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Four Spring Training predictions for the Reds

@m_sheldon
February 15, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first time in over half a decade, the Reds are viewed as potential contenders for the postseason as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Thursday. Five free-agent acquisitions that addressed the offense, rotation and bullpen have upgraded the Reds roster and narrowed the

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first time in over half a decade, the Reds are viewed as potential contenders for the postseason as pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Thursday.

Five free-agent acquisitions that addressed the offense, rotation and bullpen have upgraded the Reds roster and narrowed the number of positions that are up for grabs.

Because of the potential for injuries and other unexpected developments, pre-camp predictions are hard to make before the first official workout -- which is set for Saturday. But here are some things to look for as the Reds get ready for what should be an interesting 2020 season.

Senzel will be ready, and should see time in the infield
Reds center fielder Nick Senzel spent the offseason rehabbing from September right shoulder surgery but appears to be back on track. Senzel was among several early arrivals to camp and has been taking batting practice. Despite a crowded outfield -- 10 on the 40-man roster plus reliever Michael Lorenzen -- Senzel still appears to be the center fielder. However, with third baseman Eugenio Suárez suffering his own right shoulder injury last month in a pool accident and needing surgery, second baseman Mike Moustakas is a good bet to move back to his former position as a replacement to open the season. In the interim, that could be a spot for Senzel to relocate in the interim. He was a second baseman in the Minors before taking on center field during camp last year. With so many outfielders and so few spots, this could be a temporary solution when the regular season begins.

Votto will be ready to turn things around
First baseman Joey Votto is coming off back-to-back down seasons at the plate, including a 2019 where he had a sub-.800 OPS – the first time that’s happened to him over a full season. Now 36, Votto batted .261/.357/.411 with 15 home runs and 47 RBIs from the second spot in the lineup. For the first time in several years, he was an early arrival to camp and knows he has to prove himself on the field rather than make his own predictions for performance.

But he won’t have to be a centerpiece to carry the lineup -- especially since the club added free agents Nick Castellanos, Moustakas and Shogo Akiyama. Along with Suárez, when he’s ready, Votto should be re-invigorated by the fresh arrivals and he has his first legitimate shot since 2013 to compete for the postseason.

Lodolo will impress
The Reds have a set five-man rotation with Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani. They have the added depth of Tyler Mahle and Lucas Sims, should they need it. But keep an added eye on 2019 first-round pick Nick Lodolo. Ranked No. 1 in the organization and No. 48 overall by MLB Pipeline, the lefty Lodolo’s first Spring Training is in big league camp. Taken seventh overall, the 22-year-old had a 2.45 ERA in eight starts for Rookie-level Billings and Class A Dayton. Over 18 1/3 innings, Lodolo had zero walks and 30 strikeouts.

In disposition and potential readiness, Lodolo has drawn comparisons to former Reds pitcher Mike Leake. After he was the first-round pick of the club in 2009 and didn’t pitch that summer, Leake went to big league camp in 2010 and made the team without throwing a pitch in the Minors. If the Reds have a hiccup with their rotation, Lodolo has a chance to position himself for an opportunity.

Bullpen battle for southpaws
Cincinnati already has five of his its eight bullpen spots seemingly locked up, but the group includes only one left-handed reliever in Amir Garrett. The club lacked lefty options for manager David Bell for most of last season. With the new three-batter minimum rule in effect for 2020, Bell will likely want some additional lefties who can get hitters out from both sides of the plate. A solid candidate should be Cody Reed, who had a promising start to last season until a knee injury in May sidelined him the rest of the way. Also vying for a spot will be Josh D. Smith, who has posted decent numbers in the Minors but didn’t do well in ’19 for Cleveland and Miami in the big leagues over brief stints.

Then there is non-roster invite Jesse Biddle, who is still only 28. Biddle was roughed up last season with an 8.36 ERA and 2.29 WHIP over 30 combined big league appearances with three different clubs. As a rookie in 2018 for Atlanta, however, he was 6-1 with a 3.11 ERA and 1.27 WHIP over 60 appearances. It could be a low-risk, high-reward situation for Cincinnati. In ’18, Biddle was more effective vs. right-handed hitters (.194) than lefty hitters (.253). But both sides pummeled him in ’19 as lefties batted .404, compared to .299 for right-handers.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.