Spring training is approaching and for most Reds’ fans it can’t come soon enough. Most spring training seasons are boring and the games meaningless. However, this spring there’s a sense of eagerness and excitement, even more than the Reds’ 150th season last year. The big offseason acquisitions of Mike Moustakas, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Castellanos and Wade Miley have caused a stir among Reds fans. The streets of the 513 are buzzing with Reds’ Fever. There is good reason for all the anticipation and curiosity heading into spring training.
But that doesn’t mean everything is settled heading into Goodyear. Here are a few of the key questions that Reds fans should follow as players report to camp:
The renewal of Trevor Bauer is possibly the biggest question mark to keep an eye on. Despite a limited sample size in spring training, if Bauer looks sharp it will bode well for the Reds’ highly touted starting rotation. Bauer struggled last season after being traded to the Reds. In 2019, Bauer was yet again a workhorse totaling 213.0 innings pitched, but in the second half of the season with the Reds he was ineffective with a 5.89 ERA and a 0.343 weighted On-Base-Average. Yet, he posted an xFIP of 4.17 suggesting a regression back to his prior form. If Bauer can return to his Cy Young capability, he could be a dynamic punch to the Reds top 3 starters.
Miley vs. Mahle
Another competition is the matchup for the fifth spot in the starting rotation: Wade Miley vs. Tyler Mahle. The offseason addition of Miley to the starting rotation likely displaces Mahle. However, I’m not so sure it’s time for the Reds to quite give up on the 25-year-old. Mahle had similar, if not better, results than Miley, 34 years old, during 2019:
- Mahle: ERA: 5.14, xFIP: 3.99, FIP: 4.66, K%: 23.2, BB%: 6.1
- Miley: ERA: 3.98, xFIP: 4.52, FIP: 4.51, K%: 19.4, BB%: 8.5
Mahle’s ERA is not depictive of how his season went and I think the Reds’ should allow him to keep developing since his upside is much higher than Miley. If anything, Mahle will provide competition for the starting rotation and added depth if an injury ensues.
The crowded outfield should start to shake-out during spring training. Castellanos will be an everyday starter, at least as close as it will get for any Reds’ outfielder. The last addition to their outfield was their biggest move of the offseason. He’s expected to be a double-hitting machine as Matt Wilkes wrote back in November. His 121 wRC+ last season would have been the second highest on the team, behind only Eugenio Suarez.
The other outfield spots will be fought between Akiyama, Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Mark Payton, Philip Ervin and Travis Janikowski with at least two of these names not making the 26-man Opening Day roster. With Castellanos likely to play right field, the other seven are fighting for two spots. The Reds will have to use a platoon system to allow four of them to get regular at bats. The platoons will be something to watch for as Winker and Ervin proved to be a balanced attack last season versus lefties and righties. However, Aquino may take over for Ervin against lefties despite less production.
- Winker (vs. Righties): 0.285/0.386/0.519, 0.234 ISO, 127 wRC+
- Ervin (vs. Lefties): 0.349/0.411/0.628, 0.279 ISO, 164 wRC+
- Aquino (vs. Lefties): 0.265/0.333/0.571, 0.306 ISO, 127 wRC+
Senzel and Akiyama are likely to split time in centerfield. Akiyama may get more playing time early in the season as Senzel rehabs from his shoulder injury. The Reds will have to part with Payton if he does not stay on the roster all season. Payton would be sent back to Oakland (Rule 5 Draft).
In the Reds’ bullpen, there are only a couple of spots up for grabs still. Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett and Robert Stephenson will be the stronghold for the bullpen. Lucas Sims and Cody Reed are also very likely to make the team after strong seasons last year. Lucas Sims had a solid season in the bullpen last year (3.42 ERA, 4.34 xFIP, 0.181 AVG). Manager David Bell has made it clear that Sims is a guy they will need going forward. Reed also had a great stint while in the majors, despite very limited time (6.1 IP, 1.42 ERA, 2.42 xFIP). The seventh spot will go to Pedro Strop, the latest Reds’ addition. Strop looks to have a bounce-back season, as Matt Wilkes wrote recently.
The Reds will have a plethora of guys (Matt Bowman, Joel Kuhnel, Justin Shafer, Jose De Leon, Nate Jones, Josh Smith and Tyler Thornberg) to fight for the last spot. I’ll give that nod to Bowman as of now who had a solid season last year despite some rocky stretches finishing with a 3.66 ERA and 4.55 xFIP. Jose De Leon may be an interesting middle relief guy who has positive upside and is my choice for the next man to get called up. Yet with an overcrowded starting rotation and Lucas Sims already being the middle reliever guy, De Leon is not likely to get much chance barring injuries.
Will there be any minor leaguers to make a break through into the majors last year?
Josh VanMeter was the head-turner last season after tearing it up in Triple-A (.371/.348/.429, 175 wRC+, .320 ISO). He made the big league roster after being left off on Opening Day.
The most important minor leaguer to watch is Tyler Stephenson. Stephenson, who has battled injuries for the majority of his early career, finally had a breakout year last year in Double A hitting .285/.372/.410 with a 0.361 wOBA and 130 wRC+. I see Stephenson as the Opening Day starting catching for the Reds in 2021. But how fast he moves this year may depend on how he does in Goodyear.
Nick Lodolo is another interesting guy to watch. His first invite to the camp is warranted after having a stellar 2019 despite limited innings after finishing up his college career at TCU. In 18.1 innings, Lodolo gave up only 5 earned runs and put together a 1.52 xFIP in the Rookie League and a 1.65 xFIP in Single A. One reason his xFIP was so low is that Lodolo didn’t allow a single walk during those 18.1 innings. He doesn’t need much work to crack into the majors and could start for the Reds in 2021 after the departures of Bauer and/or Anthony Desclafani.
Needless to say, there’s a lot to watch in Reds spring training this year. Reds fans will have plenty to keep their interest for another month and a half until Opening Day. Eight spring training games will be broadcast by Fox Sports Ohio.
The Reds “won the winter.” Now it’s time to win the spring to win in October.