RED MONDAY Andrew Abbott, Jose Barrero, T.J. Hopkins, last week, next week and more!

Welcome to Red Monday, where Reds fans can start their week with clear-eyed analysis of how the team is doing and where it’s headed.

The Week That Was 

The Reds were 2-4 last week and are 26-33 overall. They’re six games behind Milwaukee for first and trail Pittsburgh by five-and-a-half for second.  

The Reds won a three-game series in Boston:

  • Tuesday The Reds built a huge lead behind a massive Jose Barrero grand slam and four hits by Will Benson. Matt McLain and Barrero combined for a terrific relay to nail a runner at home. Ben Lively went 5.2 shutout innings. The Reds built 8-0 and 9-3 leads but needed Alexis Diaz to close the door. Fernando Cruz and Eduardo Salazar gave up eight runs. Reds win 9-8. 
  • Wednesday The Reds won another comeback squeaker, 5-4. Luke Weaver kept the Reds in the game and the depleted bullpen allowed only one more run over the final 3.1 innings. Buck Farmer closed the 9th. Spencer Steer hit his 8th homer. Kevin Newman, Nick Senzel and Matt McLain each had two hits. 
  • Thursday The Reds missed the series sweep, losing 8-2. Matt McLain drove in Kevin Newman to tie the game 2-2 in the top of the 8th. But the Reds bullpen was out of relief, with Kevin Herget giving up six runs in his half of the inning. Hunter Greene had another brilliant start, limiting Boston to one run in six innings and recording eight strikeouts. 

The Reds Milwaukee Brewers

  • Friday The Reds let a close one get away with a 5-4 loss in the series opener. Brandon Williamson kept the Reds in it with a great start. He allowed only two earned runs in 6.2 innings. The game went into extra innings tied 3-3. The Reds had a chance to win it in the 10th, but Matt McLain’s 109.9 mph leadoff line drive was right at the Milwaukee centerfielder. It had a 75% chance of becoming a hit, driving in the winning run. The not-so-good part of the Reds bullpen was not-so-good in the 11th. 
  • Saturday Graham Ashcraft had a lousy day, giving up ten runs in four innings, striking out only two. The Reds played catch-up the rest of the day and did have a chance to tie or go-ahead at the end, but their rally fell short, losing 10-8. Jake Fraley hit his sixth homer. Matt McLain had two hits, a walk and scored three runs. 
  • Sunday Starter Ben Lively gave up three runs in the first inning and the Reds turned in a lifeless Sunday afternoon performance. A solo homer by Jake Fraley, his seventh of the year, was the day’s only offense. Reds lose 5-1. One more game in the Milwaukee series, trying to avoid a sweep. 
The Week to Come

The Reds have a full, tough week ahead of them. 

  • A game with Milwaukee tonight to finish the four-game series (7:10)
  • Three home games hosting the Los Angeles Dodgers (7:10, 7:10, 12:35)
  • Hit the road for three games under the arch with the St. Louis Cardinals (8:15, 2:15, 2:15)
Overture! Curtains! Lights! Andrew Abbott’s Debut

The first indication came yesterday morning when the Reds announced pitcher Andrew Abbott was joining the team’s taxi squad.

We spent a little while figuring out what that meant, although the direction the Reds were headed seemed clear. For the record, the new CBA governing the 2022-2026 MLB seasons narrows the use of a taxi squad. In fact, the word “taxi” appears only once in the 442-page document, in the heading “Prohibition on Taxi Squads.” The taxi squad designation yesterday means the Reds have until later today to pick up Abbott’s contract and make him a Major League player.

Manager David Bell ended any suspense in Sunday’s pre-game press conference. Bell said Abbott would debut in tonight’s series finale against the Brewers. In a further bit of news, Bell added this would not be a spot start for the young lefty.

Therefore, let’s welcome Andrew Abbott to the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation. He will wear #41 for the Reds, the same number as Tom Seaver (1977-1982) and fellow left-hander Joe Nuxhall (1962-1966) did for the Reds.

