In the days leading up to Opening Day, we’ll be previewing The State Of The Reds at every single position on the field. Check out the previous installments of our Redleg Nation 2018 Season Preview series:
If there is one position that the Reds are OK with having little depth, it’s at first base. Why would they need depth when one of the best players currently in MLB and one of the best to ever play for the Reds resides there? Joey Votto has been the regular starter at first base since his age-24 season in 2008, and there’s nothing that indicates someone else would play first for a long time.
This is an easy one. Votto is not going anywhere. 2017 might have been his best season to date, and that includes when he won MVP in 2010. Not only did he have one of the best on-base percentages of his career at .454, but he also hit 36 home runs, scored 106 runs, had 100 RBI, and most impressive, walked 134 times while only striking out 83. Although Votto hasn’t had very good results this spring, hitting .139/.327/.139 with an OPS of .465 in 36 at-bats, he’s the last player fans should be worried about going into the season.
Projected 2019-2023 Starter
Votto, hopefully. I hate to predict the future because anything can happen. Votto is signed through the 2023 season and barring any unforeseen circumstances, he will be the guy at first base until then. The only concern would be his age, as he would be in his age-40 season in 2023. (But if Ichiro can do it, so can Votto, right?)
The Reds have a lot of players who can play first base as one of many positions. First base is one of the easiest positions on the field to move to. It’s also probably why the Reds haven’t made it a priority to bolster the depth at first. But as Votto gets older, he will likely get more days off during the season, not straining himself to play every single day. So who takes his place on those days?
Listed behind Votto on the official Reds depth chart is Adam Duvall. Last season, the Reds only needed a backup to relieve Votto in late innings of a blow out game, as he started all 162. Duvall logged 7.0 innings at first in 2017 and 32.0 innings in 2016. Patrick Kivlehan was the one to get the majority of innings at first base in 2017 with 30.1. He was reassigned to minor league camp late last week, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him with the big league club at some point during the season as an extra utility player. Between Duvall and Kivlehan, it would be enough to spell Votto for a couple of innings or a game or two, if Votto stays healthy.
Brandon Dixon and Sebastian Elizalde have both seen time at first base at Louisville in 2017 and in spring training this year. It doesn’t seem like this will be a short-term approach for the Reds as neither are on the 40-man roster right now, but if one of them were to make the team, they would potentially be on the depth chart at first base as well. Of the two, Dixon is the more likely candidate. He’s hitting .351/.385/.703 with four home runs and six runs scored during spring training and he’s the more versatile player.
The Reds don’t have a first baseman on its list of top 30 prospects in the organization. That’s the Votto effect. The closest first baseman to making the majors, aside from Dixon, is likely 23-year-old Gavin LaValley. Drafted out of high school in 2014 in the fourth round, LaValley played first base for all of the 2017 season because his other position, third base, was taken by a guy named Nick Senzel. In 2017, the power-hitting LaValley started at Daytona, hitting .288/.332/.538 with 15 home runs in 61 games and was the MVP of the Florida State League All-Star Game. He finished 2017 at Pensacola and struggled with his power, hitting .251/.305/.352 with just three home runs in 67 games. LaValley will likely start at Pensacola in 2018.
Further down the line is Montrell Marshall, who played in his third season at rookie-level Billings in 2017. In 61 games, he hit .269/.329/.453 with 16 doubles, seven home runs, and 39 RBI. He had one at-bat in a game this spring and went 1-for-1 with a double.