Here we are for round three of this column and it’ll be the last one before spring training is effectively over. The Cincinnati Reds, very soon, will find themselves at a crossroads. Which veterans do they hang on to or give prominent roles to, and which new kids get a shot? I’ve said that most of the premise of this column is that the Reds should be trying to be as interesting as possible while also getting to good as fast as possible. This is a good time to articulate what that means.

There are scenarios where the Reds win the most games this year by playing all the guys they’ve got who are in or about to be in their 30’s. Guys who have been starters or role players for other teams. Guys from whom you generally know what you’re getting. That’s a low risk, low reward strategy. It might get you 74 wins instead of 70. And it’s not any fun.

Then there’s the scenario where every young guy gets every possible chance. The farm system is loaded, but we don’t know what the Reds have until they let these kids play. It could be a disaster. It could be another 100 loss season (I don’t think that will happen, but it could). But, every single miraculous scenario that involves the Reds over-performing and squeaking into a wild card spot or even just to 80 wins involves playing as many of the prospects as possible. It’s high risk, high reward, and a lot more interesting. 

The question then, is where do they start. Will Benson already seems destined for a lot of time in the outfield, so I’m not going to worry too much about him. In fact, the outfield seems pretty set in general. Benson, Jake Fraley, and Wil Myers will probably get most of the time to start with TJ Friedl and Nick Senzel (whenever he gets back on the field) also getting time. There’s a wild card here that involves one of the shortstop prospects shifting to center. That, believe it or not, is a best case scenario because it means at least two of them have forced the issue on a major league level. Let’s not get that ambitious quite yet.

So the opportunities (at least among position players) for now involve the infield and the designated hitter. There are three players who still have the qualification to count as new and/or young who are part of the discussion.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand is fun. He’s also probably part of being good again. Will he make the team? None of us knows yet, but if he keeps at it, he really ought to get a shot. He can play first, third, and DH. Joey Votto may or may not be ready for Opening Day. And so, I think I’d have to give him a shot. It’s also worth noting that the projection systems see him as around league average despite not having played above AA.

Spencer Steer has a spot locked up already, but there’s substantial overlap between him and Encarnacion-Strand. He also is projected to be something close to average by the projection systems. And he is also, hopefully, part of the next good team. He needs 400-500 plate appearances to show whether he can do it or not. No jumping ship because he has a rocky stretch. Some guys take a minute.

And then there’s Jose Barrero. Someone for whom we need an answer. Has he had a great spring? Nope. It’s generally been fine. But he has to start. Kevin Newman might be the best shortstop on the team right now in terms of major league readiness. But he has 1600 MLB plate appearances and has generated a total of 2.0 WAR. He is not a starting shortstop on a playoff team. Put another way, they difference between what Newman is likely to give you what Barrero could give you is the perfect case study from above. Barrero could be awful. He could also put the hand injury behind him and show the potential he’s always had. Kevin Newman is gonna give you maybe 1 WAR. You can more or less count on it. But a starting shortstop job for him has nothing to do with making the Reds competitive.

In two weeks, I’ll be back and spring training will be over. And I just might find myself disagreeing with some choices the Reds have made. We’ll see. But right now, the Reds have a chance to go young and see what happens. That’s the way that’s the most fun and it’s the way that potentially leads to the most winning. And they should do it.

40 Responses

  1. Randy in Chatt

    Good article. Those were the questions I had as well. I want Barrero to do well. Don’t understand all the dismissiveness when it comes to him from some on this site. He is young, had a hand injury and has done very well in AAA. He is also a stud defender. His potential far outweighs Newman. His issue is confidence right now. I hope it continues to build. If he has anywhere near an average year, it will be a plus. I like the idea of him at SS and EDLC at centerfield and CES somewhere in the lineup. I’m hoping for a good year from him. Newman seems to be a David Bell kind of guy. But so was Kyle Farmer and Krall seemed to alter Bell’s lineup at the end of last season. So who knows.

    It is Krall who sets the 40 and Bell who sets the lineups. We will see how that all shakes out. Bell may not have as much affinity to play the young kids because the bottom line for most manager’s jobs is the W’s. If he feels that his job security is anywhere in peril, he will play for the wins over the potential/young kids experience. I don’t blame him for that but I’d rather see the young guys play too. Bell will probably manage with a short-term gain over long-term benefit approach. We’ve seen that before. Many here do not want to see that.
    Let’s see who has the last word. Krall or Bell and the Bell-backers in the FO. It will be interesting to see.

    • Optimist

      A few comments to this and the general points.

      1 – Doubtful that there’s much distance between Bell, Krall and ownership as far as “playing for wins”, or how the 40-man and lineups are set. Another way of considering it is the likelihood that anyone is fired during the season. Sure they did it with Price, but they could have repeated that last season and didn’t – so, don’t expect it this season.

