Reds 2021 Spring Training Preview [Part 1 – Position Players]

With Spring Training now officially underway following a slate of exhibition games against minor league opposition last night, we look ahead to the coming Cincinnati Reds season. Projected to be a season of growth, rather than glory, the Reds are targeting avoiding the disappointment of a last-place finish this year.

“We’re a young team”, said new GM Jason Toms, formerly of the Pirates. “Whatever we can do this year will be the foundation for next year. Then next year we’ll build on that foundation. And the year after we’ll build on that. Before long, we’ll have a… large wall, I guess. I was never good at analogies. But you get the point”.

When asked if that meant he didn’t intend to compete this year, the Brit replied “we’ll compete alright. I just don’t think we’ll be all that good”.

Reds Top Prospects (Per OSA)
1. SP Nate Pearson
2. SP Hunter Greene
3. INF Nolan Jones
4. INF Fernando Leguizamo
5. INF Royce Lewis
6. SP Alex Faedo
7. 3B Bubba Osborn
8. SP Alfred Johnson
9. 3B Brett Baty
10. SP Cole Wilcox
11. SP Stan Lee
12. SP Brennan Malone
13. INF Luis Garcia
14. C Noah Naylor
15. C Ernesto Pena

With the exception of Naylor and potentially Lee and Malone, all of Cincy’s top 15 prospects are expected to report to Goodyear, Arizona for at least the first few weeks of Major League Spring Training. A few (Lee and Malone included) should find themselves involved in the AA Pensacola lineups for the exhibition games against the Red Sox which at time of writing have not yet been played, but at time of publication probably will have been.

Reds 2021 Non-Roster Invitees
SP: Hunter Greene, Alfred Johnson, Nate Pearson
RP: Jaseel De Le Cruz, John McMillon.
1B: Cameron Montgomerie, Jeff Hanker, Ken Jackson
2B: Kevin Tidwell
3B: Kolbrin Vitek
OF: Rafael Reyes, Brandon Soleimani.

The majority of these players are the Reds’ own prospects, many of whom will have a legitimate hope of getting big league action this year. Jaseel de la Cruz is an international signing who, after 34 pretty poor innings as a starter, the Reds hope will become a bullpen piece as he does have two pretty good pitches, including a high-90s fastball, he just didn’t seem to have the command for a starting job. Montgomerie is an interesting case; a position of desperate need, a guy the new front office seems really high on, however has never played above rookie ball at the age of 23. Time will tell how that goes for him, it seems unlikely he’ll make the jump to the majors in one spring, but he might feature down the road.

A Reds player begins to slide into home plate against the rival St Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium.

Position Battles

Whilst some positions, like Catcher, are set in stone pretty much, first base is a battle royale, and there’s plenty of opportunity up the middle of the park. Let’s break down the position battles we’ll be keeping an eye on this spring.

Incumbent: Matt Wieters, Ronnie Baxter
Contenders: Ernesto Pena (Reds #15), Norm Horn.

This is one of the least competitive battles you’ll see in camp. Wieters is guaranteed a roster spot due to his salary and superb defence (his struggles in throwing out runners last season, it is believed, can in part be attributed to the Reds pitching staff’s below average ability to hold runners on base, with the noted exception of Peacock, rather than Wieters’ arm). The only real competition is for the backup job, which for Cincy would trend towards a more offensive player. If Baxter is supplanted, which is possible without a strong Spring as he has plenty of options left, my guess would be Ernesto Pena. The only question really is whether it happens this year or next.

First Base
Incumbent: Bill Pyke (now on the Rockies)
Challengers: Nick Delmonico, Edwin Gomez, Jeff Hanker, Ken Jackson, Rafael Lozano, Cameron Montgomerie, Matt Kirkland.

Hoo boy, this is going to be a barnstormer. It’s no secret that the front office want more defence from first base than they got last year from the proverbial tree-with-a-glove-nailed-to-it in Bill Pyke. It’s also no secret that the Reds made a play, though it’s not believed to have been a serious one, for Anthony Rizzo this off-season before bringing in seemingly every other first baseman under the Arizona desert sun. The feeling is that it’s Delmonico’s job to lose, with Hanker and Jackson very much on the outside looking in. Due to the aforementioned focus on solid defence, Lozano could be putting himself in the shop window more than fighting for a spot on the roster with Cincinnati. Cameron Montgomerie is a player the new front office are thought to be a LOT higher on than the old staff, especially with the new GM’s British heritage, however his lack of playing above rookie ball will likely severely hurt his chances of earning a roster spot this season – even if he comes in and hits the cover off the ball, he’s unlikely to play above AA to start the year.

