Monday, February 25, 2013

A preseason preview of the Reds outfield

Today marks the beginning of a 5-part series of posts breaking down the 2013 version of the Cincinnati Reds, position-by-position. Similar to last year's preseason preview, we will do our best in breaking down each player at that general position while providing an overall group grade and analysis at the end.

Here is a peek at the tentative schedule for the positional preview:

Monday (2/25) - Outfielders
Tuesday (2/26) - Infielders
Wednesday (2/27) - Catchers
Thursday (2/28) - Relief Pitchers
Friday (3/1) - Starting Pitchers

Without further adieu, here is a preview of the outfield unit.

Key Losses: Drew Stubbs (traded to CLE on 12/11/12)

Key Additions: Shin-Soo Choo (acquired via trade from CLE on 12/11/12)

Jay Bruce - The 25-year old enters the 2013 campaign with momentum after posting career-highs in homers (34), RBIs (99), doubles (35), and runs scored (89) in 2012. His fantastic play during the regular season earned him his second straight trip to the All-Star Game, in addition to a Silver Slugger Award and a 10th-place in the National League MVP voting. Many industry experts have already tabbed the southpaw as a darkhorse candidate to win MVP honors in this upcoming season. But to do so, the Beaumont, Texas native will likely have to improve upon his career batting average of .255. Bruce posted a .252 mark last season. Bruce's above-average arm and average range make right field his natural position, however, the team-first player has already expressed a willingness to move to center field should Shin-Soo Choo be unable to play the position effectively. Wherever Bruce ends up, he will be counted on to drive in runs and lead the offense alongside fellow left-hander Joey Votto.

Ryan Ludwick - Where would the Reds have been without the services of Ludwick last season? The veteran outfielder experienced a career resurgence after inking a one-year, $2 million deal and proceeding to hit .275/.346/.531 with 26 longballs and 80 RBIs. Due to his monster season, it appeared unlikely that Cincinnati would be able to re-sign him this offseason. Fortunately, Ludwick was willing to take less money with the Reds and signed a 2-year, $15 million contract in December, which was far less than it was rumored he could have received from competing teams. Because of this, and his display of heart and hustle on the diamond, Ludwick has become a fan favorite in the Queen City. Obviously, he has clearly benefitted from hitting in the friendly confines of Great American Ball Park. The club will need him to post similar numbers in '13 if they want to reach their ultimate goal of winning a World Series title. I believe it is completely feasible for Ludwick to repeat the success he had last year.

Shin-Soo Choo - The biggest weakness of last year's Reds team was arguably the leadoff spot. Reds leadoff hitters combined to rank dead last in the league in several key offensive categories, which forced the issue for GM Walt Jocketty to take action. This is where Choo comes into play. Cincy essentially swapped centerfielders with Cleveland when the Reds dealt Drew Stubbs northward and the Tribe sent Choo southward. The Korean native is expected to solve the team's woes at the No. 1 hole, and with a career average of .289 and a lifetime on-base percentage of .381, I believe he is a safe bet to do just that. Choo has never made an All-Star team, nor has he ever won any major award, but his track record proves that he gets on base at a high rate. Reds leadoff men sported an OBP of .254 in 2012. That is simply atrocious, and it put a strain on the middle-of-the-order guys who found themselves stepping to the dish with nobody on the basepaths way too many times. Perhaps the only concern with Choo is whether or not the 30-year old can play center field on a regular basis. He has played just 10 games there in his 8-year MLB career. Hopefully he finds his way at the position, but if not the team could find itself with a plethora of corner outfielders and no real guy to patrol centerfield. Well, unless you assume Billy Hamilton will be ready to take the reigns soon.

Chris Heisey - The 28-year old is entering his fourth big league season in 2013 -- all of which have come with the Reds. And once again, he figures to be the fourth or fifth outfielder in the rotation. Heisey saw action in 120 games last year, just as he did in 2011, and managed to post a .265/.315/.401 line with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Baker showed a tendency to use Heisey a lot as a late-inning defensive substitution, as well as a pinch-hitter off the bench. Heisey did see the occasional spot start here and there, but for the most part he was relegated to backup duty. He is in line to do more of the same in 2013, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. He provides good pop, decent speed, and a great glove off the bench for Baker to use at his disposal.

Xavier Paul - Paul was certainly a pleasant surprise when he joined the team in July of last year. The club had struggled at finding a reliable bat off the pine after the combination of Willie Harris, Miguel Cairo, Wilson Valdez, Mike Costanzo and others failed to produce. That all changed once Paul suited up in a Reds uniform, though. Although it was a small sample size (96 plate appearances), he became the left-handed, pinch-hit threat they were looking for after posting a .314/.379/.465 line during the regular season. Furthermore, he hit .351 (13-37) as a pinch-hitter when called upon. The Los Angeles native will likely be counted on to come through in pinch-hit situations several times again this year.

Guys we could see later on in the season - Denis Phipps, Billy Hamilton, Cody Puckett, Kris Negron, Derrick Robinson, Ryan LaMarre

Group Grade: B+
There is no denying that this group of outfielders can be really, really good. But on that same token, they could also wind up performing just above average, collectively. We don't know what kind of season Choo will have in what will presumably be his lone year in a Reds uniform. Nor can we realistically expect the same kind of offensive outburst Ryan Ludwick enjoyed in 2012. One player the team can rely on for some sort of predictable contribution is Bruce. Bruce has proved to be pretty consistent since breaking into the league in 2008. And he looks poised to continue his upward trend of success in what will be his sixth MLB season. On a side note, can you believe Bruce is about to play in his SIXTH big league campaign?

Anyways, Cincinnati does have a formidable starting three in Choo, Bruce, and Ludwick. And they finally have a solid bench to go along with them in the personnel of Heisey and Paul. I believe Choo, if healthy, will turn in a magnificent individual season as he inevitably approaches a big free agent deal next winter. Additionally, I also believe Bruce is in for an MVP-caliber season as well. If Ludwick posts the kind of numbers he did last year, and Heisey and Paul do their thing, the Reds outfield unit will be in great shape by the time Hamilton gets the call up in September.

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