CINCINNATI -- As salt trucks and shovels dot the snow-covered landscape in Greater Cincinnati, Reds players are gathering together in an environment that often warms the mood of fans. Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for physicals on Wednesday, ahead of their first official workout on Thursday.
Compared to the previous two offseasons, the Reds were not big players on the free-agent or trade markets heading into the 2021 season. The reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, starting pitcher Trevor Bauer, left as a free agent and signed a blockbuster contract with the Dodgers. In cost-cutting moves, closer Raisel Iglesias was traded and reliever Archie Bradley was non-tendered. The team was unable to fill its biggest need, the opening at shortstop.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati feels like it can contend in a weakened NL Central division where the other clubs also absorbed losses of key players. Without Bauer, the Reds still have a strong top of the rotation with Sonny Gray and Luis Castillo. The only key free-agent addition, former All-Star Sean Doolittle, has a chance to revive his career and possibly close.
As Spring Training gets underway, here are some answers to frequently asked questions ...
Given the pandemic, how is Spring Training going to be different this year?
Fans will not be allowed inside the complex to watch workouts, though a limited number of fans can purchase tickets for games at Goodyear Ballpark.
The Reds will not be making their players available to fans for autographs or photos, either at the complex or ballpark. Club officials are discouraging all personal interactions for the health and safety of the players and fans.
What will the Reds do about shortstop?
The team’s top offseason priority went unfilled as every top and second-tier shortstop on the free-agent market signed elsewhere. Barring a trade or transaction, the Reds could fill the spot a variety of ways. Jose Garcia showed great promise after he went from Class A Advanced to the big leagues last season, but the organization feels he could benefit from more time in the Minors.
Utility player Kyle Farmer showed strong skills at shortstop last season during his first extended chances at the position and Alex Blandino came up as a shortstop. Last week, Dee Strange-Gordon was signed to a Minor League deal and will get opportunities in camp despite not playing shortstop regularly since 2013. The only other true shortstop on the roster besides Garcia is Rule 5 player Kyle Holder. Known for his defense, Holder is a left-handed hitter and if he sticks on the roster, he could potentially fit in a platoon situation with Farmer.
What are the key roster/position battles to watch?
Besides shortstop, there will be battles for the fifth spot in the rotation, the closer’s role and spots in the bullpen and on the bench.
Michael Lorenzen, Tejay Antone, José De León and Jeff Hoffman will compete for the final rotation spot. All four could be bullpen pieces if they aren’t starting. Lorenzen, Doolittle, Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims are the likely candidates to be the closer but only Doolittle has extensive experience in the role.
When is the first Spring Training game?
The adjusted Spring Training schedule now opens Cactus League play on Feb. 28, against Cleveland at Goodyear Ballpark. Cincinnati will be the away club at the stadium shared by both teams. The Reds’ first home game is March 2, vs. the Angels.
How can I watch/listen/follow Spring Training games?
A television schedule for Reds Cactus League games has not been revealed. All 28 games will be on the team’s radio network headed by WLW-AM and streamed at reds.com/MLB.com.
Who are some prospects to keep an eye on in camp?
Catcher Tyler Stephenson hit two home runs in a brief big league experience and is back -- likely full time -- to be part of a tandem with veteran Tucker Barnhart. The Reds will also have a select number of players for an early Minor League camp that will include top prospects like pitchers Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene and infielder Jonathan India. With the Reds being thin on infield depth, India could make his big league debut in 2021 and play regularly if there is an injury. Lodolo and Greene are not options for Opening Day but could be factors as rotation callups or bullpen help.
When is Opening Day and who is the opponent?
The Reds are scheduled to host the Cardinals at 4:10 p.m. ET on April 1 at Great American Ball Park.
Who will be the Opening Day starter?
The best bet is Gray, who has been an Opening Day pitcher three times over his career, twice with Oakland and last season for Cincinnati. In a 7-1 victory over the Tigers in the July 24 opener, Gray pitched six innings with one earned run, three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts. Overall in 11 starts and 56 innings, he was 5-3 with a 3.70 ERA, 26 walks and 72 strikeouts. Gray had a 1.94 ERA over his first seven starts.
Is the team planning to sell tickets to regular-season games?
The Reds are still working with city, county and state officials to get a plan approved that would allow for limited seating at GABP. No formal plans have been made official.
What is the Reds’ likely Opening Day lineup and rotation?
Shogo Akiyama CF
Nick Castellanos RF
Joey Votto 1B
Eugenio Suárez 3B
Mike Moustakas 2B
Jesse Winker LF
Kyle Farmer SS
Tucker Barnhart C