The players and coaches have reported to Goodyear. Practices have started. Spring training will reach full swing, so to speak, when Cactus League games start this (!) Sunday (!). We’re a bit more than a month away from the Reds opening the 2021 regular season against St. Louis. Cardinals manager Mike Shildt announced this morning his Opening Day starting pitcher will be Jack Flaherty. Reds manager David Bell says he’ll choose between Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray.
That means it’s time to begin our annual sleuthing ritual — the modern day equivalent of Cold War Kremlinology.
Welcome to Roster Speculation Season.
It’s when hard-core baseball fans furiously debate options for which lucky players the manager and general manager will put on the team’s Opening Day roster. After Sunday, when Bell starts filling out daily lineup cards, we’ll have more info to go on. But why wait? Fun, meaningless speculation is a glorious way to pass the time. Paraphrasing Tennyson, in the spring, a baseball fan’s fancy turns to roster conjecture.
Yes, Roster Speculation Season has a set of rules:
(1) MLB has two hard-and-fast guidelines we can’t circumvent. Active rosters (the players who can be in the dugout or bullpen) can be comprised of no more than 26 players, with a cap on the number of designated pitchers at 13.
(2) Coloring outside the lines is encouraged. We may be stuck with those numbers, but beyond that, this is the time we should brainstorm options and not be confined to conventional wisdom.
The final rule is ridiculous but essential.
(3) We stipulate every player will be healthy, at least until they aren’t. This assumption is necessary to force discussion of real trade-offs. It prevents “well, injuries will resolve this” cop-outs to personnel dilemmas. Bumps, bruises and worse are inevitable. But keep in mind the point here is passing time, not accuracy. Ample time for faux certitude awaits us.
Notes: Reds Content Plus scouting reports and major posts on individual players are linked here in red. Current player age in parentheses. Left-handed hitters and pitchers designated by LH.
Of the 13 position players, we’ll begin with catchers because that’s the easy part.
No other serious options beside these two guys. Kyle Farmer would be an emergency third catcher.
Let’s divide the 11 remaining position players this way: 6 infielders, 5 outfielders. That’s the convention, giving each group two bench players. But the 6 and 5 could be reversed, and there’s a case for that for the 2021 Reds. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Start with the infielders. Four are sure things:
The reason Farmer is obvious when he hasn’t won the shortstop job yet, is because of his Break Glass in Emergency catcher role, which adds a decent amount of value.
Four of the five outfielders are also locks:
That’s three starting OF and one bench player for any given game. Thankfully, for this exercise we don’t have to sort out who starts, just who makes the active rosters and these guys will all be on it. Bell’s plan is to play all four of them “every day.”
Those ten players — 2 catchers, 4 IF, 4 OF — are evenly divided between right-handed and left-handed batters, which is a good quality for your core unit.
That leaves three position players to choose. For the infield, whoever wins the
mess at battle for shortstop gets a spot. That could be Alex Blandino, Jose Garcia, Dee Strange-Gordon (LH) or Kyle Holder (LH), the latter as part of the Kyles Platoon. In theory, Strange-Gordon, another LHH, could platoon with Farmer. Of those candidates, only Strange-Gordon is not on the 40-man roster. Other notable infielders beyond the shortstops: Max Schrock is a lefty 2B/3B on the 40-man and Jonathan India is an IF not on the 40-man.
In the mix for the remaining outfield spot(s) are Aristides Aquino, Mark Payton, Scott Heineman and Tyler Naquin. Naquin is not on the 40-man roster. Aquino and Heineman are right-handed batters; Payton and Naquin are lefties.
None of the OF have experience in the IF. It’s strange to say that, considering Nick Senzel played across the infield his entire pre-major league career. But the Reds haven’t seemed interested in revisiting that aspect of Senzel’s talent, preferring to keep pounding that square peg into the round hole … er, uh … Senzel to focus on perfecting his play in center.
But the problem with the conventional move of choosing two more infielders is that they’re all similar as hitters (read: real bad). Schrock isn’t much of a bat, either. Blandino, Garcia and Holder are regarded as excellent defenders. But missing is the thumper — the role Matt Davidson and Josh VanMeter played last year — a threat to homer off the bench.
[Coloring outside the line warning] That is, except for Jonathan India. His glove plays across the infield, other than SS, and if India continues to develop at the plate, his bat would have the needed pop off the bench.
If the Reds go with only five infielders, adding two more outfielders avoids handedness choice. Both Aquino (RH) plus the winner of the Payton/Naquin (LH) competition would make it. Either of the latter could play CF in a pinch, particularly Payton. If, however, the Reds go with just one more OF, Aquino would have to earn a spot.
Here’s my prediction of what the Reds will do for the last three bench spots:
- Kyle Holder (26) – LH
- Dee Strange-Gordon (32) – LH
- Aristides Aquino (26)
Here’s what I’d like to see:
- Jonathan India (24)
- Tyler Naquin (29) – LH
Holder wins the SS spot because his defense is best. I go with Naquin over Aquino simply because on my roster India provides the right-handed thump off the bench. But would have no issue with any of Payton, Naquin or Aquino in that last OF spot.
Now let’s tackle the 13 pitchers. Again, it’s not necessary to come up with an exact rotation, although that’s a fun game, too. All we’re doing here is figuring out the active OD roster. These nine have tickets punched for the rotation or bullpen.
- Luis Castillo (28)
- Sonny Gray (31)
- Tyler Mahle (26)
- Wade Miley (34) – LH
- Michael Lorenzen (29)
- Tejay Antone (27)
- Amir Garrett (28) – LH
- Sean Doolittle (34) – LH
- Lucas Sims (26)
Figure at least four of the starters are on that list, probably all five. If five of those nine end up in the rotation, we need to find the four more relievers.
Strong candidates include: Jose De Leon, Jeff Hoffman (Stephenson trade), Noé Ramirez (Iglesias trade) and Cam Bedrosian. Of those, all are right-handed and Bedrosian the only one not on the 40-man roster. De Leon, Hoffman and Ramirez are out of options. De Leon, who has a shot to make the rotation, was excellent in winter league ball. Ramirez will make the roster if, for no other reason, than as a front office fig leaf.
Other bullpen candidates include: Cionel Perez (LH), Ryan Hendrix, Edgar Garcia, Sal Romano (no options) and Art Warren. Perez’s chances increase if Miley makes the rotation, leaving Garrett and Doolittle as two lefties in the pen. I’ve seen Romano on a few roster prediction lists, probably because he has no options left. But it’s hard to see him ahead of De Leon, Hoffman or Bedrosian on the merits.
Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo lurk just outside the Opening Day roster as starters. Although you could easily talk me into putting Greene’s 100-mph fastball in the bullpen. Maybe start him in Louisville and he’s the first guy called up when need arises.
Here’s my prediction of how the Reds will fill the last four pitching slots:
- Cam Bedrosian (29)
- Jose De Leon (28)
- Jeff Hoffman (28)
- Noé Ramirez (31)
Here’s what I’d like to see:
- De Leon
- Ryan Hendrix (26)
No strong preference for Hendrix. Just looks like the best of the bunch right now.
What are your ideas?
Remember the three rules. Let us know what you think the Reds will do with the roster and/or what you would do.
We’ll revisit this topic every once in a while the next month, whenever we’re in the need of a little fun.