Cincinnati Reds Roundup: What went right/wrong? fantasy slants
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2022 Record: 62-100
Last Place, NL Central
Team ERA: 4.86 (28th in MLB)
Team OPS: .676 (26th in MLB)
WHAT WENT RIGHT
It was stained by a historically bad 3-22 start and a rather uninspired finish, but the Reds did play .500 ball (41-41) for an 82-game stretch between the second week of May and the first week of August. And in the end they managed to avoid matching the 1982 team for the most single-season losses (101) in franchise history. Nick Lodolo flashed the stuff of a future frontline starter while delivering an overall 3.66 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 131/39 K/BB ratio across his first 103 1/3 major league innings. Hunter Greene, armed with a triple-digit fastball, fanned 164 batters in his first 125 2/3 big league frames. Alexis Díaz registered a 1.84 ERA over 63 2/3 innings of relief and emerged as the long-term answer at closer down the stretch. Luis Castillo and Brandon Drury both put together strong first halves and netted the Reds a haul of young talent ahead of the August 2 trade deadline. Tyler Mahle returned from a shoulder injury just in time to be flipped for a pair of infield prospects. Tommy Pham and Tyler Naquin also brought back pieces that might aid the rebuild. Cincy wound up bottom-third in end-of-year payroll, which by all indications was one of the primary goals from the outset.
WHAT WENT WRONG
“Where are you gonna go?” was the now-infamous response from club president Phil Castellini when asked -- on the day of the home opener, no less -- about the growing sense of fan frustration in Cincinnati. Well, the Reds drew only 1,395,770 patrons to Great American Ball Park, the lowest attendance total since that stadium opened in 2003. Jonathan India, the 2021 NL Rookie of the Year, dealt with a range of injuries and slashed just .249/.327/.378 in 431 plate appearances when healthy. Joey Votto, in the ninth year of a 10-year, $225 million deal, posted a career-low .205 batting average before requiring surgery in August to repair a torn rotator cuff. Mike Moustakas, pulling in $16 million this year and $18 million next year, hit seven home runs in 78 games. Tyler Stephenson appeared in only 50 games due to a fractured thumb, broken clavicle, and multiple concussions. Jose Barrero, once thought of as the shortstop of the future, struggled to a brutal .152/.195/.206 batting line. The bullpen combined for a 4.72 ERA, second-worst among all 30 major league teams. And if you remove Díaz’s contributions, that mark jumps to 5.06. David Bell will be back as manager in 2023, but hitting coach Alan Zinter, first base coach Delino DeShields, bullpen coach Lee Tunnell, advance scouting coach Cristian Perez, and associate coach Rolando Valles were all let go the day after the regular season concluded.
** By far the most positive possible takeaway from what was a grueling year in Cincinnati is that the Reds do have a number of impressive young starting pitchers. Lodolo struggled out of the gate and missed all of May and June due to a lingering lower back strain, but he rolled to a 3.35 ERA over his final 16 starts when he finally returned in early July. He had a 2.48 ERA and 49/10 K/BB ratio in his final 36 1/3 innings. Greene also spent time on the IL because of a shoulder strain, but he too finished strong with a dominant 1.02 ERA and 51/8 K/BB ratio across his final 35 1/3 frames. Those two will be popular names in fantasy drafts next spring, and Graham Ashcraft might be worthy of a late-round flier.
** Thankfully, mercifully -- whatever adverb fits -- we are finally getting an injection of up-and-coming talent at catcher, which has long been fantasy baseball’s shallowest position. Stephenson is very much part of that surge and could come at a draft-day discount in 2023 after his injury-plagued 2022. When active, the 26-year-old backstop has batted .296 with an .823 OPS over his first 605 major league plate appearances. Stephenson homered in his very first MLB at-bat back in July 2020 and slashed .319/.372/.482 this year when he wasn’t on the IL. He drove in 35 runs in his 50 games played.
** A common worry with closers on bad teams is that the rug could be pulled out at any moment via the always-active bullpen trade market, but 2022 was Díaz’s debut season and he is under the Reds’ control through at least 2027. The younger brother of impending free agent Edwin Díaz, Alexis should be secure in his locale and his role as Cincinnati’s primary saves man. Featuring a high-90s fastball and disappearing slider, the 26-year-old right-hander yielded only 28 hits and tallied 83 strikeouts in his 59 appearances as a rookie. He’s legit.
** It might be time, or probably even past time, to give up on Nick Senzel becoming a standout fantasy option. Expectations were high when he posted 12 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 104 games as a rookie in 2019, but he has delivered only eight homers and 12 steals in 169 games since while fighting various physical ailments. He carried a much cleaner bill of health in 2022, but the 27-year-old former No. 2 overall pick still stumbled to a .601 OPS. That was the eighth-worst OPS among the 205 major leaguers who logged at least 400 plate appearances.
** Spencer Steer, part of the return in the Mahle trade, has the profile of a player who should eventually offer meaningful fantasy production. He homered, doubled, and drew two walks in his MLB debut on September 2 at Great American Ball Park after registering an .879 OPS with 23 homers and 30 doubles in 106 games this summer between the upper minor league affiliates of the Twins and Reds. The 24-year-old has played every position on the infield as a pro, and calling GABP home will only boost his projectable power totals.
** Elly De La Cruz belongs on all prospect watch lists as he rises through the Reds’ system. The dynamic 20-year-old infielder put up a .304/.359/.586 batting line with 28 home runs, 86 RBI, 47 stolen bases, and 87 runs scored in 120 games this season between High-A Dayton and Double-A Chattanooga while appearing defensively at both shortstop and third base. A five-category fantasy superstar in the making, he could feasibly make his MLB debut in late 2023. Noelvi Marte is also on a brisk ascent.
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Team Needs: Everything. It’s going to get worse before it gets any better. Which is a sad state of affairs for a club that was in the postseason mix just a few years ago. There would have to be a significant offseason spending spree for the Reds to climb out of the National League cellar, and they are likely to do the opposite of that.