We at Razzball realize that exporting our views across the country has damaging consequences on the blogosphere. To help make amends, we are reaching out to leading team blogs and featuring their locally blogged answers to pressing 2014 fantasy baseball questions regarding their team. We feel this approach will be fresher, more sustainable, and require less energy consumption (for us anyway). The 2014 Reds Fantasy Baseball Preview comes courtesy of Wick Terrell from Red Reporter.
1) A lot of fantasy owners are excited to see what Billy Hamilton can do with his phenomenal speed in 2014. Just how many bases do you think he can swipe this year and what are some facets to his game that the casual fan outside of Reds country might not be aware of?
Hamilton has reached base 780 times in his minor league career by either getting a hit or drawing a walk, and during that time, he’s stolen 395 bases. That means that he’s accumulated a stolen base for every other time he’s reached base of his own volition, which is a pretty dang remarkable ratio. In his record-breaking 2012, he had 159 hits, 86 walks, and attempted to steal a base 192 times. That seems insane, but I don’t expect him to temper his attempts too much given that it’s his best trait (and a potentially historic one, at that) and the Reds seem to be willing to let him exploit it. Billy’s got a career walk rate around 10% over his 2200+ minor league PAs, and if he comes admirably close to that rate in 2014, stays healthy, and hits at a clip decent enough to stay in the lineup everyday, he could steal 90 bases and not surprise me.
Hamilton has made the much-scrutinized switch from SS to CF, and while he’s still working on perfecting his outfield craft, I think he’ll end up a plus defender. He was a wide receiver in high school in Mississippi – one good enough to earn a football scholarship offer from Mississippi State – so he’s got plenty of experience running in space and tracking ball flight. He’s also still in the infant stages of switch hitting, as he hit exclusively RH up until his third year in the Reds organization (2011), so there’s been a tiny asterisk next to his LH hitting stats for those of us who’ve followed him throughout.
2) Joey Votto has been taking some heat for taking some walks in 2013. Can his power numbers and RBI totals bounce back in 2014, or will his patient approach at the plate actually hurt his value in standard 5×5 fantasy leagues?
As much as it pains me to say it, I think 2010 might actually end up being the outlier season from Votto in the power department. In that year, his HR/FB% spiked to 25.0%, and he’s never had it higher than 18.5% in any other season. So, if you’re drafting him hoping for 35-40 HR, he’s probably going to disappoint you a bit. That said, he was on pace in 2012 to break the MLB record for doubles before injuring his knee, and while he’s more of a line-drive hitter than a majestic HR hitter, that hit tool should keep him near the top of the league in hits, doubles, and batting average (per usual).
As for RBI…well, who really knows? He’s had three seasons in which he had at least 600 PA, and in those three seasons he’s driven in a total of 289 runs. That’s an average of 96 RBI per full season, which would have ranked 8th in the National League last season. He’s been a career .340/.477/.590 (1.067 OPS) hitter with RISP (which is better than his career OPS of .917 with the bases empty), so he’s proven he can mash when pitchers actually choose to throw him something hittable. His walk rate during PAs with RISP reached 26.4% in 2013 – well above his career walk rate of 14.9% – and while his patient approach certainly contributes to that, so too does the collective unwillingness of pitchers to give him anything to hit. That will impact his RBI totals, but not nearly as much as how much Billy Hamilton (and whomever hits 2nd in 2014) gets on base.
I truly hope Votto ignores his critics (as he should, because they’re ridiculous) and continues to do what he does well. Draft Votto because he’ll hit .325 with 180+ hits, 60+ XBH, and 25 HR. Don’t draft him expecting 40 HR and 120 RBI. Draft the hell out of him if OBP is a category in your league.
