CINCINNATI - As recently as 2013, the Reds entered spring training with the roster pretty much set. You knew who was going to be in the rotation, the starting eight and most of the bullpen. A few bench positions and bullpen spots were all that were up for grabs.
Let’s just say that’s not the case this year.
You have open tryouts for the pitching staff. Left field is wide open. Third base is unsettled.
The Reds will start to get some answers shortly when spring training begins in Goodyear, Ariz. Pitchers and catchers report Feb. 18.
So let’s look at the nine big questions eight days before they start throwing the ball around in Goodyear:
1. The Rotation
I’ve gotten the “Who’s in the Opening Day rotation” question dozens of times on Twitter. I tried to answer differently each time. After all, there are infinite possibilities. You have five spots, and probably 10 legitimate candidates.
Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias will occupy three spots once Bailey is healthy. Michael Lorenzen is next in the Power Ratings.
John Lamb, Brandon Finnegan, Jon Moscot, Keyvius Sampson, all of whom made starts for the Reds last year, line up after Lorenzen. The biggest question is whether the Reds would go with Robert Stephenson or Cody Reed, the top two prospects in the system. They need more time in the minors, but, if they dominate in the spring, what’s the downside of putting them on the fast track?
2. Meso’s hip/Cozart’s knee
Catcher Devin Mesoraco is coming off left hip surgery to correct an impingement. He hasn’t caught since the second week of last season. Mesoraco has said the hip feels fine. The Reds are likely to take it slow with him. Having him behind the plate for 120-plus games is essential for the Reds to have a chance of exceeding expectations.
Zack Cozart had a devastating knee injury. Like Mesoraco, Cozart says he’s ready. But playing the game at big league speed after a big injury is a major test. Cozart’s calling card is his defense. He needs his range to play at a high level.
3. Who closes?
With Aroldis Chapman out of the picture, the Reds need a closer. J.J. Hoover is the most likely to close going into camp. Jumbo Diaz is probably the next option. The bullpen in general is in flux. The Reds have to look at some of the young pitchers — Finnegan, Amir Garrett, Sampson — to fill spots.
They could also decide that Lorenzen, a closer in college, is best suited to return to the bullpen. He would be a candidate to close if he did.
4. Can Hamilton throw?
Billy Hamilton won’t really test his arm until he gets to Goodyear. He had surgery in mid-September. He was still feeling the effects on some throws in January workouts. Hamilton has to be able to play top-shelf defense to be in the lineup.
5. How’s Phillips’ attitude?
The Reds tried to trade Brandon Phillips in the offseason. He rejected the trade. He wasn’t happy after the Reds tried to trade him in 2013. With a lot of young players around, the Reds really don’t need Phillips to be a distraction.
6. How’s the new coaching arrangement work?
The Reds shuffled the coaching staff. The biggest move was replacing pitching coach Jeff Pico with Mark Riggins. Third base coach Jim Riggleman becomes bench coach. Billy Hatcher takes over as third base coach.
7. Who’s in left?
It sounds like Plan A is to platoon Adam Duvall and Scott Schebler. Yorman Rodriguez, who is out of options, is another possibility. The Reds think Jesse Winker could use more time in the minors, but he could play his way into the picture with a big spring.
8. Can Suarez play third?
Eugenio Suarez showed he could hit after taking over for the injured Cozart. The plan is to move Suarez to third, the position vacated by the Todd Frazier trade. Suarez struggled at times with his defense at shortstop. Third is a whole other challenge. If he can’t cut it there, would the Reds add him to the field competing for left?
9. Where does Peraza play?
The Reds obtained Jose Peraza with the idea of playing him at second base. That plan blew up when Phillips rejected the trade. Peraza has played center and short, as well. With Cozart and Hamilton coming off injuries, they can play him in those spots and consider him for a utility spot. He also could start the year in the minors, as Suarez did last year.