Health key to Reds' success in 2023
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds spent 2022 beginning the painful first stages of a rebuilding effort. They will spend 2023 looking to see signs of progress and the building blocks of success.
During what was only the second 100-loss season in the franchise's history, Cincinnati got off to a very rough 3-22 start. The club most definitely needs a better performance out of the gate, and it has reasons to believe that can happen.
Starting pitchers Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft form an exciting top of the rotation as they enter their sophomore seasons. Catcher Tyler Stephenson is back after an injury-filled season. With a system that will also get him time at designated hitter and first base, Stephenson could be in the lineup almost daily. Second baseman Jonathan India is fit and healthy after being banged up in '22 and can be a catalyst from the top of the order.
Reliever Alexis Díaz is also back for his second big league season and potentially gives the Reds a legitimate closer option after an impressive rookie year. After a down year in '22, free agent acquisition Wil Myers has a track record for providing offense and will be seeking to rebound with his new team.
Whatever the Reds prove to be in 2023, it all starts on Opening Day Thursday vs. the Pirates at Great American Ball Park.
What needs to go right?
A lot, really. The rebuild is still young, and the Reds are relying on a lot of younger players without much Major League ready depth. The team was shredded by injuries in 2022, which forced Cincinnati to use a team-record 66 players. Keeping everybody healthy will be paramount in '23.
Offensively, the Reds in 2022 were ranked 26th with a .676 OPS and 21st with a .235 team average. Having a lineup that scores more runs and supports the pitching staff will be key.
Greene, Lodolo and Ashcraft must keep improving, and all three have shown signs of progress already in Spring Training. The bullpen, which ranked 29th in ERA last season (6.68), is now anchored by Díaz and has more proven options for manager David Bell. If the starters can go deeper, the bullpen will be set up for a better chance at success.
Will Joey Votto be fully back and contributing?
Coming off the worst offensive season of his career and an August surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff and biceps in his left shoulder, the 39-year-old Votto is entering the final guaranteed season of a 10-year, $225 million contract. Camp started with the first baseman on a modified routine before he started playing games in the second half of Spring Training.
Votto, who has been with the Reds since debuting in 2007, batted .205 with a .689 OPS -- both career lows -- and 11 home runs and 41 RBIs in 91 games in '22. The club's hope is that he can bounce back to be the same hitter who slugged 36 homers with 99 RBIs in 2021.
Team MVP will be ... Jonathan India
Banged up last season by multiple leg injuries and limited to 103 games, India was not able to follow up his 2021 National League Rookie of the Year award-winning season with better results in '22. After he bulked up to gain power after the '21 season, the 26-year-old did the opposite heading into this season. He came to Spring Training on a mission and was noticeably thinner to improve mobility and speed. It's been on display throughout camp.
In the more recent days, India's bat has still shown pop with scorching line drives. With a strong mental outlook as well, he could be the catalyst that paces the Reds lineup from the top of the order.
Team Cy Young will be ... Nick Lodolo
Lodolo will certainly have competition with both Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft. Once he got beyond an early-season back injury in 2022, the left-handed Lodolo showed what he could do with his fastball and a big sweeping curveball that comes at the backfoot of right-handers while crossing them up. Many times, that pitch hits batters on the foot while they're whiffing. The curveball has been quite effective again during Spring Training and it could help propel Lodolo to more success in 2023.
Bold prediction: Not only will India top all big league leadoff hitters in home runs in the coming season, he will be the 2023 NL Comeback Player of the Year while showing he's back to the player that came on the scene as a rookie two seasons ago.