State of the Division: The Cincinnati Reds


by Brian Feldman / BaseballStL | @BFeldman

Posted on February 14, 2014 at 2:44 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 5 at 6:43 AM

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(BaseballStL) -- After winning 90 games a season ago and losing 6-2 to the Pirates in the NL Wild Card game, the Reds would seem to not be far away from taking the next step. and Baseball STL is going through each team in the National League Central and sizing up how they look heading into the 2014 season.  Next: the Cincinnati Reds. Previous: The Pittsburgh Pirates

Key Losses: OF Shin-Soo Choo, P Bronson Arroyo, manager Dusty Baker 

Fewer teams in baseball lost more this offseason than the Reds.  The first thing GM Walt Jocketty did after the season ended was fire his manager, Dusty Baker.  Someone, it was felt, had to be held accountable for not advancing further in the postseason despite having as much talent as the organization boasts (Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, etc.).  That person ended being Baker.  Choo signed with the Rangers for 7 years and $130 million.  Losing his .423 on-base percentage hurts big time even though Choo's defense in center field was well below average.  Arroyo was a workhorse for the Reds for the past eight years and has not made fewer than 30 starts in a season since 2004.  He's a big loss in a starting rotation that now features far more youth than a season ago.

Key Gains: OF/2B Skip Schumaker, C Brayan Pena

Not much to write about here.  Skip Schumaker, the former Cardinal, and Brayan Pena both project as backups.  Sure, Schumaker is a nice utility player that provides energy and versatility off the bench.  He's also a tremendous addition to any clubhouse.  But Jocketty, as of yet, has not made any significant upgrades to a team that appeared to be the third best in the division in 2013.  Is there anything else coming down the pipeline before the season starts?  Anything at all?

Biggest note: Billy Hamilton

The Reds season very well could come down to one player.  No one in baseball right now can change a game like Billy Hamilton can on the bases.  Scouts grade players on a 20-80 scale (20 being the worst and 80 being the best).  Most scouts agree Hamilton has 80 speed.  He cannot receive a higher grade.  80s don't get thrown out like that very often so it tells you just how special this kid is at stealing bases.  

Hamilton stole 75 bases for AAA-Louisville in 123 games last year.  Then, upon his arrival in the Major Leagues, stole 13 straight bases before getting thrown out on his 14th attempt.  The problem though?

He hasn't hit.  The 23-year old hit just .256 in the minors last year with a .308 on-base percentage.  It's great to have speed.  But speed doesn't do you much good if you can't get on base to use it.  Will he improve at the plate and give the Reds a leadoff hitter to replace Choo?  Honestly, the Reds season might depend on it. 

Bottom Line

Any team with Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce has a chance.  To write off the Reds because they didn't make any big splashes this offseason would be a mistake.  They still boast a dangerous lineup that has the potential to get even more dangerous if Billy Hamilton can get on base to use his world class speed.  Aroldis Chapman's presence as closer makes games only eight innings if he's given a lead.  And the rotation has potential (Tony Cingrani is a 24-year old kid who had a 2.92 ERA in the big leagues last year over 104 innings) to be very good.  The question is: will it be good enough to compete with the Cardinals and Pirates for a playoff spot?