      2 – Seems like they decided, rightfully, that CES is not a third basemen. That won’t affect his prospect status much at all, but I’m still hopeful the 26-man spot will go to Fairchild, and Myers plays some 1b while Joey eases back into the lineup. That, and the hints CES hasn’t played at AAA, doesn’t have much time in MiLB and so forth . . . But, if he lights it up in Louisville thru May, he needs to be the first “interesting as possible” callup.

      3 – Completely agree about Barrero – if he doesn’t have 150 PAs by Memorial Day and no games other than at SS, they’re still meek and hesitant and tip-toeing into the 2024 roster. Ideally, Barrero needs 350 PAs this season to determine his role beyond this season.

    • Jim t

      @Randy I don’t think it is that simple. It isn’t as simple as Bell wanting to manage a particular way. He has 26 players on this team who he has to mold into one team. It’s not old versus young. All players have goals and want long productive careers. Manager’s job is to play the players who give him the best chance to win. If he deviates from that and plays just for the future the FO should assemble the roster to allow that to happen without penalizing older players. If you’re not going to play the best players release them. Farmer played his but off last year and his performance earned his playing time. It enabled him to move on and advance his career. He earned it. Many on here wanted him benched so younger players could try out. I’m an old fan, actually 70 years old. How about this players earn their positions or opportunities. If a vet isn’t playing well replace him with a young player who has demonstrated through his play he has earned the chance.

      • Randy in Chatt

        I guess we will see.

        On the last statement, it is a huge question on veterans playing until replaced, what will that do to younger players not playing as much and deterring their development?. If all things were equal, play the younger guys. The older players can handle a limited role better.

  2. Votto4life

    I really don’t get the logic that says this team can’t lose 100 games again this season. They lost 100 games last year with four solid starting pitchers at the start of the year. Now, they have two solid starting pitchers. They also had contributions last from guys like Drury, Solano, Pham etc.

    This team has a good farm system ( even though their best prospects haven’t played above AA), but that is because they have very little in the way of major league talent.

    Even if the likes of EDLC and Marte break through this season, the Reds will still have the worst bullpen in the league. Ask the Nationals how they did with Juan Soto and no pitching.

    • Doc

      They had “four solid starting pitchers at the start” of the season last year, but they started 3-22! So, with only two solid starting pitchers they can only be 3 wins worse than last year through the first 25 games, and only need four wins in 25 games to be better. Twenty five games is 5 starts for Greene and 5 starts for Lodolo. I’d take the over three wins.

      People talk about the stronger starting pitching staff last year at the start of the season but the game is played on the field and measured by wins and losses, not the perceived strength of players. There is not a single advanced metric that has supplanted wins and losses. There are those who contend that wins and losses for pitchers are becoming irrelevant. But that is the only measure of the team at the end of the season. Pitchers are the only ones who get assigned a W or an L, so you either contribute to a good bottom line or you don’t.

      • Jimbo44CN

        Here here. Agree completely with you Doc.

    • MBS

      Greene, and Lodolo we’re not solid pitchers to start the year, (only after their injures were they solid) and Castillo was injured. We had 1 solid pitcher to start the year, Mahle. I’d easily argue that a healthy Greene, Lodolo, and Ashcraft are better than the combo of pitchers we had last year.

      The pen isn’t much better than last year, and needed more help than our super thin rotation. However we might actually have a closer in Diaz, so that’s at least we shouldn’t have to watch the revolving door of closers blowing lead after lead.

      We also finished last year getting weaker by trading away our best players, this year we should be getting better to finish the year by adding good young players. I think 70 is a likely high, and 65 a likely low, but who knows for sure.

      • Votto4life

        You have more faith in this pitching staff than I do. If Greene or Lodolo miss any time or underperform the bottom will come out of the tub very quickly.

        You just can’t come into a season with a terrible bullpen and 60% of your starting rotation being question marks.

        I think it’s whistling passed the graveyard to think this pitching staff is going to be able to hold their own.

        Seriously, if you were looking at any other team but the Reds, would you think this team is anything but a disaster?

      • MBS

        Pitching is the teams biggest weakness. I’m just saying it’s still better than last years if those 3 stay healthy.

        During the offseason I wanted to get 1 closer, 1 setup man, and 1 starter, and we got none of these. People would say we’re going to have Antone, Sims, and Santillan back so we don’t need them.

        I also wanted Benintendi, we got Myers and Benson, a much less expensive solution, if Myers has a renaissance, and Benson plays like a 1st rounder, it could work out better.

        I wanted Josh Bell, and we got no one.

        I wanted to trade for Moreno, and we got Casali, and Maile.

        So no, I don’t see this team as a good team, but I do think they are better than a 100 loss team, just not much better.

