GOODYEAR, Ariz. — As I head home after 17 days of watching the Reds throw the ball around and swing the bat, I see a path to respectability in 2016. Not path to the postseason. And certainly not a path to World Series.
But I think this team could flirt with .500 if a lot of things go right. Let’s start with ifs:
- If Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart are healthy.
- If Billy Hamilton is just experiencing some normal soreness in his shoulder and can hit a bit, say .250 or so.
- If Eugenio Suarez can play adequate defense at third.
- If Jay Bruce remains a Red and finds his hitting stroke.
- If Joey Votto hits somewhat like he did in the second half last year.
- If Homer Bailey is back in the rotation by mid-May.
- And, here’s the biggest of them all: If the young pitching comes around.
Really the Reds' season revolves around the young pitching. The lineup, again, if healthy, will score enough runs to be competitive. The Reds scored seven fewer runs than the Cardinals last year. The Cardinals won 100 games.
The Reds took their lumps last year -- 98 losses worth of lumps -- largely because they ran out a rookie starter every day after July 31. Those starters all will theoretically be better for the experience.
The Reds will probably start the year with Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen, Raisel Iglesias, Jon Moscot and Brandon Finnegan in the rotation. But they have good depth behind the starting five. Bailey and John Lamb will both be ready some time in May.
But the real depth comes with young arms. The Reds probably have their best collection of young arms in camp ever, certainly in the last 30 years. Robert Stephenson started Wednesday’s game and was followed by Cody Reed. Stephenson is 23, Reed is 22. The Reds haven’t had two young pitchers with so promise since Johnny Cueto and Edison Volquez showed up in 2008.
Stephenson struck out Francisco Lindor to start the game with a pitch that Bryan Price and his coaches had trouble figuring out whether it was a curveball or split. When coaches can’t identify your pitches, hitters are going to struggle to figure them out as well.
“It was a nice pitch,” Price said. “I try to separate between (his splitter) and his curveball, because we ask him that same question from time-to-time -- if that was a good, hard curveball or if it was a split. If it went away from him, then it was a split. That's the pitch everyone's been talking.”
Stephenson and Reed are terrific talents. One of the big calls in camp will be whether the Reds deem them ready to start the year in the majors. If the Reds were in win-now mode, there’s little question about what they do. (The best win-now plan might be to put Stephenson and Reed in the rotation and Lorenzen and Finnegan in the bullpen. That’s another column).
But the Reds are in the rebuilding mode, so it makes sense to do what’s best long-term for Stephenson and Reed. That probably means starting Stephenson and Reed in Triple-A. That might aid their develop and it would definitely delay the free agent clock on them.
Price has talked about both for the bullpen. He’s also mentioned the second-tier of prospects -- Amir Garrett, Nick Travieso, Sal Romano -- as bullpen possibilities as well. The Reds also have some young guys who put up good numbers in relief in the minors, like Zack Weiss, Layne Somsen, Drew Hayes.
The club sounds committed to going with young guys rather than try to patch together with bargain-basement veterans like Kevin Gregg and Burke Badenhop, as they did last year.
If those young arms are as good as the Reds think, there could be a path to respectability.
John Fay is freelance sports columnist. This column represents his opinion.