Still not a believer in Peraza. Each article I see about him keeps raising the same questions or has the same concerns about him and it kinda feels as if public opinion on him being a star or even being average offensively is starting to shift ever so slightly to the negative. I could very well be wrong though about the public opinion of Peraza. I suppose the question of how long it takes him reach his potential (if he does at all) could be answered with another long time and well established Red….Zack Cozart. A lot of people are saying that Cozart has FINALLY arrived offensively and that he was a late bloomer. But, my word, how long did it take Cozy to start hitting like this? But, to tell you the truth, I’m not entirely confident this new found offense of Cozy’s is going to last. I like Cozy, he’s been a Red for a long time, but I just have to wonder if he’s capable of maintaining this offensive production. So the question now becomes, “Can we/the Reds afford to wait that long on another player? Will they wait that long again?” I’m not so sure myself.

    • The patience is a skill that Zack can hang on to (on pace to more then double his career high in walks). I don’t see how he could start hacking again after being this paitent. I would think .280 is probably more of a normal average for him but .280 (.340-350 obp) with 15-20 HRs and super steady defense has to be worth something!

    • I think it’s very interesting that Schebler, a guy who I thought might be a nice 4th OF, may be what turns out to save that deal and turn it into a win for the Reds.

  9. Steve,You are right about Billy but I fear the Reds will keep him regardless.He is just not a good hitter and the only way he is going to improve on his OBP is by walking but nobody fears him.My hope he gets on base more is just hope and I see no reason why he should but I feel he and Peraza really hold the key to this offense becoming great.Peraza will be the one that improves because he is younger and has shown some pop.

    • You’re right that the Reds will never trade Hamilton. But this offseason would be a perfect time for it. Two relatively expensive arbitration years left. That’s enough time for another team to get considerable value from him. A team with a big OF and lots of hitting would be a good match. Reds could get a nice return.

  10. I’m dreading the “What We’ve Learned” article on starting pitching.

  11. Players have hot streaks. Players do not turn the corner and become excelllent hitters at 31. Actually most (not all) begin to decline. Cozart is on a hot streak. It just happens to be the best one he ever had. The Reds won’t get anything of value for him in a trade.

    • Agreed.

      He’s a rental and the acquiring team is taking on the risk that his “mean reversion” will cause him to be absolutely awful for 2-3 month.

  12. The fact that Cozart is having a career year makes it tough on the Reds.He has a lot of data on the back of his card that says he will come back down to his normal self.I think you have to trade him regardless.

    • Just look at his swing…its quicker! Years ago…alot of guys were just getting started at 29-30 previously (Brian Downing for example) but it was probably roids. I just don’t think Cozart will chase the way he used to chase now that’s he matured as a hitter! I also can’t see anyone paying that much for him either…with a history of knee injuries and turning 32. See if he’d take $35/mil for 3 years and both sides win imo! They’ll be done paying Homer/Mesoraco at some point.

      • Tony Phillips is another one…..just a backup utility guy then he took off at 32. Of course he passed away at 56 so roids is a possibility. Man that really clouded atleast 15 years of baseball.

      • Your points are really good….In my mind, If you’re a big market team and you pay him 12 million per year thats 6-9% of your payroll. At that level, he’s worth it.

        For the Reds, 12 million is 12-15% of payroll and that would be tough to justify for a guy who likely will be no better in the future than he is today.

    • The data on the back of his card reflects what he has done in the past, but does not reflect the impact of his change of approach. He probably won’t hit .350, but a third of a season starts to look like more than a SSS. Some physical skills usually decline at his age, but the ability to learn and adapt is not necessarily as fragile. Should the Reds trade him if they get a great offer? Sure. They should trade any number of guys if the offers are irrisitable, but none of the shortstop heirs-apparent are ready now, and they may never be, so unloading him for less than his value would be foolish.

      • Agree! It’s not just a matter of Cozart’s production (which is certainly not sustainable but which does appear to be due to a fundamental improvement in his approach so I don’t expect a complete regression) but also a matter of who takes his place? Of course if an offer is in the “can’t refuse” column, don’t but if Cozart and the Reds can agree on reasonable numbers then extend him. My two cents, again.

  13. I agree with CHUCK about him being no better in the future,We have to sign guys young within upside and hope we hit a couple.

    • Suarez is a core player hitting his peak…take the money you would give to Cozart and reinvest in core young players for 2018-23. Suarez is baseball player.

  14. Toronto hitting more home runs against Yankees tonight….smoak 2 run bomb…Donaldson….solo shot.

    Gabp is a small park and while I love Billy Hamilton’s speed and defense and electricity…..I would seriously consider trading him this next year as his arbitration years will be expensive. Add Winker to this offense…I think he can hit over .310 and challenge a batting title every year and challenge .400 obp every year….Nick Senzel is now a full year into his pro career and looking like a legitimate future superstar…. The catching duo looks fine for next year….Shed long and Tyler Stephenson and now Alfredo at SS in high A look good….it’s time to go all in on pitching for the 2018-2022 window…draft Kyle Wright…move lorenzen to the rotation and get serious about winning a world series in 2019-21.

    It starts with ridiculous hitting and adding Winker and Senzel to a top 10 offensive nucleus of Votto.suarez.schebler and Duvall…they will lose Zach Cozart and will need Winker to compensate.

    • I like the ideas but I worry about Winker’s lack of speed and power. I fear he will be over matched in MLB. He has not dominated in his minor league years.

      • Let’s see how he does in June. I think GAPB is a factor too….Bham would be more valuable in Colorado or SF or Washington….

      • Very few players do. He is over 400 Obp and slugging in a pitcher’s park.

  15. Why does everyone want to trade Duvall?
    A consistent 30 – 35 Homer, 100 RBI man with 4 years of control left is hard to find.
    These are all star numbers.
    Better than Winkler in my book.

    • Because he turns 29 in September, and is “old” relative to the nucleus of this team that could be a contender in a couple years. So, trade him now at his peak value, and fill in the remaining gaps with younger, near-ready players who can be part of that next good team.

      That’s “why” people want to trade him. It’s all dependent on if you can find a trade partner and get the right value for him, though.

  16. Did you mean the trade of Mike Leake, not Mat Latos? Didn’t we get Duvall from the Leake trade?

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