Predicting the Cincinnati Reds’ 2014 Opening Day Lineup
Predicting the Cincinnati Reds' 2014 Opening Day Lineup
The Cincinnati Reds' Opening Day lineup is pretty straightforward as far as who will play at each position, but the construction of the lineup will be interesting as Reds fans get their first chance to evaluate new manager Bryan Price.
Opening Day for the Reds will be an afternoon home game against the rival St. Louis Cardinals at 4 p.m. ET. Johnny Cueto will be facing Adam Wainwright in a game that features the two favorites to win the NL Central Division title. The Reds failed to defend their 2012 division title last year, finishing seven games back of the Cardinals, and these two teams will continue to be among the National League's elite in 2014.
While the Reds lost Shin-Soo Choo and Bronson Arroyo to free agency, Cincinnati will feature full seasons from Billy Hamilton and Tony Cingrani, who have the potential to make this team even more potent than in years past. Billy Hamilton has generational speed, but he will be limited by how well he can handle MLB-level pitching. If Hamilton can get on base at a reasonable clip, Reds fans will quickly forget about Choo at leadoff.
The wildcards in this Reds lineup, in addition to Hamilton, are left fielder Ryan Ludwick and catcher Devin Mesoraco. As recently as 2012, Ludwick was a key member of a dangerous Reds lineup hitting 26 home runs in 472 plate appearances. His .256 isolated slugging that year was tenth overall in baseball for players with a minimum of 450 plate appearances. If Ludwick is healthy (big if), he provides necessary depth to the Reds lineup. A productive Devin Mesoraco only further deepens the Reds lineup and would go a long way towards another division title in 2014. Mesoraco was ranked as high as the top 20 prospects in baseball in 2012, but to date he has an uninspiring .641 OPS in 589 MLB plate appearances.
The 2014 Cincinnati Reds' lineup has boom or bust potential, but the presence of Joey Votto alone gives them a chance every game. On Opening Day, here is a prediction of how the Reds will construct their lineup.
1. Billy Hamilton - CF
The biggest question mark of the Reds’ 2014 season will be on display early and often as speed-demon Billy Hamilton prepares to drive opposing catchers crazy this season. After stealing 155 bases between two levels of the minors with a .311 batting average in 2012, Hamilton struggled a bit at Triple-A last year, hitting .256/.308/.343 with 75 stolen bases. Whether or not Hamilton’s bat is ready for the big leagues is a question that will continue to be asked all season long. Although, with a vacancy in center field, the job is Hamilton’s to lose, and he will be given every opportunity to prove he deserves it.
2. Joey Votto - 1B
Typically Joey Votto hits No. 3 in the lineup, but placing him second will lead to more at bats over the course of the season and further takes advantage of Votto’s incredible ability to get on base. Votto was second only to Miguel Cabrera in on-base percentage last year at .435, and his .400 weighted on-base average marked the fifth straight year he has been at or above a .400 wOBA. In those five years Votto is second again only to Miguel Cabrera with a .418 wOBA, compared to Cabrera’s .428 mark. As far as pure offensive weapons go, only Mike Trout and Miggy have better cases than Joey Votto.
3. Jay Bruce - RF
Jay Bruce has still not achieved the offensive heights that some have expected. While there may still be some untapped potential in his bat, Bruce is undoubtedly one of the top power threats in the National League. With 30 home runs and 109 RBI last year, Bruce reached the 30 homer mark for the third straight year and had his first season with over 100 RBI. His isolated slugging of .216 also marked the fifth straight year he has been above a .200 ISO. While Bruce strikes out too much to have a batting average much higher than .265, he is a consistent run producer and a perfect fit behind Joey Votto in the lineup.
4. Brandon Phillips - 2B
With a .310 on-base percentage in 2013, Brandon Phillips was moved to the cleanup spot in the lineup and he will likely stick there at least for the early part of 2014. Philips hit 18 home runs last season, making it the fourth straight season he has hit exactly that number of balls out of the park. Phillips will turn 33 this year, and while his defense is still elite, his offensive numbers have been slipping as his power has slowly eroded down to a .135 ISO in 2013. His OPS has also gone from .810 to .750 down to .706 during the past three years. Phillips is not exactly the ideal cleanup hitter in a lineup, but on Opening Day I expect him to be back in the same position he was for most of the 2013 season.
5. Todd Frazier - 3B
Todd Frazier is entering his peak years, and his numbers should look much better this year than they did in 2013. After putting up an .829 OPS in his first full season in the big leagues in 2012, Frazier regressed to a batting line of .234/.314/.407 in 2013. One noticeable difference was Frazier's BABIP, which flipped from a slightly above average mark of .316 in 2012 to a well-below average .269 in 2013. Last year, Frazier made improvements by cutting down his strikeouts while increasing his walks and has hit 19 home runs each of the past two seasons. Reds fans should expect that number to eclipse 20 this year as Frazier continues to grow as a hitter.
6. Ryan Ludwick - LF
Ryan Ludwick returned to the Reds' lineup last August after undergoing shoulder surgery, and he may as well have not come back at all given his production during the final two months of the season. If you give Ludwick a mulligan for his .618 OPS in 140 plate appearances in 2013, you don’t have to look far to see the potential upside in his bat as Ludwick put up an .877 OPS in his first full season for the Reds in 2012. If he can approach those numbers, the Reds’ lineup becomes much more fearsome.
7. Devin Mesoraco - C
Going into the 2012 season, Devin Mesoraco was viewed as an elite catching prospect who had the potential to hit for power and average at the Major League level. Two years later and the Reds are still waiting for Mesoraco to emerge as a legitimate big league hitter. During the 2012 season it was easy to blame Mesoraco’s poor performance on his limited usage by Dusty Baker. However, after receiving 352 plate appearances in 2013 and still only mustering a .649 OPS, expectations are predictably toned down entering the 2014 season. Mesoraco is still growing as a hitter and he hasn't been helped by a career .248 batting average on balls in play. With a full season of at bats, Cincinnati should start to see a glimpse of the potential that has to this point lay dormant in Mesoraco's bat.
8. Zack Cozart - SS
As far as shortstops go, Zack Cozart provides a reasonable level of offensive production. After hitting 15 home runs as a rookie in 2012, Cozart hit for a slightly higher average last year with 12 home runs but saw his OPS fall from .687 to .665 in 2013. Cozart has some wheels as well, with 22 stolen bases at Triple-A in 2010. If new manager Bryan Price gives him the green light, Cozart could flirt with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases which would be more than welcome from the eighth hitter in the lineup.
9. Johnny Cueto - SP
As long as Johnny Cueto is healthy, he will likely be the Reds' Opening Day starter for the third straight year. Cueto pitched in just 60.2 innings last year with three separate trips to the DL, but he was effective as ever when he actually took the mound. Over the past three years Cueto ranks third among all starting pitchers with a 2.61 ERA, and the Reds should expect more of the same as long as Cueto can keep himself healthy.