Today is the first full-squad workout in Goodyear for the Cincinnati Reds. Position players reported on Sunday and yesterday saw everyone get their physicals. Yesterday in the AMA there were more than a few questions about the roster and open jobs. And realistically, it feels like most of the jobs are taken on the 26-man roster.
As things sit right now, it feels like the “starting eight” is actually a “starting ten”, with the dual-headed catcher spot of Tucker Barnhart and Curt Casali as well as the four-headed outfield rotation featuring Nick Senzel, Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker, and Shogo Akiyama making up those “extra” spots. Working on the assumption that the Reds will split the 26-man roster in half with 13 position players and 13 pitchers, that would leave the bench with three spots. But as was noted a few days ago by manager David Bell to Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer, it seems that Kyle Farmer is going to be the backup shortstop. That leaves just two spots on the bench up for grabs, so-to-speak. For me, the battle that interests me the most lies here for those two spots.
But it’s not the only place where there’s a battle. The bullpen also seems to have a few spots that could be there for the taking. With the rotation seemingly locked down with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani, and Wade Miley it’s the bullpen where the competition is to be had. Some spots in the bullpen seem to be locked in, too. Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Pedro Strop, Amir Garrett, and Robert Stephenson all appear to have the their spots locked in. That would leave three spots available for a whole slew of pitchers to try and stake their claim to.
Jumping back to the Reds bench – at least from what I believe, there are two spots to be had if everyone is healthy and ready to go when the season begins. Ideally, that would go to one infielder and one outfielder for the sake of balance. But with the roster as it is, there may not be a specific need for that balance. Outfielders Nick Senzel and Nick Castellanos have experience playing on the infield. Kyle Farmer can play several spots on the infield, too. That may give the Reds some leeway if they want to carry two outfielders in those spots, for example.
And it’s certainly possible that’s what they do. On the 40-man roster the only other player listed as an infielder that isn’t locked into my roster already is Alex Blandino. That’s not entirely fair because Josh VanMeter is also on the 40-man roster, but is listed among the outfielders despite the fact that he’s far more experienced in his career as an infielder. But they are the only two 40-man roster infielders. Joining VanMeter in the outfield among those not locked into the roster, though, are Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, Travis Jankowski, Mark Payton, and Scott Schebler. Both Ervin and Schebler are out of options, and Payton is a Rule 5 pick who can’t be optioned to the minors (if he doesn’t make the team out of spring training he must be placed on waivers, and if no one claims him, he then must be offered back to the team he was selected from).
Essentially, there are two spots available, and more than two players on the 40-man roster who can’t be sent down to the minors without being placed on waivers. Most of the players vying for a spot can make a reasonable claim to why one of the spots should be theirs, too.
Aristides Aquino has options, and that could work against him in an outfield where there probably isn’t going to be much playing time available for a 5th guy. But the argument that he deserves a roster spot is that he posted an .891 OPS last year with 19 home runs in just 56 games played in the final two months of the season in Cincinnati. He was quite productive in the Major Leagues last year.
Phillip Ervin is out of options, but he’s also coming off of a solid year in Cincinnati where he hit .271/.331/.466 in 94 games last year. He’s capable of playing all three outfield spots and has some speed which can be useful off of the bench if and when it’s needed.
Mark Payton was the Reds Rule 5 draft pick from December. He has to be offered back to Oakland if he doesn’t make the 26-man roster, so that could certainly come into play. He’s capable of covering all three outfield spots. At the plate he hit .334/.400/.653 last season with 30 doubles and 30 home runs in 118 Triple-A games, but was even better in the second half. In the final 64 games of the year he hit an absurd .365/.427/.757 with 24 walks, 18 doubles, three triples, 21 home runs, and struck out just 33 times.
Scott Schebler’s 2019 was disastrous. He entered the year coming off of three straight seasons in which he had posted at least a 101 OPS+, but in 30 games with Cincinnati to begin the year he hit just .123/.253/.222 before he was demoted to Triple-A Louisville. Things got better in the minors, but not by much. Eventually his season would come to an end after he had shoulder surgery. With a 30-home run season under his belt in the Major Leagues, the ability to play everywhere in the outfield, and health with him – a good showing in the spring would give him an argument to have a spot on the roster.
Josh VanMeter, as noted above, has more experience in the infield than the outfield, but the fact that he can play just about everywhere but shortstop and center field help his cause quite a bit. If everyone remains healthy there’s not a ton of playing time to go around for the bench players. But a guy like VanMeter who can fill in at five positions if asked has plenty of value. He beat up Triple-A pitching last season and was solid in the Major Leagues – particularly once he started seeing a little bit of regular playing time.
Travis Jankowski may be the toughest player on the 40-man roster to make an argument for. While he can play all three outfield spots, several others can also do that – and among that group, his bat projects to be the lightest among them. And he reportedly has one option year remaining, too, which could work against him.
Alex Blandino’s best chance to making the roster is one where the team isn’t comfortable enough with Kyle Farmer as the backup shortstop. If that’s the case, the Blandino, who has played a lot of shortstop in the minors, could get the nod as a utility guy who can cover third, second, short, or in a pinch first base or maybe some outfield where he’s had some limited action in the past.
And once you get away from the 40-man roster, you have someone like Derek Dietrich. As we all saw last year, when he’s locked in, he’s really locked in. He’s got a good history in the Major Leagues as an above-average hitter, and he’s capable of playing multiple spots in the field. His 2019 was one of incredibly dramatic splits between the start of the year through June 2nd, and then the rest of the year – but a shoulder injury could explain at least some of the second half failures at the plate and after offseason surgery if he’s healthy and shows out well in the greater Phoenix area in February and March it might be tough to keep him off of the roster.
The Reds front office and David Bell don’t have an easy decision or five ahead of them when it comes down to how this is going to play out. There are good reasons to think that four or five of these guys make a ton of sense on the roster, but there just aren’t that many spots available. It’s never a bad thing to have too many good options, but that doesn’t mean it’ll make for easy decisions, either.