Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Three Reds with something to prove in 2014

It really goes without saying, but the Cincinnati Reds have a lot to prove in 2014. Sure, the club has made the postseason in three of the last four years, however each of those trips have resulted in getting bounced from the first round.

The lack of postseason success ultimately led to the demise of Dusty Baker as manager. He essentially raised expectations from a city simply hoping for a playoff berth to one hungry for a World Series title. Ironically, this fact alone may have been the biggest factor in his firing.

Now, former pitching coach Bryan Price steps to the plate to try and take the Reds to the next level. The first-year skipper certainly has his work cut out for him in 2014. But his quest to take baseball's oldest professional franchise to the postseason and beyond can be aided greatly by the following three players. Each enters the season with a tremendous chip on their shoulder while either trying to live up to expectations or to prove critics wrong.

1) Billy Hamilton

I cannot recall a Reds rookie facing more pressure in their first full year in the big leagues than Hamilton. Cincinnati desperately needs the switch-hitting youngster to perform well to help fill the void left behind by Shin-Soo Choo. I'm stating the obvious here, but that's going to be easier said than done. The knock on Hamilton is his ability to get on base at a high rate. He's not going to hit for much power either. However, the Reds won't exactly need him to as long as he can get on base enough. His knack for stealing bases is second to none and his ability to cover ground in center field will actually be a major upgrade over Choo. But the jury is still out on whether Hamilton can hold his own everyday against major league pitching. If he can carry an on-base percentage higher than .350 or so, he and the Reds should be in good shape.

2) Brandon Phillips

The biggest offseason topic swirling around Reds Country had to be the trade rumors involving Phillips. It's no secret that the Gold Glove second basemen has had his share of rifts with ownership, the front office, and the media during his career. But that all seemed to escalate to an all-time high at the end of last season. At one point, it looked like the Reds had a deal in place to send the fan friendly Phillips packing to New York, but the Yankees declined. Now, the 32-year-old heads into 2014 with a new lease on life, undoubtedly effected by the events that transpired this winter. There are no shortage of naysayers expecting Phillips to gradually decline with age. In fact, his numbers over the past three seasons already illustrate this (to be fair he was hampered by a wrist injury for most of 2013). However, this year might be a little different for Phillips. He has plenty left to prove and empirical evidence suggests he still has plenty of fuel left in the tank to get there. Phillips has the chance to make a lot of critics look foolish in 2014 with a strong showing at both the plate and in the field. I wouldn't bet against him.

3) Ryan Ludwick

After basically writing off the 2013 campaign as a lost cause, the well traveled veteran is looking to bounce back in 2014. At age 35 and after multiple surgeries, the cards seem stacked against his favor in doing so, but despite this Ludwick has continued to be extremely positive, telling one local reporter that he feels stronger than he's ever been this spring. Will Ludwick mash 26 home runs and notch 80 RBI this season like he did in 2012? Maybe. Maybe not. But a successful season for Ludwick doesn't necessarily mean he has to clip those numbers again. I'm sure the Reds would be just as happy with a .260 average, 20 home runs, and 70 RBI from the big guy this summer. As a matter of fact, I think I would happily take that from Ludwick too. The only thing left to do at this juncture is wait and see if Ludwick can rebound from an injury-plagued 2013 to prove doubters wrong in 2014.

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