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Fay: Here's your (best guess) 2018 Reds lineup

Team stockpiling talent in minors during rebuild
Posted at 5:00 AM, Aug 15, 2016

CINCINNATI -- You’ve got Billy Hamilton leading off. Joey Votto you have in the third hole. But from there, you’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts.

We’re talking about the Reds 2018 Opening Day lineup. Why ’18? That’s when the Reds can hope against hope that they’ll be competitive again. In a perfect world, maybe even good.

Of the current lineup, the only ones with set spots are Hamilton and Votto -- and even Hamilton cannot be considered an absolute lock.

Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez also likely will be in the lineup in 2018. The question is where.

The Reds have been stockpiling talent as the rebuild continues. Among position players, the bulk of the additions are middle infielders. Since the trade deadline last year, they’ve added Jose Pereza and Dilson Herrera through trade. They are currently playing shortstop and second at Louisville.

With Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips almost certainly gone by ’18, Pereza and Herrera are projected as the double-play combination. But it’s not that simple.

The Reds also used the second pick in the draft to take Nick Senzel, a third baseman. Senzel’s off to a terrific start as a professional. He’s hitting .310/.414/.556 with six home runs and 22 RBI in 126 at-bats at Single-A Dayton. There’s a good chance Senzel could be ready by ’18.

“He’s the clear No. 1 prospect,” said J.J. Cooper, managing editor of Baseball America, the bible of player development.

Third baseman Nick Senzel is off to a terrific start at Single-A Dayton. “He’s the clear No. 1 prospect,” says one expert. (File photo)

Suarez is playing third base now, and he’s looked good there after a shaky start. Part of the reason for the shaky start is this is Suarez’s first time playing third on a regular basis. He came up as a shortstop, so he could move back there or to second. His bat is going to keep him in the lineup.

That would mean moving Peraza to left or second.

The Reds also signed Alfredo Rodriguez, a 22-year-old Cuban shortstop, to a $7 million contract. He may not be ready by ’18. He’s currently playing in the Dominican Summer League, the lowest level of the minors. But it’s clear from the price tag that the Reds think highly of him.

“We all think he’s an everyday shortstop with a chance to play plus defense,” scouting director Chris Buckley said upon the signing. “He’s a very smooth defensive infielder, a good line-drive bat and a plus runner. We were impressed with his all-around defensive actions. It’s very hard to find an everyday shortstop who we liked everything about.”

So the Reds are going to have to sort out the middle infielders.

The picture in the outfield isn’t any clearer. Hamilton’s bat has come along nicely lately, so he’s going to be in center, where barring a trade he’s a Gold Glove-caliber defender. Duvall has been playing left with Scott Schebler in right. It’s likely the Reds will transition Duvall to right this offseason because his arm is superior to Schebler’s.

Jesse Winker, who came into this season as the Reds’ top-rated position player, is also a left fielder. Winker, 22, hits for average (.296) and gets on base (.383), but he hasn’t shown much power. He had only two home runs in 294 at-bats in Triple A.

The catcher will be Devin Mesoraco, if he’s healthy – a large if, I know. If he’s not, it will be Tucker Barnhart.

Got all that?

The starting eight?

So here’s my best guess at the Opening Day lineup for 2018:

  • Hamilton – CF
  • Senzel – 3B
  • Votto – 1B
  • Duvall – RF
  • Winker – LF
  • Mesoraco – C
  • Suarez – SS
  • Peraza – 2B

The starting pitcher on Opening Day 2018 will be either Homer Bailey or Anthony DeSclafani. Left-hander Brandon Finnegan has made a strong case for the third spot lately.

The other slots will go to two of the three tops prospects -- Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson or Amir Garrett.

The other possibility is the Reds move Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen or both back to the rotation. Given their success in the bullpen, though, I don’t think they’ll go that route.

I’d project Iglesias as the ’18 closer at the moment, with Lorenzen as a top set-up man. Or it could be vice-versa. I see Tony Cingrani as the late-inning left-hander.

That has the makings of a competitive club. And if players continue to develop, maybe even a good club. Another large if, I know.