5 Reds primed for bounce-back seasons

Injuries set back Mesoraco, Bailey, Hamilton and Cozart in 2015

February 9th, 2016

Spring Training is just days away, a time when anticipation is at its highest for all baseball fans. This is the first of a series of preview stories that look at the 2016 Reds. In it, we consider players who are on the rebound. Upcoming stories will examine newcomers to the team, prospects who could contribute as well as projected lineups and pitching staff makeup.

CINCINNATI -- When a team wins 98 games, a lot has to go right during a season. For a team that loses 98 games, like the Reds did last season, a whole lot has to go wrong. For Cincinnati, attrition due to injuries took a large toll, but there were some disappointing performances that also contributed.

As the Reds enter a year of transition in an effort to get younger and build for the future, here are some returning players who will be counted on to have bounce-back seasons:

C Devin Mesoraco: A left hip impingement limited Mesoraco to just 23 games, including five starts behind the plate in 2015. After several attempts at therapy, he underwent hip surgery to repair a torn labrum on June 29. As of late January, Mesoraco has reported feeling normal again and doing all baseball activity. However, he acknowledged a big test for his hip will come once exhibition games begin. A healthy Mesoraco, who hit 25 home runs during an All-Star 2014 season, would be useful in the cleanup spot in the lineup.

SP Homer Bailey: After coming back from '14 surgery to repair a torn flexor mass near his right elbow, Bailey made only two starts in '15 before his elbow blew out altogether. A torn ulnar collateral ligament meant Tommy John surgery and a targeted return for sometime this May. There are still three seasons left on Bailey's six-year, $105 million contract. At this point, he will likely be the lone veteran in the rotation when he returns. Bailey is 58-51 with a 4.19 ERA in nine Major League seasons -- all with the Reds.

CF Billy Hamilton: It was a rough '15 at the plate for Hamilton. His efforts to come back better this season were made more difficult by a right shoulder injury that required late September arthroscopic surgery. Hamilton, who expects to be ready for Spring Training, batted .226/.274/.289 in 114 games with 57 stolen bases (second most in the National League). He was dropped from the leadoff spot to ninth prior to the injury. The '16 season will be a chance for him to prove he can switch-hit in the Major Leagues and regain his spot at the top of the order.

SS Zack Cozart:  A strong bounce-back season was already in progress last year until June 10, when Cozart suffered a grisly right knee injury slipping on first base while running out a ground ball against the Phillies. At the time, Cozart was batting .258 with nine homers and 28 RBIs in 53 games. He needed season-ending surgery to repair tears in both his anterior cruciate and lateral collateral ligaments. In December, Cozart reported making good progress and expected to be 100 percent for Spring Training.

RF Jay Bruce: Once the Reds revealed they were rebuilding and willing to trade veterans, it seemed unlikely Bruce would be back with Cincinnati. A strange market for corner outfielders dragged late into the offseason, though, and his return gives both Bruce and the Reds a chance to improve his value. From 2010-13, Bruce averaged .262/.338/.490, 30 home runs and 94 RBIs per season, making the All-Star team twice during this span. From 2014-15, the numbers dipped to a two-season average of .222/.288/.404 with 22 homers and 77 RBIs. Bruce, who turns 29 on April 3, will make $12.5 million in '16 and has a $13 million club option for '17 with a $1 million buyout.