      • Votto4life

        @MBS I understand. Don’t get me wrong, I do think the Reds have some talented players in their system. EDLC, CES, Benson and Marte and the like, all offer hope. But even if most of these players end up contributing at the major league level, the pitching is not going to be good enough to sustain them.

        Maybe, when the time comes to trade India and Stephenson, the front office will focus on #getthepitching.

  3. Doc

    I’ve commented previously, but it fits this article well, that I think Reds fans will tolerate and eagerly follow a young, hungry group of players even if the losses mount, but they will not support or tolerate a mediocre season, even if a few more wins, from a line up made from also rans and never weres. If the Reds are not going to be competitive in 2023 anyway, then at least be an entertaining glimpse into the future.

    If David Bell’s future depends on wins, then he probably doesn’t have a future. But if it depends on developing players to set the stage for the future, I hope Krall gives him plenty of young guys. Votto probably is the only one who deserves an aging tour, and that should be tempered to allow development of the next generation.

    • LDS

      +1000000. The only objection to making Bell play the young guys is how badly he’ll screw them up.

  4. Pablo

    Any predictions for the attendance number on Opening Day? Can they crack 30K? I’ll be kind of surprised if they do.

    • Optimist

      Sure – a sellout – the tradition, parade and essential holiday all still matter. That said, the much more interesting question is the weekend attendance – especially if the weather is iffy. If either of those games is >10,000, watch out below. Last year was an anomalous start, and included many games with lots of opposing fans in the stands. Doubt Pirate fans make it a weekend in Cincinnati, so the 2nd and 3rd games may reveal a lot.

      • TR

        Up until the recent Bengals breakout, Steelers fans loved the annual fall weekend in Cincy.

      • Optimist

        Sure, but how many of them are Pirate fans? Don’t underestimate Buc fans’ enthusiasm. Well below the Reds.

    • MBS

      I got my tickets, plus my 3 friends that are going with me. So I’d guarantee opening day has at least 4 people.

    • Votto4life

      I think the Reds will sell out on Opening Day. It’s a tradition, plus most people who attend opening Day are casual fans. They care mostly about drinking beer, taking selfies and being seen.

      • Votto4life

        I also think opening day will be the only sell out of the season.

    • TR

      The usual fullhouse; 42,000 plus. But the second and third games of the series both won’t come close to that figure.

  5. redfanorbust

    When to bring up the prospects to the bigs IMO should be on a case by case basis. Just because a prospect has promise does not mean he should be brought up. Certain players need more time at AA, AAA and would actually hurt their development more if they were at GABP too soon. Mixing and matching seasoned players with rookies is inevitable. The real problem with is the Reds not wanting to spend any serious money during this rebuild on seasoned players so that is why we play the cast offs and retreads. I have maintained all along next year will be the true test if the Reds spend their saved money with Votto’s and Moustakas’s salaries off the books, on a few serious above average players to argument the young’ens so that we can finally be a wild card contender. If the choose to pocket that money, well let’s just say it would probably be a huge mistake for so many different reasons.

  6. MuddyCleats

    I think the Maile, 3 catcher idea needs to go away considering how well other prospects are performing and the progress of Votto. Nice guy I am sure, but nothing in his past screams “he’s a keeper.” Not sure if he still has minor league options left or not? If Myers is going to steal CES’s opportunity at 1st, then Reds will need to keep an additional OF. I assume Senzel will get the nod, but we all know, he’s not ready! He needs to go to AAA and finish heeling and getting his swing together.

    • MBS

      It’s hard to get 13 bats a lot of work, and young prospects are better served getting everyday playing time in AAA, than spots starts in the MLB. I don’t think keeping the 3 C’s will be a problem this year. Maybe when the prospects are pushing people out, we’ll trade away Casali or Maile to make room for the hot prospect.

    • greenmtred

      Since it seems that Stephenson is likely to be spending considerable time not catching, would one other catcher be enough?

  7. SultanofSwaff

    I have all the confidence in the world in our top 3 starters, but 4 and 5 are going to be a crapshoot every time out. Sadly, Abbott isn’t quite ready, for he is the most polished out of the starter candidates. For the first 50 games to be a pleasant surprise, we’re gonna need some unexpected performances from the back of the rotation and the setup men in the bullpen. If there were a deal to be had this early in the season, I wouldn’t hesitate to trade away some prospect capital (NO ONE in the top 5 tho) to fill a rotation spot.

    More than anything though, this team was sooo banged up last year–double the number of games missed as a MEDIAN team.

    I still don’t know why Cleveland was willing to trade Benson for a 2nd rounder. You look at their OF (not including Kwan) and it’s a whole lot of meh…especially when you look at the peripherals. He and Barrero having good seasons opens a world of possibilities to accelerate the opening of the competitive window.