Middle Infield
Incumbent: Dee Strange-Gordon, Doug Bell (now with the Phillies).
Challengers: Fernando Leguizamo (Reds #4), Hiroya Oshima, Chris Brown, Nolan Jones (Reds #3), Royce Lewis (Reds #5), Lewis Garcia (Reds #13), Kevin Tidwell.

Lumping 2B and SS together here, as it involves most of the same people. Last year’s primary shortstop, Doug Bell, is now a Philly, leaving one spot definitely up for grabs. It’s believed that Leguizamo has the inside track, having been officially promoted to the big league club prior to Spring Training along with Royce Lewis, however whether he ends up at second or third will likely depend on how dominoes fall elsewhere (namely, Bubba Osborn). Lewis seems a more obvious fit, defensively, for second base though hasn’t played there much in the minors ( being predominantly a shortstop so far). Strange-Gordon is a dead-cert to make the team, though it’s not clear yet whether he’ll be a starting middle infielder or a backup – he’s also expected to get some reps at centre field. Brown and Oshima are likely here to make up the numbers, though Oshima is as dependable as they come and Brown is no slouch offensively. Garcia and Jones are just here for the experience unless something unexpected happens (which it always does). Tidwell is essentially just making up the numbers, he doesn’t project to be a serious challenge for a roster spot.

Third Base
Incumbent: None (a bunch of players split time here, some of whom have left the club)
Challengers: Chris Brown, Matt Kirkland, Kobrin Vitek, Bubba Osborn (Reds #7), Fernando Leguizamo (Reds #4).

The hot corner was by far the most unsettled position last season, a whole host of players got time there and nobody really make it their own. Chris Brown is probably the closest player to an incumbent, but defensively has huge flaws at third, he profiles as more of a second baseman (though has less actual experience there than anywhere else he’s played). Kirkland seems the most natural fit to an outsider; big power bat, big arm, but he seemed to be out of favour with the new front office who used him almost exclusively as a bench bat after taking over last July. Kolbrin Vitek is a natural born leader, but doesn’t have much of a bat. Bubba Osborn is the new kid on the block and a potential gold glover down the line, but started 2020 at Advanced-A so he needs to prove he can hit big league pitching. If there’s still doubt about Bubba’s bat at the end of March, this spot has Leguizamo’s name on it.

Corner Outfield
Incumbents: Wil Myers, JD Martinez (now with the Dodgers)
Challengers: Brent Bowman, Jun Harada, Arturo Velasquez, Mark Dickey, Jose Ramirez, Rafael Reyes.

Mark Dickey has the best chance here, and will likely make the team. Elite defence in either corner, and a good enough bat in limited PA last year, he seems the obvious bet to progress from 4th OF to starter, there’s every chance he pushes Myers to left field so the Reds can capitalise on his superior defence in the more challenging position. Bowman is a contact hitter with no power who can only play corner outfield, he’ll struggle to get into this team (as he has in years past). Harada brings dependable defence with a big arm, but an ‘eh’ bat; along with Oshima they’re the definition of a quad-A player. Velasquez… I’m not even sure why he signed? I think originally as a first baseman, but then literally every other free agent first baseman signed, and he’s never played there, so whop knows? He’s a marginal defensive upgrade, but has never had an OPS+ above 100 in the majors, which isn’t what you want from a corner outfielder. My prediction would be Dickey in right, Myers in left. Maybe Bowman makes the roster as 4th OF because they can use Dee Gordon to cover center field.

Center Field
Incumbent: Jordan Whitehead/Will Anderson
Challengers: Brandon Soleimani, Albert Torres, Dee Strange-Gordon.

Another position that nobody really made their own last year after Maybin left. Will Anderson was absolutely horrible offensively, and to say that Whitehead was better is to say that a tree falling on your house is better than it burning down. It’s not a premium offensive position, but they do need something from it. Former Yankee prospect Soleimani hasn’t traditionally been known for his bat in the minors, but was at least better than the others. Torres is a groundball hitter who scouts have never really been high on, and defensively profiles as more of a left fielder, but he had a standout year at Pensacola (at left field, it should be noted). At 25, you have to think this is a make-or-break camp for him. Strange-Gordon is relatively untested at centre field in the major leagues, but offensively is a known quantity and his athleticism should play well out in center. I haven’t listed him above, but Velasquez could potentially get some starts in centre field too this spring.

Next time: ST Pitching Preview.

Nate Pearson, Reds #1 Prospect, should be turning a few heads at Goodyear this spring.

Leave a Reply