2016 Preview: Cincinnati Reds

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2016 season. Next up: The Cincinnati Reds. 

By the time the August 1 non-waiver trade deadline rolls around, the average baseball viewer isn’t likely to recognize much of the Reds’ roster. The club already traded All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier and closer Aroldis Chapman. Second baseman Brandon Phillips and outfielder Jay Bruce could be next, as the Reds tried to move both players during the offseason.

The Reds are in a rebuilding phase, finishing with a 64-98 record last year and a 76-86 record in 2014. They were, for a few years, big threats in the NL Central, but injuries, poor production, and a subpar minor league system led to a bleak outlook, prompting the change in organizational direction.

In the Frazier trade, the Reds acquired Brandon Dixon, Jose Peraza, and Scott Schebler. Peraza and Schebler were ranked fifth and 16th, respectively, in the Reds’ minor league system according to MLB Pipeline. The Chapman trade brought the Reds Rookie Davis, Eric Jagielo, Tony Renda, and Caleb Cotham. Davis and Jagielo were rated 12th and 14th, respectively, by MLB Pipeline. While the Reds aren’t likely to get impact prospects in trades involving Bruce or Phillips, expect the Reds to continue pursuing trades just to clear salary and their positions.

With Chapman out of the picture, J.J. Hoover will get his first chance to close on a regular basis. Hoover has finished with a sub-3.00 ERA in three of his four seasons thus far, but he has always battled command issues, walking batters at an 11 percent rate in his career. Improvement in this area, or the lack thereof, will determine his success or failure as a closer. Furthermore, after posting a career-high 27 percent strikeout rate in 2014, it plummeted below 20 percent last season while his ground ball rate rose from 28.5 percent to 40 percent. Ground balls are great, but if inducing them comes at the expense of missing bats, Hoover will be worse for it.

Eugenio Suarez will handle third base with Frazier gone. He was a surprise impact player for the Reds last season, filling in at shortstop for the injured Zack Cozart. He hit .280/.315/.446 over 398 plate appearances, slugging 13 home runs and 19 doubles. Suarez is no Frazier, but the Reds aren’t expecting him to be Frazier, either.

Joey Votto will be the backbone of the Reds’ roster once again. He finished third in NL MVP balloting last year, compiling an even 1.000 OPS (.314/.459/.541) with 29 home runs, 80 RBI, and 95 runs scored while leading all of baseball with 143 walks. Votto is signed through 2023, so he isn’t going anywhere.

Center fielder Billy Hamilton will continue adding excitement with his legs and defense. He is coming off of shoulder surgery and hit a lackluster .226/.274/.289 last season. But he did steal 57 bases in 65 attempts and could realistically surpass that mark in 2016. Let it be said that there will be reasons to watch the Reds this year.

The rotation has some intrigue just because there are so many unknowns. Veteran Homer Bailey isn’t likely to return until May as he is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Anthony DeSclafani, with his 217 2/3 career major league innings, is likely to draw the Opening Day start as a result. He showed some competency last season, finishing with a 4.05 ERA and a 151/55 K/BB ratio over 184 2/3 innings.

Raisel Iglesias has the most upside of anyone in the rotation and 2016 could be his breakout year. In 95 1/3 innings in the majors last season, the Cuban struck out 104 and walked 28 in 95 1/3 innings with a 4.15 ERA. He was a bit too prone to allowing home runs, which is why his ERA was much higher than his ERA retrodictors like FIP (3.55) and xFIP (3.28). While ERA retrodictors aren’t perfect – they can significantly overrate or underrate players by making assumptions – it does give an idea, at least, into the potential that Iglesias has.

But let’s be real: the Reds are going to lose, and they’re going to lose a lot in 2016. It’s part and parcel in the rebuilding process, as the club is hoping to get another high pick in the 2017 draft. Finishing with the second-worst record in baseball last season means they’ll be picking second in the draft this year.

Prediction: 62-100, last place in the NL Central.

Olson blasts two HRs, Acuña has 4 hits as Strider, Braves overpower Phillies 11-4

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
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ATLANTA – Given a seven-run lead in the first inning, Atlanta right-hander Spencer Strider could relax and keep adding to his majors-leading strikeout total.

“That game felt like it was over pretty quick,” Strider said.

Ronald Acuña Jr. drove in three runs with four hits, including a two-run single in Atlanta’s seven-run first inning, and the Braves beat the Philadelphia Phillies 11-4 on Sunday night to split the four-game series.