Abbott was a second round pick for the Reds in the 2021 draft. He had pitched primarily as a reliever at the University of Virginia until his senior year. While in Charlottesville, Abbott struck out 327 batters in 215 innings (36% K-rate) and was a consensus All-American.

Abbott rocketed through the Reds minor league system. As a 23-year-old, last year he started 20 games for the Double-A Lookouts after 4 starts for the High-A Dayton Dragons for a total of 118 innings. In 2023, after three breathtaking starts for Chattanooga, Abbott was hustled up to Triple-A Louisville, where he has started seven games. The most recent being May 30.

We featured Abbott in RED MONDAY last month after he posted some of those jaw-dropping numbers at Double-A. He’d struck out 71% of the batters he faced in his first two games. Abbott finished his three starts for the Lookouts with a 64% strikeout rate and 5% walk rate. It’s widely believed Abbott (and other pitchers in the Southern League) were aided — especially his fastball — by an experimental “enhanced grip” ball MLB is trying out.

Abbott’s Triple-A numbers have returned to a familiar reality although are still good. In 38.1 innings, he has 54 strikeouts (35%) and 14 walks (9%). The significant gap between his ERA (3.05) and FIP (4.57) reflects bad luck with home runs per fly ball. When you normalize his HR/FB, you get an xFIP for Abbott of 3.56. Keep in mind, these stats are based on just seven starts for Louisville. How indicative they are of Abbott’s performance for the Reds depend in part on how good the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp and Omaha Storm Chasers are.

Per Statcast, Andrew Abbott throws three pitches — a four-seam fastball, a curveball (you can call it a sweeper slider), and a changeup. Abbott’s fastball is his lead pitch, accounting for roughly half his deliveries at Louisville. In one game, he did throw more curves than heaters. The average fastball velocity in his seven Triple-A games ranged from 92.1 mph to 93.7 mph. It topped out at 95.5 mph. Abbott has been a fly ball pitcher, with a 39% ground ball rate. That’s a function of him working his fastball up in the zone — think Tyler Mahle.

At 7:10 tonight, Andrew Abbott will take the Great American Ball Park mound in his Major League debut. It’s an exciting next chapter for the Reds.

On with the show. This is it.

Jose Barrero’s Future with the Reds

We’d written for months that Jose Barrero had a window in 2023. After that, waves of promising shortstops from the minor leagues would begin to splash down on the GABP infield. It was reasonable to expect Barrero would have at least half the year, even more, to build his case. Reds GM Nick Krall’s stated plan was to give Barrero ample time. But to paraphrase Mike Tyson, everyone has a plan until Matt McLain punches you in the face. 

Barrero has only played one game at shortstop since Matt McLain forced his way into the Reds lineup on May 15. That exception was May 17 when McLain was given a day off. Otherwise, the 25-year-old Barrero has started nine games in center field. His challenge has changed. Barrero has to acclimate to center while improving his offense. Then, and only then, he might provide value to the team.

Let’s look at his offense first. Improving on 2022 is a low bar for Jose Barrero. In 174 plate appearances, he batted .152 with a 5.2% walk rate and an .055 isolated power. A major problem was his 44% strikeout rate. Combined, that produced a wRC+ of just 5. He was, by far, the worst major league hitter with at least 170 plate appearances. The next-lowest wRC+ was 31.

In 141 plate appearances in 2023, Barrero is batting .224, with a 10.6% walk rate and .112 ISO. He’s cut his strikeout rate to 30%. That all adds up to a wRC+ of 71. On the one hand, that’s still way below average. Barrero ranks 210 out of 228 hitters with at least 140 plate appearances.

On the other hand, Jose Barrero has shown significant improvement in certain areas. He’s raised his expected batting average (xBA) from .140 to .210. Barrero has cut his strikeout rate by 14% and more than doubled his walk rate. His BB% of 10.6% is two percent above league average. But Barrero’s average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are about the same as last year, mired in the league’s bottom quartile. His chase-rate has dropped from 40% to 34% — better but still in the bottom 18%.

