Counting down the days. Eleven from Opening Day at Great American Ball Park. With the welcome news of Joey Votto’s return to camp, it seems like a good time to revisit Roster Speculation, our favorite way to pass the time. It’s been a month since the previous post and we have more information now.
Remember the guidelines. 26 players on the active roster. We learned yesterday that David Bell and his coaching staff are leaning toward an even division between position players and pitchers. We assume every player will remain healthy, at least until he isn’t. That forces us to discuss real trade-offs instead of avoiding tough decisions by saying “well, someone will get hurt.” That last statement may reflect reality, but it’s not as much fun.
When reference is made to options remaining, that means a player can be sent to the minor leagues without having to pass through waivers. The federal arbitrator hearing the case has yet to rule on how to treat the strange 2021 season with respect to options. That affects three Reds, Aristides Aquino, Jose De Leon and Cionel Perez. Here goes …
You’ve got the two catchers:
- 1. Tucker Barnhart (L)
- 2. Tyler Stephenson (R)
Assuming Votto gets into playing shape by April 1, three of the infield positions are locked:
- 3. Joey Votto (L)
- 4. Mike Moustakas (L)
- 5. Eugenio Suarez (R)
I’m also gonna say it because all evidence has pointed toward it since Bell announced Suarez was moving to shortstop, your Opening Day second baseman will be …
- 6. Jonathan India (R)
Whether India spends more than April in Cincinnati remains to be seen, but seems likely.
The hamstring injury to Shogo Akiyama will sideline the outfielder for at least a couple weeks of the regular season. That clarifies the starting outfield:
- 7. Nick Senzel (R)
- 8. Jesse Winker (L)
- 9. Nick Castellanos (R)
One bench player for sure will be Kyle Farmer. He plays across the infield, including shortstop. He’s also the emergency catcher.
- 10. Kyle Farmer (R)
The fourth outfielder, the one replacing Akiyama, will likely be a left-handed hitter. That means either Mark Payton or Tyler Naquin. They both have two options remaining. Payton has had a better spring (.417/.517/.750) compared to Naquin (.267/.353/.600) although both have been good. I’m going with Naquin because of his major league experience. But this could easily go the other way.
- 11. Tyler Naquin (L)
We need a fifth infielder. The candidates are Alex Blandino, Kyle Holder, Max Schrock and Dee Strange-Gordon. It’s hard to see it being Holder, since he’s a Rule 5 player and would have to stay on the roster all season. While Holder has drawn his share of walks (6) he’s only hitting .130 with one extra-base hit. That’s consistent with his career. Remember, he’s never played above AA. His best chance was to get a little platoon action at short, but that’s no longer Bell’s plan.
Schrock missed a few games with a calf injury, but otherwise has had a good spring (.500/.579/.563) with one extra-base hit and three stolen bases. His experience is at 2B and 3B and that’s where he’s played this spring until today when Bell started him at 1B. Schrock has two options.
Alex Blandino has had a superb spring. He’s hitting .367/.441/.600 with a homer and four doubles. He’s walked four times. Blandino has played the majority of time at 1B and 3B this spring, with an occasional appearance at SS and 2B. He has one option left.
Dee Strange-Gordon has been the same player this spring that he has been for several years. He’s hit .241/.333/.241. That’s 29 plate appearances without an extra-base hit. His one XBH last year in 82 PA was a soft single to left field that the OF played into a double. Strange-Gordon doesn’t hit the ball hard. He had been seeing a lot of time at short, but since Bell announced the Suarez move, Strange-Gordon has been a DH, at 3B and CF.
It feels like a direct competition between Blandino and Strange-Gordon, although Schrock has a chance to catch up from the time he missed. I don’t see the head-to-head as a close call. Blandino seems like a better player all around than Strange-Gordon. He’s a much better hitter. But that option of Blandino’s may be an adverse tie-breaker because it lets the Reds keep both players around. Still, I’m going with the better player:
- 12: Alex Blandino (R)
The final position player is likely to be an OF, which comes down to Aristides Aquino and Payton. Again, Payton has had a much better spring than Aquino, who continues to struggle at the plate. The key difference for this roster spot may boil down to Aquino being RH and Payton being LH. If the bench is Farmer, Naquin and Blandino, then Payton being a lefty would bring balance. If Strange-Gordon replaces Blandino, then Aquino would balance the bench.
Since I’m going with Blandino for player #12, my last bench spot goes to:
- 13. Mark Payton (L)
That’s my Reds position player roster as of the afternoon of Sunday, March 21.