Even though Ohio is in the middle of a winter wonderland, baseball is in full swing in Arizona. The Cincinnati Reds are now 13 games deep into their spring training schedule and look well on their way to repeat as Central Division champions. Today I will be continuing my preseason Reds outlook with the batting order and projected spots 4-6. The only certainty in these slots is young right fielder Jay Bruce, who will undoubtedly spend most of the season in the number five hole, but spots four and six will depend solely on production and who is swinging the hot bat. So let’s get to it!
Fourth Hitter: Ryan Ludwick, Position: Left Field, Age : 34, MLB Experience: 10 years
The Reds made it very clear this offseason that they are putting their faith in Ludwick. This past December, the 34-year-old veteran signed a pricey two-year extension worth $15 million. It can be argued that Ludwick, who started less than 80 percent of the Reds’ games last season, has the most important role on the team. He will serve as Joey Votto’s protection, batting fourth behind the star first baseman, and if he struggles early on, we could see Votto being pitched around at a Barry Bonds-like pace.
The good news is Ludwick posted the second highest batting average of his career last season and his 2012 home run total of 25 was also only second to his 2008 All Star and Silver Slugger campaign. With the horrid showing from Chris Heisey last year, Ludwick should garner everyday responsibilities in left field for the Reds and if he keeps on last year’s pace, he will have no problem putting up a 30 home run season. However, critics are a little concerned regarding his age. Nevertheless, David Ortiz, who is three years his senior proved veterans still can get it done by having a stellar .318/23/60 stat line in only 90 games last season.
Fifth Hitter: Jay Bruce, Position: Right Field, Age 25, MLB Experience: Five years
21, 22, 25, 32, 34. Those are Bruce’s home runs totals for his first five seasons. His power has gone up every year and he currently has the most career home runs for any player under 25. Bruce was ranked 75th on MLB Network’s Top 100 players list this year and he is only set to climb in the future. Bruce will undoubtedly have more RBI opportunities this year with a healthy Votto and consistent leadoff hitter, yet the real question is whether or not he can avoid his signature slumps.
Bruce is clearly the best power hitter on this team and when he’s hot, he can put up home runs in bunches–eight home runs in five consecutive games during August. When he is cold, though, he’s freezing–14 straight games in April without a HR and five games in that span without a hit. If Bruce can find a consistent swing all year long, a 50 home run season can not be ruled out for this young slugger.
Sixth Hitter: Todd Frazier, Position: Third Base, Age: 27, MLB Experience: Two years
Todd Frazier earned the starting third base spot this year with a stellar performance in place of the injured Scott Rolen last season. In fact, Frazier performed so well that the Reds didn’t even bother to resign Rolen this year. Todd finished third in rookie of the year voting last season and with a consistent spot in the lineup, looks to have an even better year in 2013.
Frazier has proven he can be productive with the bat with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs last season, but his defense at the hot corner will be the real question mark. He committed seven errors last season and, playing in Great American Ballpark, the Reds have to make all the plays they can on ground balls since most fly balls leave the stadium.
He is also a very versatile option for Dusty Baker. He played first base, third base and outfield last season, which means if injuries arise, he can help the Reds to weather the storm. It’s also worth noting that he spent six years in the minor leagues before being called up to Cincinnati and in that time, he had a .280 career batting average. If he can stay close to that number this year, the Reds will have all they need and more from the sixth spot in the order.
Vinny Carozza is a Cincinnati Reds writer/columnist for Rant Sports. Follow him on twitter @VinnyCarozza or add him to your network on Google+