What big things lie ahead in the new year for Reds?

December 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon’s Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

CINCINNATI -- Welcome to the final Reds Beat newsletter for 2023. I hope you are all enjoying time with family and friends during the holidays.

The Reds accelerated their offseason activity in a major way during December with three free-agent signings to contracts totaling $87 million. By adding , and , they made improvements to their lineup, rotation and bullpen.

Spring Training 2024 is not that far away, and there is plenty of work left to be done before the Reds report to camp in Arizona.

Let's take a look at the Reds' situation heading into the new year.

Biggest question to answer before Spring Training
Can the Reds pick up an experienced starting pitcher?

The Reds have several young and exciting starting pitchers to contend for rotation spots. But those pitchers also have a lot of questions after the rotation dealt with injuries while posting the third-worst ERA in the Majors.

has had two seasons where he's dealt with injuries and has yet to establish himself as a true staff ace. had a rollercoaster campaign (results-wise) and finished on the injured list because of surgery to repair two fractured toes on his right foot. Lefty was limited to just seven starts because of a stress reaction in his left tibia.

Left-hander had a tremendous first 10 starts, but struggled down the stretch as he became fatigued. And yet another lefty, , showed a lot of growth after he came up in May, surpassing the promise shown in a tough stretch at Triple-A Louisville to begin the year. went through growing pains in his first month in the Majors, but spun a gem in his third start. Newcomer Martinez wants to crack the rotation -- he had some success in that role with the Padres, but he hasn't been a full-time starter the past two seasons.

Cincinnati wants to contend again in 2024 and make the playoffs after falling short with 82 wins in ‘23. But it missed out on Sonny Gray, who went to the Cardinals, and also didn't land Wade Miley, who returned to the Brewers. The Reds pursued Tyler Glasnow before the Rays dealt him to the Dodgers.

Having a proven pitcher who could provide 175 innings and make 30 starts would likely make the Reds the favorites among National League Central contenders.

One player poised to have a breakout season

McLain was one of several rookies who made the Reds a better club after his May 15 promotion. But sometimes it seemed his production was overshadowed by the dynamic fireworks of .

In 89 games last season, McLain batted .290 with an .864 OPS, 16 home runs, 50 RBIs and 14 steals. However, he missed all of September with a right oblique strain and was unable to contribute down the stretch. One sign of the spark the 24-year-old brought Cincinnati: The club was 18-22 before his arrival, and went 50-42 until he was injured.

Throughout, McLain's production remained consistent and his middle infield defense was fundamentally strong. 

Expected to be fully healthy by Spring Training and likely an everyday player at either second base or shortstop, McLain has a good chance to break out in his sophomore season with his 2023 experience behind him.

Prospect to watch in 2024

After multiple graduations, including De La Cruz, Marte ended the 2023 season as Cincinnati's No. 1 prospect -- and No. 23 overall -- according to MLB Pipeline.

Marte, 22, made his big league debut on Aug. 19 and got off to a slow start offensively. Ironically, he started clicking following a Sept. 9 pregame incident where he was hit on the face by a thrown ball that broke his nose. He batted .316 with an .822 OPS and three homers in 35 games overall while finishing the season with a 16-game hitting streak. It was Cincinnati's longest streak by a rookie since Benny Zientara in 1946.

Heading into 2024, Marte has a chance to play a lot, but how much remains to be seen. Although is moving to the outfield, Candelario is a corner infielder who plays both third base and first base. With continued success at the plate, Marte would have a chance to force the club's hand to keep him in the lineup.

One prediction for the new year
The Reds will make the postseason in 2024.

This isn't too bold of a prediction since Cincinnati won 82 games and just missed the playoffs last season. While it's unlikely that all of their young players from 2023 will have better sophomore seasons, several should still be able to build upon their rookie experiences and make forward progress in 2024. If that happens, and they keep pace with or ahead of their NL Central rivals, the Reds have every reason to feel like they could be a playoff team come October.