Predicting Reds' 2021 Opening Day roster

March 21st, 2021

CINCINNATI -- If this fourth version of my predictions for the Reds' Opening Day roster underscores anything, it is that this is a living, breathing document.

Once again, significant developments will mean changes from the previous three versions that have been submitted. The biggest two are Eugenio Suárez possibly moving to shortstop on a full-time basis and Joey Votto returning to camp following a COVID-19 positive test.

These are the final days of camp competition, and for those on the roster bubble, their performance in the upcoming games will be more critical than usual.

Here are the latest projections of who will be on the 26-man roster when Cincinnati opens vs. the Cardinals on April 1 at Great American Ball Park:

Catcher (2): , Tyler Stephenson
Neither catcher has hit very well this spring, but both will be counted on during the regular season.

First base (0):
Votto rejoined the team Sunday after he missed 12 days following his positive COVID-19 test. This prediction of him not being ready is a bit of an assumption, rather than knowing something. The club isn’t sure whether there’s enough time for Votto to get back up to speed in time after missing so many at-bats.

“Let’s get his legs underneath him and go from there,” general manager Nick Krall said. “I can’t give you a timetable. It affects different people in different ways.”

That means a hodgepodge of utility players will split time until Votto is ready. See below.

Second base (1): Jonathan India
Ranked as the organization’s No. 5 prospect, India has kept producing since he made the official move from Minor League camp to big league camp. He’s done nothing to indicate that he wouldn’t be ready to debut in the Major Leagues on April 1. The 24-year-old’s development is one factor in a decision to possibly shake up the infield.

Third base (1): Mike Moustakas
The last puzzle piece that makes moving Suárez a good chance is that Moustakas is a natural third baseman. He would be able to move from second to third base without any transition concerns.

Shortstop (1): Eugenio Suárez
The complexion of the competition for shortstop changed completely when manager David Bell and Krall decided to let Suárez have games at shortstop last week. Shortstop is his natural position, but once he demonstrated his mobility in camp after he shed 15 pounds in the offseason, the idea of shifting Suárez has gotten very serious consideration.

Outfield (4): , Nick Senzel, , Tyler Naquin
Currently, Aristides Aquino has one Minor League option remaining, but it’s under dispute over service time concerns. MLB will soon make a ruling about Aquino and several other players in similar situations. I’m making the guess they will keep that option. Sending down Aquino will get him more at-bats than he would get as a bench option in the Majors.

I also had Scott Heineman as the fifth outfielder last week and he definitely has had a good camp. But he was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Sunday. Naquin, a non-roster invite, has been strong all camp, and as someone who spent a lot of time on the injured list in recent years, he has been healthy all spring.

Utility (4): , Alex Blandino, Kyle Farmer, Max Schrock
The change of the shortstop plan most negatively affected Farmer, who showed that he could handle the job defensively. He will likely return to a utility role where he can play every infield spot, left field and serve as a third catcher.

Strange-Gordon has played shortstop, second base, third base and center field in camp and brings speed after showing he’s been healthy without the leg injuries that bothered him in the past with the Mariners.

Except for being derailed by a calf injury that caused him to miss time, Schrock has had a fantastic camp at the plate. He got a look at first base Sunday vs. the Cubs, but he is normally a second and third baseman.

Blandino has had an excellent camp both offensively and defensively. One of these four players might have to go once Votto is activated. But that decision could get kicked down the road until a little bit after Opening Day.

Starting pitchers (5): Luis Castillo, , , Jeff Hoffman, Wade Miley
Miley returned quicker than expected from a hamstring injury and should be good to go for the season. Lorenzen will be one to watch after a slight shoulder strain forced him out of a "B" game as a precaution Saturday.

Antone falls out of this group partially because he’s dealt with a groin injury and then had an irritated hip flexor stop a bullpen session Saturday. Bell was leaning towards using Antone out of the bullpen and his lack of innings in camp just about clinches him for a bullpen spot if he’s healthy.

Castillo was announced Friday as the Opening Day starter vs. St. Louis.

Relievers (8): , Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, , Jesse Biddle, Brandon Finnegan, Tejay Antone, Sal Romano
After injuries, Garrett and Sims seem to be back on track. Garrett debuted Saturday by striking out the side vs. the Brewers. Sims is scheduled to debut Tuesday. Both have enough time to be fully ready.

Finnegan's chances took a hit with some rough performances last week, but the club remains high on him since he was promoted from Minor League camp. Romano is out of options, but he could be an option to provide multiple innings of relief, along with Antone. Romano could edge out José De León, who currently has an option remaining that, like Aquino, still needs to be sorted out.