Cincinnati Reds preview: You down with OBP, Cin-cin-na-ti?

Cincinnati Reds star Joey Votto swinging a bat.
Joey Votto should return to form for the Cincinnati Reds in 2013. (Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Last season can be summed up in two words for the Cincinnati Reds: major disappointment. As we soon found out, your team will struggle to win playoff games when you have Drew Stubbs and Zack Cozart at the top of the order. No team has ever won a championship with the top two guys in the lineup having below a .300 OBP.

With lessons learned, the Cincinnati Reds made a trade to rectify their OBP problem at the leadoff spot. In a three-team deal, they sent Stubbs and Didi Gregorius to the Indians for Shin-Soo Choo. Choo is an ideal leadoff hitter for the Reds and should provide an offensive boost to their lineup. Unlike Stubbs (.277 OBP) and Cozart (.288 OBP), Choo got on base last season, posting a .373 OBP.

After strengthening the top of the order, the Cincinnati Reds wanted to bring in a proven closer to handle the eighth inning or take over the closer duties altogether if the Reds decided to move Aroldis Chapman to the starting rotation. The Reds went out and signed Jonathan Broxton to a three-year deal. Broxton is not the same dynamite pitcher he once was, but last season he was very effective and will be one of the top relievers for the Reds.

Cincinnati Reds position players

Still, this championship-caliber team does have some major questions in its lineup. Will Todd Frazier regress as a hitter after his remarkable rookie year? Is Cozart the long-term answer at shortstop? How bad will the outfield be with Choo in center field? These are some major concerns that may crop up throughout this season.

The biggest concern though is Joey Votto returning to his remarkable 2011 form. This will be key for the Cincinnati Reds going forward. Whatever inadequacies are in the lineup, they won’t matter as much if Votto puts up MVP-type numbers. He showed last season, that when injured, he can find ways to produce. I expect a big bounce-back season, and for Votto to put this team on his back and carry them to the postseason.

The only position battle to speak of is between Miguel Olivo and Devin Mesoraco for the backup catcher position. If you remember last season, Mesoraco was one of the top prospects in all of baseball. Though he was disappointing last season, he has been absolutely on fire this spring. Look for Mesoraco to be pushing Ryan Hanigan for playing time if he keeps hitting like he has. He could be a pleasant surprise this season.

Cincinnati Reds pitching

Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock this offseason, it’s been all about Aroldis Chapman. Will he or won’t he be in the starting rotation? Manager Dusty Baker, as well as Chapman, wants him to be the closer. However, the front office has the last say. If he becomes the closer, the Reds will have a very formidable 1-2, eighth/ninth-inning punch with Broxton and Chapman. If Chapman becomes the fifth starter, he may struggle a bit. There are concerns about durability, as well as developing a third pitch that has most Reds fans nervous about the transition.

Aside from Chapman, the Cincinnati Reds possess a solid rotation. Johnny Cueto is the organization’s young ace and will be the opening-day starter. The guy I am most interested in is Homer Bailey. This once highly touted prospect seemed to turn a corner last season, and I expect him to continue to improve. If Bailey does improve from last season, the Reds could have one of the toughest rotations in all of baseball.

Cincinnati Reds projected starting lineup

  1. Shin-Soo Choo
  2. Brandon Phillips
  3. Joey Votto
  4. Ryan Ludwick
  5. Jay Bruce
  6. Todd Frazier
  7. Zack Cozart
  8. Ryan Hanigan

Cincinnati Reds prospect watch

Billy Hamilton’s record-setting stolen base mark had both Reds fans as well as fantasy fans drooling for a call-up. The Reds however, feel Hamilton needs to improve defensively before making the jump. I expect Hamilton to get his shot this season, possibly splitting time in the outfield as well as shortstop. He could provide a big boost to the Reds lineup this season.

Aside from Hamilton, the Reds are loaded with pitching prospects. One such pitcher is Nick Travieso who has top-of-the-rotation potential. He’s a big, strong pitcher who can touch 98 mph with his fastball. Robert Stephenson, Tony Cingrani and Daniel Corcino are all above-average pitching prospects, who have the stuff to stick in the starting rotation and may even see time in the bullpen, if needed.

Cincinnati Reds projection

I feel this team is built to win, and it is built to win now. Checking a random sports book, the Reds are -140 to win the central, 6-1 to win the NL pennant, and 12-1 to win the World Series. My projections for the Reds are: Chapman will be the closer, the Reds will win 98 games and coast to a NL Central title, Joey Votto finishes second in the MVP vote and the Reds will end up losing in a very exciting seven-game series to the Washington Nationals in the NLCS. In my opinion, the Cincinnati Reds, along with a small handful of other teams, are in the rare category of being able to win a championship this season. It should be an exciting season.

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