Springtime… For many people the breaking of winter is symbolized by our furry friend and whether or not he sees his shadow. For others it’s Mardi Gras and the beginning of lent. But for true baseball connoisseurs there is no greater inclination of a new beginning then when pitchers and catchers report to spring training. That glorious day was today which means it’s time to preview the road to back to back division titles for the Cincinnati Reds. During the coming weeks I will be breaking down every part of Cincinnati’s roster and taking an in-depth look at each piece of the Reds’ 2013 puzzle. So without further ado it’s time to get started with the batting order and lineup spots 1-3.
Leadoff Hitter: Shin-Soo Choo, Position: CF, Age:30, MLB Experience : 7 years
With the arrival of Shin-Soo Choo from the Cleveland Indians the Reds finally have their lead-off hitter that they have so desperately longed for over the last four years. In bringing Choo to Cincinnati the Reds had to part with Drew Stubbs who will be missed defensively, (top 3 in zone rating for all Centerfielders) but his strikeout total and low on-base percentage was becoming too much for the Cincinnati lineup to bear. Choo on the other hand has a career .381 on-base percentage and still adds an element of speed to the top of the order with over twenty steals last season. Choo also has decent power for a lead-off hitter and his sixteen home runs from a year ago should easily see an increase this year with the transition to the hitter friendly Great American Ballpark. Finally, Choo brings a longed for left-handed bat into a lefty starved Cincinnati lineup. With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce that still only makes three, but with the spacing in between those hitters it should be a nightmare for opposing managers trying to make late inning pitching decisions.
2nd Hitter: Brandon Phillips, Position 2B, Age 31, MLB Experience : 10 years
Brandon Phillips has literally done it all during his tenure in Cincinnati. From hitting lead-off to batting cleanup, Mr. Phillips has been in a different hitting position every season he has played for the Reds. This year he will be second in the order, a prime position to put up career numbers, and with a healthy Joey Votto hitting behind Phillips he should see many more great pitches to hit this season. Also, for the first time in his career Brandon will have an accomplished lead-off hitter ahead of him and should have no problem increasing his RBI total of 77 from last year’s campaign. Phillips is a player who tends to get unfairly classified as a defensive specialist, when in fact Brandon led the team in batting average last season. (Joey Votto had a .337 average but with his injury did not have enough plate appearance to qualify) Brandon prides himself on being able to do it all. “When we need a power hitter I’ll hit some over the fence, when we needs some runs and stolen bases I’ll produce them, I do whatever the club needs.” Phillips is in the perfect position this year for his versatility and should see an increase in every hitting category. Not to mention the fact that he was snubbed for the Gold Glove last year, which will only add fuel to his competitive fire.
3rd Hitter: Joey Votto, Position 1B, Age: 29, MLB Experience: 5 years
The third spot in the order. It’s simply where you put your best and most trusted hitter. Babe Ruth, Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr, they all batted 3rd and Joey Votto is quickly approaching their elite status. It doesn’t seem possible that Joey has only been in the league 5 years, but even in that short amount of time Votto has established himself as one of the best pure hitters in the game. A knee injury cost Joey almost a third of his season last year and he is now fully recovered and ready to focus on a fresh start in 2013. This year has more potential than ever for the young first baseman, as he will have two premier hitters in front of him and should see adequate protection from Ryan Ludwick and Bruce behind him. Add all this to the fact that Votto, if not injured last season, could have led the league in On-Base Percentage for the fifth straight year. Only five players in the modern era: Ted Williams, Joe Morgan, Mike Schmidt, Wade Boggs and Barry Bonds, have accomplished this feat. The average National League hitter bats .198 when behind in the count, Votto hits .300 when behind. The list goes on and on but this year looks to finally be the season that Joey has an even playing field with the other power hitters in the game. Over the last four seasons Miguel Cabrera had over 157 more runners on base when hitting than Votto, that’s almost one more every game. With the changes to this year’s lineup Votto’s opportunities should close the gap and allow him to firmly sit atop the offensive leaderboards with the other juggernauts of the game.
Vinny Carozza is a writer/columnist for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @VinnyCarozza