Coming off a miserable 64-98 finish-- the team's worst since 1982-- the Cincinnati Reds have nowhere to go but up. Interestingly enough, the Reds are only two years removed from their last 90-win season. Much of the offensive core of the strong 2012-2013 Reds teams is still intact. With the likes of Joey Votto, Todd Frazier, Jay Bruce, and Devin Mesoraco representing a potentially productive home-grown offensive core, the Reds are probably closer to relevance than the typical 64-win team.
Walt Jocketty faces the difficult task of rebooting his major league team in what was the toughest division in baseball in 2015. If the Reds are to have any hope of contending in 2016, they will need a few rebounds and a few breakouts. Here we will look at a few of the players that may provide Reds fans a reason for guarded optimism next year.
Top Candidate: Raisel Iglesias. In his October report on Cincinnati's rookie starters, John highlighted many of the reasons to be excited about Iglesias heading into 2016. In 95.1 innings during his rookie campaign, the Cuban import registered impressive peripheral markers including 9.82 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, and a 3.28 xFIP. His mediocre 4.15 ERA obscures his overall talent level. Given all of the challenges he faced in his transition to pro-ball in the U.S., I am wildly optimistic about what his career could look like going forward.
In a seven game stretch from August through the start of September, Iglesias looked like one of the best pitchers in baseball. That period culminated in three starts with double-digit strikeouts giving fans a sense of what Iglesias could be in the long run. Ultimately, the Reds shut him down in mid-September as a precaution against the fatigue of an increased workload at the highest level.
It is clear that Iglesias is much better than the bullpen arm many people expected when he signed in the summer of 2014. His ability to miss bats and dominate over extended outings gives him the highest ceiling of any Reds starter. Lefties were tough on Iglesias in 2015, handling him to the tune of a .332 wOBA. Pitch fX data indicates that his change up has the potential to be a serious weapon, but he only threw it 11.6% of the time last year. It could be that Iglesias is an adjustment to his approach and pitch usage away from conquering lefties and cementing his place at the top of the Reds rotation.
Dare to Dream: John Lamb. Acquired in July with fellow lefties Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed in exchange for Johnny Cueto, Lamb has a chance to bring surprising value back from the former Reds Ace as soon as this season. Once identified among the very top left-handed starting pitching prospects in the game, Lamb struggled in his recovery from 2011 Tommy John surgery. Where it once appeared Lamb may stand as a cautionary tale working contrary to the dangerous perception that the surgery can actually be beneficial, it now seems Lamb has a chance to be a difference-maker for the Reds.
His stuff, including a low-90s fastball, strong change, and respectable curve looks as though it has finally returned to a semblance of what it was before the surgery. Although his ten game trial for the Reds was uneven, Lamb's Triple A showing for Omaha in the PCL and Louisville in the International League would seem to indicate he is on the verge of getting his career back on track. In 20 starts between the two teams, Lamb went 111 innings with a 2.67 ERA, 9.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9.
Lamb is now coming off two straight seasons where he has handled a regular work load. He appears to be healthy with more than enough stuff and command to succeed in the major leagues. Like Iglesias, Lamb's peripheral numbers are cause for optimism. Despite a 5.80 ERA in the Majors, Lamb finished with 10.51 K/9, 3.44 BB/9, and 3.73 xFIP. With numbers like that, I am giving Reds fans permission to #daretodream on a great John Lamb redemption story starting this year.
Rookie Watch: Jesse Winker. After conquering Double A with an impressive 137 wRC+ in 2015, it's safe to say we can eagerly await Winker's arrival in the Majors this coming season. Service time considerations being what they are, Winker will probably begin the season in Triple A. There doesn't appear to be much left for him to prove in the minors as he demonstrated strong control of the strike zone with 74 walks against 83 strikeouts in 526 plate appearances.
Winker's ultimate ceiling will probably hinge on whether or not he develops more than average playable power but at 22, he has time. There is some speculation that Jay Bruce could be shopped this winter. Even if the veteran right fielder returns, left field is fairly wide open at this point. The exact time of his arrival will probably hinge on a combination of Winker's individual performance and the team's overall status. Regardless, I expect Winker to make his debut this year, and he appears polished enough to contribute quickly. To a Reds team all too familiar with veterans ranging from mediocre to awful (I'm looking at you, Skip) in left field, Winker provides another reason to be excited about 2016.
Final Notes: I resisted the urge to do the easy thing and put Billy Hamilton into this article. His 2014 season proved that he can be valuable even with pedestrian offensive numbers. His BABIP is remarkably low for a player with his pure speed. A correction in that department alone would go along way as being on base to wreak havoc is where his true value lies. With that said, there were so few signs of progress in 2015 that I can't find much optimism for him right now.
In September, John mentioned he believes Anthony DeSclafani may have another gear. He represents another intriguing arm beyond Iglesias and Lamb.
The other player worth keeping an eye on is Adam Duvall. Heading into his age 27 season, Duvall should be entering his prime. In an era where power hitting is both prized and increasingly scarce, the Reds landed some under-valued property when they picked up Duvall in the Mike Leake trade. It's fairly unusual to see a player with three 30 homer seasons on his resume and so little Major League time to show for it. His window to carve out a starting role is small given the presence of Votto, Frazier, and Bruce on the corners with Winker coming quickly. Even still, a player with this power and the ability to play multiple positions should have a nice career in the National League.