Despite playing in a hitter-friendly ballpark, the Cincinnati Reds’ lineup underwhelmed as a team in 2013. The Reds finished the year ranked 12th in the majors in runs scored, 18th in batting average and 22nd in steals. While losing an on-base machine like Shin-Soo Choo in the offseason could make it hard for Cincinnati to improve on an offense that was average at best last year, fantasy owners should by no means overlook the Reds lineup when it comes time to draft a team. Hidden among a handful of young, inconsistent players are a couple of fantasy studs as well as some players with intriguing upside, and this breakdown of Cincinnati’s projected lineup for the upcoming season will help you figure out which players are worth targeting and which ones simply don’t warrant a roster spot.
2014 Cincinnati Reds - Hitters Preview
Devin Mesoraco (C): The 25-year-old struggled in his first season as the Reds top catcher, batting .238 with 9 homers and 42 RBIs in 103 games in 2013. To his credit, he did improve enough defensively that Cincinnati felt comfortable trading fellow catcher and defensive stalwart Ryan Hanigan this offseason. Now, Mesoraco heads into 2014 as the team’s unquestioned No. 1 catcher, and he will get every opportunity to show he can be the player that demolished minor league pitching to the tune of 41 homers and 146 RBIs in 2010 and 2011. Mesoraco will start the year in the bottom half of the Cincinnati lineup, but with regular at-bats in what will only be his second full season in the majors, 15-plus home runs and 50-plus RBIs aren’t out of the question. Given that he is still an unproven commodity, he probably isn’t worth drafting outside of 2-catcher leagues. However, fantasy owners in standard formats should keep a close eye on him heading into 2014 and jump on him if he starts to find his power stroke.
Joey Votto (1B): After knee surgery limited him to 111 games in 2012, Votto appeared in all 162 games for the Reds last year, batting .305 with 24 home runs and 73 RBIs and scoring 103 runs. He also led the NL in on-base percentage for the fourth straight season and led the league in walks for the third straight year. Although his low RBI total in 2013 led to some critics questioning his approach at the plate, the fact remains that he is the toughest out in the National League. More importantly, history shows that 90-plus RBIs are the norm for Votto. Plain and simple, Votto is one of the steadiest hitters in the game, and fantasy owners should feel very comfortable using a late first-round pick on him in 2014 in standard formats and a top-five pick in leagues that include OPS and walks. Pencil him in for 25 home runs, 90-plus RBIs, 100-plus runs and a batting average well above .300.
Brandon Phillips (2B): The good news is that Phillips delivered a career-high 103 RBIs in 2013 while hitting 18 home runs for the fourth year in a row. The bad news is that his .261 average tied a career low, and he finished the year with the worst on-base percentage and slugging percentage of his career. Phillips also stole a career-low 5 bases. Cincinnati has actually been shopping Phillips thanks in large part to his comments regarding his current contract, but for now, it looks like he is staying put. Contract issues and declining percentages aside, Phillips is still a viable fantasy commodity. After all, he finished second among second basemen in RBIs last year and was tied for fifth in home runs. Granted, his RBI total will likely regress to the 75-80 he has typically produced, but even in that range, he would have ranked in the top five last year. While he is no longer the 20-20 threat that made him a top-three option at second base for many years, Phillips still has above average power for his position. His spot near the top of the Reds’ lineup should ensure that his finishes 2014 with around 80 runs, 17 homers and 75 RBIs. He won’t help much in the way of batting average or steals, but Phillips is still a top-10 option at second base, and fantasy owners should start thinking about grabbing him from the eighth round on.
Todd Frazier (3B): Following a strong debut in 2012, Frazier’s number slipped a bit in 2013 in his first year as the Reds’ full-time third baseman. Despite logging more than 100 more at-bats than in 2012, Frazier hit 19 home runs for the second year in a row while his RBI total only rose from 67 to 73. More concerning is the fact that his average fell from .273 to .234. On the plus side, Frazier has no competition for his starting job so he will have at least the 2014 season to make some adjustments. In the meantime, he offers fantasy owners 20-plus home run power and the potential the drive in 80-plus runs. It isn’t out of the question that Frazier finishes as a top-15 third baseman in fantasy circles, and he is worth adding as a late-round pick as a possible utility option or backup corner infielder.