Frazier’s going to be counted upon heavily in the 2014 Reds’ campaign, that’s a certainty. With both Ryan Ludwick and Brandon Phillips coming off injury plagued and disappointing seasons, Frazier’s going to be asked to carry a lot of the load for the RH production in the lineup; fortunately, Frazier has historically hit LHP a bit better than RHP (both in the majors and minors), and I’d expect that to continue, at least.
Frazier hit absurdly poor in road games last season (.210/.296/.353), which shouldn’t happen again. Also, he went through a ridiculous 0 for 31 streak in July/August, and that’s not the kind of stretch I’d expect to see from anyone, really, much less a guy with Frazier’s skill set.
As for his overall production? Well, he’s not going to be nearly as good as he was in 2012, but I firmly expect him to be better than he was in 2013. Frazier’s two seasons have been a tale of two BABIPs, so to speak, with his .316 mark in 2012 carrying his production levels and his .269 mark in 2012 sinking things a bit. If that stabilizes around .290 – which I think is about right given his batted ball profile – he has all the makings of a guy who should hit .260/.330/.460, or so, with the potential for 20+ homers and – thanks to likely batting behind Joey Votto and Jay Bruce – the chance to drive in a pile of runs. His defense is good enough to keep him in the lineup day in, day out, so PAs shouldn’t be an issue, either.
4) Devin Mesoraco should get the lion’s share of playing time behind the plate this year. What kind of offensive production should we expect from the young backstop and what are his strengths as a catcher?
Good question. That may be the $64,000 dollar question for the Reds this year, to be honest. The Reds have pinned their catching hopes completely on Mesoraco, as they’ve now traded away both Yasmani Grandal and Ryan Hanigan in recent offseasons in order to ensure that the pride of Punxsutawney, PA can get more frequent opportunities, and they’re going to need him to emerge offensively the way so many prospect evaluators expected him to.
His BABIPs over his first three seasons (.184, .234, and .264, respectively) suggest he’s been criminally unlucky at the plate so far, and considering his batted ball profile shows he’s hitting fewer fly balls and more line drives, it’s reasonable to expect to see his production take off relative to what he’s shown thus far. He takes walks at a decent rate, the pitches he squares up put his 20+ HR power potential on display, and despite still posting sub-par stats, he has improved across the board in most every metric measuring his contributions. I don’t expect him to turn into Johnny Bench overnight, but 110 starts with a normalized BABIP could very well see him produce something akin to a .260/.330/.430 season. Perhaps better, even.
Defensively, Mesoraco has graded out pretty well, according to FanGraphs, and he’s improved each year he’s played. He’s got a solid throwing arm, but he’s had some accuracy and release issues that have kept his ability to control the running game somewhat muted. I expect that to get better both with age and playing time, and the Reds should be able to boast him as, at worst, a league average defensive catcher in 2014.
5) A “Skyline 3-Way” sounds like the title of a bad Penthouse letter, but it’s actually Cincinnati-style chili and cheese over spaghetti and the combination of the three ingredients is delicious. Which three players are the most important ingredients to Reds success in 2014?
From a WAR perspective, the three most indispensable players for the Reds will probably be Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Mat Latos, but they’re the kind of players whose production is so dependable that you can build teams around them. So, by that definition, they’re the three most important players every year. They form the pasta and chili of the 3-Way, so to speak, and without that, it doesn’t matter what kind of cheese and onions you come up with, things just aren’t going to come out right.
Those cheese and onions? Well, to me, that’s on the shoulders of Johnny Cueto, Ryan Ludwick, and Devin Mesoraco. The Reds are counting on 900 PA and 180+ innings from those three, each of whom were part-time players last year (Ludwick and Cueto due to injury, and Mesoraco due to the presence of Ryan Hanigan). That’s a pretty large bet on players who have had issues being dependable in the past, but each of them has the top-end potential to be an All Star level performer. Votto, Bruce, and Latos are ‘important’ for the Reds success for the next decade, but for 2014, I’d pin the hopes of the team on whether Cueto, Ludwick, and Mesoraco can carry their end of the bargain.