Revamped Reds poised for major improvement

February 22nd, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- All teams have optimism during the early days of Spring Training, but there’s something of a different vibe in Reds camp. Partly because of an aggressive front office making offseason acquisitions and new manager David Bell and his staff creating a new culture, Cincinnati is clearly trying to shed its label of rebuilding and get closer to contending.

What's the goal?

Following five straight losing seasons -- the last four with more than 90 losses -- the Reds believe they can win and be a factor in the National League Central again. But it’s not delusional thinking after the baseball operations department took a hard look at several areas of the organization and made many changes that included shedding underperforming players like Billy Hamilton and Homer Bailey and creating an almost all-new coaching staff to work under Bell.

What's the plan?

The reason for their optimism is that the Reds' struggling rotation was retooled to add three starters and upgrades in ,  and Alex Wood. Offensive punch came in the form of outfielders  and .

New players are blending with the mainstays like Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scooter Gennett. Cincinnati’s No. 1 prospect, Nick Senzel, is about Major League ready and is competing to be the starting center fielder. The Reds feel like this is the right combination to go places in 2019.

What could go wrong?

Much of Cincinnati’s hopes will hinge on the performance of its rotation. Gray, Roark and Wood are all coming off subpar years. Ditto for the returning starters in Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani. If most, or all, don’t regain the form of their previous track records, it could again be a long year.

Then, there is Senzel, who is ranked as the top prospect in the organization and No. 6 overall by MLB Pipeline. He would already be in the big leagues if not for injuries and a lack of a spot to play. A natural infielder, Senzel is being given every opportunity to play center field. If it doesn’t work out, it would fall on corner outfielders like Puig and Scott Schebler to play there. Then, Senzel could either return to Triple-A or be a utility player until a regular spot can be found.

Who might surprise?

Kemp put himself back on the map with an All-Star 2018 season for the Dodgers. But most of his best work came in the first half, including 15 of his 21 home runs. The 34-year-old lost his starting spot, and his struggles really compounded down the stretch.

A starting spot isn’t assured for Kemp as of yet because of Cincinnati’s crowded corner outfield logjam. But his right-handed power could really blossom at Great American Ball Park if given the opportunity to play regularly, or somewhat regularly, and that can only help the efforts to win again.