Zack Cozart (SS): After hitting .246 with 15 home runs and 35 RBIs as a rookie in 2012, Cozart finished 2013 with a .254 average to go along with 12 homers and 63 RBIs. While those numbers don’t jump off the page, they were good enough to put Cozart in the top 10 at his position in all three categories. Heading into 2014, he has zero competition at the shortstop position in Cincinnati. He also has a chance to hit near the top of the Reds’ lineup after hitting above .300 over the final month of the season. The more likely scenario is an average that hovers around .260 and spot in the lower half of the order, but 70 runs, 15 homers and 60 RBIs are still reasonable, and those aren’t horrible fantasy totals from a shortstop. For owners that miss out on the big names at the position and don’t want to overpay for the mid-tier guys, Cozart should be available late in drafts and should provide serviceable numbers.
Ryan Ludwick (LF): Ludwick revived his career in Cincinnati in 2012, slugging 26 home runs and driving in 80 runs. Unfortunately, he was limited to just 129 plate appearances in his follow-up campaign as a shoulder injury robbed him of most of the 2013 season. This season, Ludwick is slated to be the everyday left fielder in Cincinnati, and a full offseason to recover should allow him to supply respectable power numbers. He should have no problem approaching 20 homers in 2014, and with opponents likely pitching around sluggers Joey Votto and Jay Bruce on a regular basis, Ludwick should have the opportunities to drive in 75-plus runs. Don’t expect much in the way of average or speed, but Ludwick should be a cheap source of power for fantasy owners this year. Grab him in the final rounds to add some depth at the outfield position.
Jay Bruce (RF): Bruce had another great year for Cincinnati in 2013, leading the team with 30 home runs and 109 RBIs while hitting .262 and tying a career-high with 89 runs scored. While Bruce may not be superstar, he certainly has been a steady producer in the middle of the Reds’ lineup. The guy has never hit fewer than 21 home runs in the majors, and he has reached 30 home runs in each of the past three seasons. He has also scored at least 80 runs in four straight years and has topped 90 RBIs in three straight. In fact, Bruce has increased his RBI total in every season of his career. From a fantasy standpoint, keep in mind only 10 players hit at least 30 home runs and had 100 or more RBIs in 2013. Bruce was on that list, and as he enters his prime in a hitter-friendly park, he is a safe bet to post similar numbers this year and possibly improve upon them. Don’t let a reliable slugger like Bruce slip out of the fourth round.
Billy Hamilton (CF): Without question, Hamilton is the most intriguing player for the Reds this year both in real life and in fantasy circles. After all, the guy is the fastest player in baseball, and after being called up at the end of last season, he stole 13 bases in 13 games. With Shin-Soo Choo signing with Texas in the offseason, Hamilton is going to get his chance to hold down the starting job in centerfield in 2014. The Reds are also leaning towards letting him start the year as the team’s leadoff man, but his still-developing plate discipline (.308 on-base percentage in AAA in 2013) could necessitate a change at some point. Still, Hamilton is going to be a frontrunner to lead the majors in steals, giving him plenty of fantasy value even as a one-category contributor. Come the middle rounds, don’t hesitate to pull the trigger on the speedy Hamilton, especially if your team is lacking in the speed department. The guy has the potential to carry the stolen base category by himself.
Skip Schumaker (UTIL): Schumaker was signed by Cincinnati in the offseason to add some depth to a bench that lacked many reliable options last year. In his current role, he isn’t a viable fantasy option, but considering he is the primary backup at second base and for all three outfield spots, Schumaker is only an injury away from regular at-bats. Granted his fantasy value would still be minimal thanks to a total lack of power and speed, but he is a career .285 hitter. He isn’t worth drafting, but if injuries force him into full-time action, Schumaker could score his share of runs while maintaining a solid average.