Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A preseason preview of the Reds infield

By: Jon Davis
Staff Writer

Today we breakdown the Cincinnati Reds infield group as we enter the 2013 season.

Going into the 2013 season, the Reds infield is quite possibly the strongest group. Normally, when you lose a guy like Scott Rolen there are questions about who fills the void, but with the emergence of Todd Frazier there are no longer any questions in that department, and with third base no longer a question mark that gave the Reds their starting infield. 

The only question for the infield was the bench, which mainly consisted of Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo, as they had over 77% of the plate appearances from the bench. There were also contributions from Willie Harris, Mike Constanzo, Henry Rodriguez and the now former Red Didi Gregorius. That group combined to have a .188 average, .220 on base, .240 slugging and just one home run, in 440 at bats. Now before you say anything about me not including Todd Frazier, sure the plan was for him to be a bench player but plans change. He started 117 out of the 128 games he played last year, making him more than a bench player.

Due to the lack of production from the bench changes needed to made. The Reds quickly moved on from Valdez and Cairo. They made two moves only days apart first acquiring Jason Donald, as part of the Shin-Soo Choo trade with the Indians on December 11th, and Jack Hannahan, signed on December 13th, who also played with the Indians last year.
Key Losses: Wilson Valdez (Signed with SF),  Miguel Cairo (Reds Front Office),  Scott Rolen (Retired?/Free Agent?)

Key Additions:  Jason Donald (Trade with CLE on 12/11/12),  Jack Hannahan (Signed 12/13/12)

Likely Opening Day Infield:

Joey Votto - Despite only playing 111 games in 2012, due to a knee injury, he still managed to lead all MLB first basemen with a 5.6 WAR. In 2012, Votto hit 14 home runs, had 40 doubles, drove in 56 runs, had a .337 average, .474 on base, and slugged .567. Oh, and he should have won his third straight Gold Glove. If you really look at his numbers it appears that when he came back he was not 100% healthy and his power was lacking, so he just focused more on other aspects of hitting, which led him to career high's in AVG, OBP, OPS and doubles. If he brings that approach into this year, combined with being completely healthy we may be looking at a "Super" Votto. Now by that I mean hitting for an average in the .330's or higher, on base upwards of .450, slugging in the .580 or higher range and getting the power we saw in his MVP campaign. With that being the best case scenario, it is safe to say that at minimum Votto will be one of the best hitters in baseball and will lead the Reds offense in 2013.

Brandon Phillips - Going into his age 32 season, He has shown great consistency over the last four years, despite being shuffled up and down the lineup. For example his homer totals over the last four year are 20,18,18 and 18. Offensively, he most likely will not be that 30/30 guy from 2007, but finally having a solidified spot in the lineup can only help him this year. Given his track record, I expect to get similar production: a .275-.290 average, a .325-.340 on base, a .430-.450 slugging, all to go along with 15+ homers and steals. Defensively there is no question he will continue to be a gold glove caliber defender. There is not much that is likely to change for Phillips this year. While there is the possibility that he starts to decline this year as he is going on 32, there is also the possibility that hitting in the same spot day in day out leads to better production this year. Overall, I expect fairly similar numbers to the last four years from him, plus the excellent defense we gave grown accustomed to in 2013.

Zack Cozart - He had a decent year last year despite spending most of his time being forced to bat at the top of the lineup. Now that the Reds have addressed that situation, it allows him to be dropped in the lineup and take an enormous weight off his shoulders at the plate. I believe that this will lead him to having a very good year. In 2012, he had a .246 average, .288 on base and .399 slugging. I expect 2013 to look more like his career numbers at triple a of, .275/.327/.435, than those he posted last year. I expect him to show positive growth across the board at the plate, at minimum. On defense he very easily could have won the gold love last year, and I expect he will fight for it this year as well. Between Cozart and Phillips the Reds could be looking at a pair of gold gloves up the middle this year.

Todd Frazier - He enters this season as, the well deserved, starting third baseman. In 2012 he stepped up in a big way during the injury to Joey Votto. Overall last year, he had a .273 average, .331 on base, .498 slugging and 19 home runs, in only 422 at bats. All the projections suggest that he will regress in 2013, for what reason I do not know. I think given that his playing time will no longer be spotty that he will flourish, as he did when he received regular playing time last year. I look for him to hit .270-.280, a .325-.335 on base, .475-.500 slugging and 20-30 home runs. All of this while playing a very solid third base, as he did last year. If he had qualified he would have had the fourth best fielding percentage among NL third basemen, at .968. A few notes of intrigue, Frazier's .968 was better than Rolen's .948 last year, and it is the same as Rolen's career fielding percentage.

Jason Donald - Originally drafted by the Phillies he was part of the Cliff Lee deal which sent him to Cleveland. He is a solid defender with good versatility who has played mostly up the middle. In his three years with the Indians he has 603 plate appearances, roughly equivalent to one full season as a starter. In those three years he has a stash line of .257/.309/.362 with seven homers and 12 steals. A very nice upgrade over Wilson Valdez, both defensively and with the bat. Overall, as a bench player, the hope is that his impact on the team will be as minimal as possible, but will provide a solid glove to backup Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart.

Jack Hannahan - He spent the last two seasons with Cleveland and collected 607 at bats. In that time he had a .247/.323/.366 stash line, with 12 homers and 69 RBI's.  He, just like Donald, is a good defender with versatility to play both first and third.  He was picked up pretty quickly, possibly to avoid a lengthy wait on a decision by Scott Rolen, which was obviously the right move. Overall Hannahan will be a good backup who can play good defense at both corners. There is also the possibility that if Frazier struggles or Dusty Baker's veteran bias shows, that third base could become a platoon. 

Guys who could see later on in the season - Henry Rodriguez, Emmanuel Burriss, Cesar Izturis, David Vidal, Donald LutzNeftali Soto

Group Grade: A-
Looking at it all together, the Reds infield should be one of the best in baseball, led by MVP candidate Joey Votto. All four have the potential to win a gold glove and silver slugger in this coming season. To clarify my last comment, I simply mean it is a possibility that each one could win one or both awards. Going into 2013 both Frazier and Cozart should be more comfortable having some experience under their belt. Meanwhile, Votto and Phillips will be the glue that holds it all together. When all is said and done at season's end, I am sure this group will be ranked as one of the top infields in the Majors.

Here is a look back and forward at the other positional previews:
Monday (2/25) - Outfield
Tuesday (2/26) - Infield
Wednesday (2/27) - Catchers
Thursday (2/28) - Bullpen
Friday (3/1) - Rotation

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