“Getting a lead first is big, especially when you get that big of a lead,” Strider said. “… When we’re putting up runs, my job isn’t to be perfect. My job is to get outs.”

Following the game, Braves manager Brian Snitker announced right-hander Michael Soroka will be recalled to make his first start since the 2020 season on Monday night at Oakland.

Matt Olson hit a pair of two-run homers for Atlanta, and Strider became the fastest pitcher in modern history to reach 100 strikeouts in a season.

“It’s incredible,” said Acuña through a translator of Strider. “Every time he goes out to pitch it seems like he’s going to strike everybody out.”

Acuña hit a run-scoring triple in the fifth before Olson’s second homer to center. Acuña had two singles in the first when the Braves sent 11 batters to the plate, collected seven hits and opened a 7-0 lead. Led by Acuña and Olson, who had three hits, the Braves set a season high with 20 hits.

Strider (5-2) struck out nine while pitching six innings of two-run ball. The right-hander fired a called third strike past Nick Castellanos for the first out of the fourth, giving him 100 strikeouts in 61 innings and topping Jacob deGrom‘s 61 2/3 innings in 2021 as the fastest to 100 in the modern era.

“It’s cool,” Strider said, adding “hopefully it’ll keep going.”

Olson followed Acuña’s leadoff single with a 464-foot homer to right-center. Austin Riley added another homer before Ozzie Albies and Acuña had two-run singles in the long first inning.

Phillies shortstop Trea Turner and left fielder Kyle Schwarber each committed an error on a grounder by Orlando Arcia, setting up two unearned runs in the inning.

Strider walked Kody Clemens to open the third. Brandon Marsh followed with a two-run homer for the Phillies’ first hit. Schwarber hit a two-run homer off Collin McHugh in the seventh.

LEAPING CATCH

Michael Harris II celebrated the one-year anniversary of his major league debut by robbing Schwarber of a homer with a leaping catch at the center-field wall in the second. As Harris shook his head to say “No!” after coming down with the ball on the warning track, Strider pumped his fist in approval on the mound – after realizing Harris had the ball.

“He put me through an emotional roller coaster for a moment,” Strider said.

SOROKA RETURNING TO ROTATION

Soroka was scratched from his scheduled start at Triple-A Gwinnett on Sunday, setting the stage for his final step in his comeback from two torn Achilles tendons.

“To get back is really a feather in that kid’s cap,” Snitker said.

Soroka will be making his first start in the majors since Aug. 3, 2020, against the New York Mets when he suffered a torn right Achilles tendon. Following a setback which required a follow-up surgery, he suffered another tear of the same Achilles tendon midway through the 2021 season.

Soroka suffered another complication in his comeback when a hamstring injury slowed his progress this spring.

Acuña said he was “super happy, super excited for him, super proud of him” and added “I’m just hoping for continued good health.”

Soroka looked like an emerging ace when he finished 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 2019 and placed second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting and sixth in the NL Cy Young voting.

The Braves are 0-3 in bullpen committee games as they attempt to overcome losing two key starters, Max Fried (strained left forearm) and Kyle Wright (right shoulder inflammation) to the injured list in early May. Each is expected to miss at least two months.

RHP Dereck Rodriguez, who gave up one hit in two scoreless innings, was optioned to Gwinnett after the game to clear a roster spot for Soroka.

QUICK EXIT

Phillies right-hander Dylan Covey (0-1), claimed off waivers from the Los Angeles Dodgers on May 20, didn’t make it through the first inning. Covey allowed seven runs, five earned, and six hits, including the homers by Olson and Riley.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Phillies: 3B Alex Bohm was held out with hamstring tightness. … LHP José Alvarado (left elbow inflammation) threw the bullpen session originally scheduled for Saturday. Manager Rob Thomson said there was no report that Alvarado, who was placed on the injured list on May 10, had any difficulty.

UP NEXT

Phillies: Following an off day, LHP Ranger Suárez (0-1, 9.82 ERA) is scheduled to face Mets RHP Kodai Senga (4-3, 3.94 ERA) in Tuesday night’s opener of a three-game series in New York.

Braves: Soroka was 1-2 with a 4.33 ERA in eight games with Triple-A Gwinnett. He allowed a combined four hits and two runs over 10 2/3 innings in his last two starts. RHP Paul Blackburn (7-6, 4.28 ERA in 2022) is scheduled to make his 2023 debut for Oakland as he returns from a finger injury.