    • David

      I think Benson was on the Guardians 40 man roster, and it was a crunch between keeping him (a player who had NOT progressed as that organization thought he would) and getting him out, to open a space on their 40 man roster. They got a lower minors (good) prospect to fill their pipeline, so to speak.
      He is an impressive athlete, but whether he will hit in the ML is still a question. The Guardians are now thought to be a contender in 2023 (which surprised everybody last year), and they need to maximize their roster, etc. He just didn’t seem to be cutting it with them, but a change of scenery and more opportunity with the Reds might pay off.
      Looking at players, Solak, Pinder and Senzel all kind of seem to be the same player. Somebody to be versatile (Senzel was thought to be an elite 3rd baseman in college and in the minors), but hasn’t quite cut it as a hitter in the ML.
      I want CES to be on the Reds 26 man roster on Opening Day, but that probably isn’t going to happen (he would DH or play 1st). He will probably start out in AAA, but I hope he is on the 40 man, so they can call him up if he burns up AAA and the Reds’ offense is anemic. I think he is ready, although I am sure he would struggle at times in the ML.
      I think EDLC should start in AAA, and play short. Newman and Myers are candidates for mid-season trades, and if Newman goes, bring up EDLC to share SS with Barrero (for now). And also, how does Barrero play this year? Does he live up to his minor league reputation? EDLC is, after all, the Reds top prospect. And he is one incredible ball player, if you watch him just a bit.
      Steer will struggle some at 3rd base. Does India move back to his natural position (3rd base) and does Steer go to 1st or 2nd? Could Steer play LF, and share time with Fraley in LF? And does Fraley stay in LF, if Myers is playing 1st base/DH?
      Does McClain move to 2nd base in the minors this year with the potential traffic jam at SS?

      Who’s on first? Third base!

      • Harry Stoner

        All of the above.

        You just described a week in the “Bell Lineup Shuffle”.

  8. Melvin

    “Christian Encarnacion-Strand is fun. He’s also probably part of being good again. Will he make the team? None of us knows yet, but if he keeps at it, he really ought to get a shot.”

    it looks as though right now they’re not going to let him “keep at it”. He’s doing too good and the more he does the more they’re going to look bad for not keeping him up.

    • greenmtred

      Whether they’d look “bad” is contingent on how well he hits MLB pitching. If he needs to work on stuff, he needs to be where he can work on it.

      • Melvin

        They didn’t give him a chance to hit “real MLB pitching” this spring. How do they know if he will or will not be as good or better as anyone else on the team without that chance?

  9. Old-school


    Ces elly and McLain cut

    Lets go Pinder!!!

    • CI3J

      To the surprise of absolutely no one.

      I still say the Opening Day lineup will be:

      2B India
      SS Newman
      1B Myers
      LF Fraley
      C Stephenson
      DH Casali
      RF Ramos
      3B Pinder
      CF Friedl

      Barrero and Benson will ride the pine and neither will have more than 150 ABs before June.

      It’s really sad, the Reds have a bunch of young, exciting players, and a manager who absolute does not want them to play. And I can’t figure out why. Is it because Bell wants to win an extra 2 or 3 games each year? Really, is it that different losing 97 games instead of 100 games?

  10. Old-school

    EDLC to AAA

    That says hes #2 on organizational depth chart at SS and a call up away. Barrero #1

    • LDS

      Curiously, they moved the guys doing the best thus far, eg McLain and CES. Notice that Pinder is still here and starting tonight.

  11. Mark Moore

    Great article and good perspective. I’d be in the crowd that says play the young kids and let’s see what develops. I’m also one that believes DTBell is capable of messing them up, so there’s that.

    Keep the farm stacked at AAA because injuries will happen. I figure we have to be better than the 3-23 start from 2022. I still don’t know if I’ll make a trip to the Queen City or not to see a game or two. I’m also on the fence about getting my subscription before the annual 1/2-price sale. One thing I know for sure, I’ll be here at RLN with all my friends.

    • CI3J

      I’d like to hang around RLN this season, but what is there to discuss? I don’t really care if Pinder tweaks his swing a little or Myers goes 3 for 3 with 5 RBI.

      The only thing worth watching for this season is the 3 young pitchers + Barrero and Benson, neither of who I think Bell will play very often. The team name is Cincinnati Reds, but they’re really just a AAAA team who refuses to commit fully to the youth movement and the future. It’s hard to care or be excited about them, and even harder to find something to discuss about them.

      • Mark Moore

        I hear you. But I’ll still be here.

        Also, Pinder isn’t on the 40-man. That would take another move if he is to stay with the club in any capacity. Doesn’t mean DTBell and Bull Krall won’t make that happen, but it isn’t a slam dunk.