GOODYEAR, Ariz. — One thing is certain for the Reds in 2016:
They won’t fail to live up to expectations.
With pitchers and catchers set to report Thursday, a lot of the preseason predictions are out. None are good in the case of the Reds.
- ESPN’s David Schoenfield ranks them 30th among the 30 teams.
- Sports Illustrated is a bit kinder, putting them at 25th.
- USA Today predicts 100 losses.
The dire predictions are understandable. The Reds lost 98 games last year, and then proceeded to trade their two 2015 All-Stars, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, in the offseason.
The Reds have made no secret that they are in the early stages of a rebuilding program. They’ve been accumulating young talent since things went bad last season. The trades of Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake at the deadline put the rebuilding process into high gear.
Of 62 players on the spring roster, only seven have at least four years of service time. The new faces outnumber the familiar ones in the clubhouse.
“I feel like the rookie here,” shortstop Zack Cozart said. “A lot of unfamiliar faces. I don’t know everybody.”
“There’s a bunch of different faces in here,” said center fielder Billy Hamilton. “You want to get to know these guys and work with them.”
Cozart, a bit of veteran with four years’ big league time, hasn’t gone into a season like this in the majors. The Reds have been considered contenders pretty much every year since 2010.
“It’s weird,” Cozart said. “But in the past when we were picked to be better, it’s not like we went to the World Series or anything, like we thought we should.
“I think this year being under the radar could be a good thing. We’ve got a lot of young kids in here. It’s one of those things where they might bring some energy to the team. You don’t know how young kids are going to perform. They could come out and surprise everybody and be ready to go.”
J.J. Hoover, another semi-veteran, agreed.
“I think don’t think it matters what other people think we can and can’t do,” Hoover said. “A lot of people are writing us off because of the trades we made, but when you look at it, our lineup is really solid. We have the one question mark in left field.
“We have a young pitching staff that learned a lot last year. I think we can surprise some people. I don’t know what that means for this year. But I think we can be better than expected.”
Hoover is right about the lineup — if Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco return at full strength. Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Mesoraco and Jay Bruce are former All-Stars.
The Reds are counting on Eugenio Suarz to fill Frazier’s spot at third. The Reds are also going to need more offense out of Hamilton. And left field is wide open.
But pitching is the key.
Homer Bailey is out until May after Tommy John surgery. Right-handers Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias are locks for two of the other spots in the rotation. But three of starters will come from a field of many. Left-hander Brandon Finnegan and Cody Reed and right-handers John Lamb, Michael Lorenz, Jon Moscot, Keyvius Sampson and Robert Stephenson all are in the mix.
The bullpen is also in flux. Hoover, Jumbo Diaz and Tony Cingrani are probably the only locks going into spring training.
All the trades are added great depth to the minor league system. Baseball America rated six Reds in the top 100 prospects in the baseball: Robert Stephenson (32), Cody Reed (34), Jesse Winker (51), Jose Peraza (66), Amir Garrett (73) and Tyler Stephenson (98).
There’s a chance none of the six break camp with the Reds.
Hope springs eternal throughout baseball. The Reds, despite the predictions, are no exception.
“We’re not going into the season thinking we’re going to be bad,” Cozart said. “We’re going into the season thinking we’re going to compete, play hard and anything can happen. It’s baseball. You’ve got to play the games. We’re wanting to be the team that’s everyone’s talking about. Like the Astros. Nobody thought the Astros were going to be good. Now, everybody thinks they’re going to be good. That’s how we want to be.
“We're definitely not down. We’re as positive as we can be.”
Nearly all of the players invited to camp were at the complex two days before the first official workout. Part of that is a lot of them are fighting for jobs.
“Everybody is here to battle and compete,” Hamilton said. “It’s a big motivation for us that everybody’s put us last. That’s the thing we talk about here: Competing. The guys here want to compete. It’s not about how many big-name players you have.
“I feel like we can compete. Everybody’s going to be ready to go. I’m excited about this year.”