The Reds will be looking to capture back to back NL Central flags, and they certainly look to be favorite to do so. The offense is potent, and the pitching, while not featuring an upper tier fantasy ace, is more than competent and has some very talented young arms with upside.
As always, stars and dependable guys like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce really shouldn’t need much in the way of fantasy introduction or highlighting. Instead we’ll focus on the guys with upside, downside, questions or who might be value plays.
Here are 10 to watch in 2013.
Shin-Soo Choo (OF): Choo has age and trying to learn a new league going against him. However there are a number of pluses including getting to hit in a offense friendly ballpark and having more offensive production behind him than he’s ever had. Can he be a 20-20 player again? That remains to be seen, but I think it’s not a bad bet.
Todd Frazier (1B/3B): Frazier just needed playing time and he got it last year when Joey Votto got injured. Good contact rate should support his average and his solid power should assure that the home runs and RBIs keep on coming. The only area that looks concerning was last year's 45% flyball rate. That will probably correct somewhat, but he’s going into his age 27 season and growth will probably stem any regression. Twenty to 25 home runs is probably realistic.
Zack Cozart (SS): Cozart has power, he has speed and he plays excellent defense. However he deserves to be low on your draft list at the position, because most of his value from last year had to do with being batted leadoff or second. His batting average and on-base percentage didn’t support that decision and the acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo will relegate Cozart to the very bottom of the order. At least it might boost his pitiful RBI totals. Still I’d knock him down a full tier at least.
Mat Latos (SP): Latos moved from spacious PETCO Park to one of the best hitters' parks in the game and didn’t lose anything in terms of ERA and WHIP. That bodes well for the 25 year old who has plenty of upside as he moves into his fourth full season as a starter. There were a few minor setbacks, including a minutely depressed strikeout rate, but that's a mere bump in the road on Latos’ rising star.
Homer Bailey (SP): Bailey’s second half last year provides some optimism that he could be a breakout candidate this year, but it’s hardly a lock considering Bailey’s history with shoulder problems. Still that second half 8-4, 3.12 ERA and 1.14 WHIP are very enticing and could portend of things to come. He’s certainly in the portion of his career when pitchers often take steps forward. That said, it’s a tough thing to make projections based on a half season worth of numbers, and he’s having an ugly spring training which is pretty much in line with his cactus league starts of the past. Split the difference between last year and 2011 in your projections and hope for more.
Johnny Cueto (SP): Cueto took a big step forward last year despite an ERA worse than the one he posted in 2011. The biggest increase came in strikeout rates where he moved up by a full strikeout per inning to just over seven per nine innings pitched. That may not sound like a ton, but at his age it could be a portent that he’s finally harnessing some of the potential to strike out batters that he’s always had. Matching the 19 wins of last year might be tough, but a slight uptick in strikeouts could be coming.
Aroldis Chapman (CL): The plan to move Chapman to the rotation sputtered and died in the last few weeks and Chapman is headed back to the bullpen. Hard to say if that’s good news or bad news overall, but it returns one of baseball’s best closers to the pen. Odds are he won’t be as good as last year, but he’ll still dominate.
Devin Mesoraco (C): Mesoraco has made a case that he should be the everyday starting catcher in spring training where he has hit .361 with a pair of homers, but he’s likely either headed to the backup role or down to AAA to work on his hitting against righties (he hit .183 against them and .308 against lefties last year). However he’s the offensive star (and thus the fantasy star) among Cincinnati’s catchers. Except in deeper leagues he’s probably not worth drafting unless he has the everyday job or you can afford to platoon him, but with some time in AAA to work out some of the rough spots, he could be a nice in season pick up. Ryan Ludwick (OF): Ludwick took advantage of a increased home run/fly ball rate to post his best home run total since 2008, but a lot of that may have been the product of playing at Great American Ball Park, where he hit 16 of his 26 home runs . What might be worth noticing is that he hit those home runs in just 422 ABs (220 at GAB). Since he’ll see regular playing time this year and could get 550 ABs, even if his home run/fly ball rate regresses back to his norm I’d expect at least 20 home runs.
Billy Hamilton (OF): No fantasy preview of the Reds would be complete without discussing Hamilton, the fastest man in baseball. While there is definitely some chance of Hamilton making a fantasy impact this season, the most likely scenario is as a September call up. He looked overmatched this spring, and is being reassigned to the minors, likely to AAA, to see if he can hit against upper tier minor league arms.