The scouting report on Barrero’s defense at shortstop out of the minor leagues was strongly positive. He was considered one of the top defensive gloves in the organization. But Barrero hasn’t fulfilled that promise at the major league level. His defensive metrics last year and the first six weeks of 2023 were uniform and strongly negative.

But in his limited action in center field, he’s got mostly positive marks. In about 100 innings, he has +1 Defensive Runs Saved and a +36.4 UZR/150 rating. Although his Statcast Outs Above Average score is -1.

The bottom line: It feels like the Reds have moved on from Jose Barrero as a shortstop. Matt McLain’s defense there has been impeccable and he’s getting everyday playing time. Arrival of next wave of possible shortstops — Elly De La Cruz — is imminent. Either he or McLain seems to be ahead of Barrero now. More highly regarded SS are in the pipeline.

As for center field, Barrero is lucky that none of the players the Reds acquired last year’s trades was a pure center fielder. For now, Barrero seems as capable out there as Stuart Fairchild and TJ Friedl. But both Fairchild (RH) and Friedl (LH) have outhit Barrero. Friedl is on the 10-day IL right now.

The Reds may carry five or six outfielders. The competition for Barrero will be tough, with Fairchild, Friedl, Wil Benson, Jake Fraley, Wil Myers and possibly Nick Senzel. Myers is on the IL right now and a candidate for DFA or trading. But the infielder log jam, with the return of Joey Votto, could push Jonathan India, Spencer Steer or even McLain into the outfield. Although McLain hasn’t been assigned the outfield with the Reds, he played center field his freshman year at UCLA.

Meet T.J. Hopkins

In his debut Major League plate appearance for the Reds Saturday, T.J. Hopkins came up to bat in the 9th inning with the bases loaded, one out and his team trailing the first-place Brewers by three runs. Oh, he was facing former Rookie of the Year and All-Star, Devin Williams and his filthy changeup. Welcome to the Big Leagues, kid.

Hopkins worked the count full and didn’t swing at any pitches out of the strike zone. The Brewers’ closer fired the sixth pitch of the at bat, a 94.6 mph fastball that cut the plate in half. But T.J. Hopkins didn’t swing because the pitch was just a bit below the strike zone. His debut plate appearance produced a walk that drove in a run.

T.J. Hopkins was in that spot because TJ Friedl hit the 10-day IL with a strained hamstring a couple hours before Saturday’s game. [Note: Terry Lee “TJ” Friedl writes his name without punctuation marks.] The Reds only had three healthy position players remaining on the 40-man roster (Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte and Michael Siani). Hopkins was added to the 40-man as the Reds moved starting pitcher Nick Lodolo to the 60-day IL.

The Reds had selected Mark Timothy Hopkins in the 9th round of the 2019 draft out of the University of South Carolina. The 26-year-old has played across the outfield through his career, but not a lot in center field since college. Hopkins bats and throws right-handed. He spent 2021 in Double-A, split time in Double-A and Triple-A in 2022 and played all 50 games this season for the Louisville Bats.

2023 has been by far Hopkins’ best year at the plate. His hitting .341/.437/.540. Hopkins’ power of .199 ISO is in line with his previous minor league seasons and senior year at South Carolina.

Hopkins’ batting average is 80 points higher than his previous career level of around .260. The entire increase can be explained by batting average on balls in play. Prior to 2023, Hopkins had a BABIP around .330. In 2023, it has been .449. Now, some of that higher BABIP might be better contact quality. But we’re talking 120 points of BABIP to explain. It’s hard to imagine good fortune hasn’t account for most if not all Hopkins’ improved 2023 batting average.

Hopkins started in left field yesterday and went 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and a 74-mph grounder.

In Case You Missed It

Walk-off homer for Elly De La Cruz. Ho hum. 

[Featured image: Reds Facebook]

Steve Mancuso

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.