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The Reds always seem like they’re on the verge of overtaking the Cardinals for NL Central supremacy. Unfortunately, they always seem to fall just short. When you add the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates into the equation, the Reds’ chances shrink even more, but can they put it all together in 2014? It’s possible.

Replacing Choo

Billy Hamilton
Can Hamilton’s need for speed help ease the loss of Choo? (Sports Illustrated)

The Reds had a solid, although not spectacular, offense last year. Everyone complained that Joey Votto stopped driving in runs, but he still hit .305/.435/.491 with 24 homers, so if he only drove in 73 guys, it’s because people weren’t getting on base for him, or Jay Bruce (30 homers, 109 RBI) and Brandon Phillips (18 HR, 103 RBI) stole all the RBI chances. Votto is still, to me, a late first rounder, so don’t get it twisted. Phillips, on the other hand, might be the worst 100 RBI man I’ve ever seen. His OPS was barely over .700 and, at 33, he’s probably not going to get any better. I just don’t see it in him, and I’m glad the Yankees didn’t trade for him and his big contract.

The rest of the Reds offense is made up of “nice” players. SS Zack Cozart, Todd Frazier, Ryan Ludwick (who will get hurt this year) and even fourth outfielder Chris Heisey, are nice pieces that will help a team win, although none of them will stand out. The loss of Choo will definitely hurt the Reds. He’s a guy that does a little bit of everything. He’ll hit for decent average (.285 in 2013), steal some bases (20 in 2013) and hit the ball over the fence more often than most leadoff men (21 in 2013). Most importantly, and this is what the Reds might miss most, the guy is an on base machine. He walked 112 times last year and his OBP was .423, among the best in the league.

The guy who is tasked with literally replacing Choo is prospect Billy Hamilton (pictured above), who has literally run his way through the Reds system at a blazing speed. Hamilton broke the single season stolen base record in 2012 with 155, and needs to be kept off base at all times. During a brief call up last year, the kid played in 13 games and stole 13 bases while only getting caught once. If he can hit, and the Reds let him do his thing, he has the potential to bring back the era of the stolen base. Not since the late 80s, when guys like Ricky Henderson and Vince Coleman were around, has anyone stolen 100 bases in a season. I think Hamilton could be that guy, and the Reds should let him try.

Healthy Cueto?

Johnny Cueto
A healthy Cueto will help the Reds immensely. (USATSI)

The Reds have a pretty versatile young pitching staff under contract for the 2014 season, which should go a long way to helping them compete. Johnny Cueto is probably the best guy on that staff, but was riddled with injuries last year. Actually, it was more like one big one that kept coming back to haunt him. He strained his lat early on, and it seemed like he re-injured it a dozen times throughout the course of the season. Because of that, he was limited to 11 starts. They were all very good starts, as he went 5-2 with a 2.82 ERA, but this team will be in trouble again if he isn’t around to anchor this staff.

Next in line is Mat Latos, who won 14 games with a 3.16 ERA last year, and I think is a close second to Cueto when it comes to talent on this staff. Homer Bailey has finally come of age the last two years, and he put up a 3.49 ERA in 209 innings last year. He also threw a no-hitter in April, which made him the first pitcher to ever throw the last no-hitter of one season and the first no-hitter of the next. Impressive! Mike Leake (14-7, 3.37 ERA) will be the fourth guy, which isn’t half bad. Because Bronson Arroyo was allowed to sign with Arizona, youngster Tony Cingrani will be the fifth starter from the get go in 2014. Cigriani made 18 starts last year, mostly filling in for Cueto, putting up a 2.92 ERA and striking out 120 guys in just 104.2 innings. I think the Reds rotation will be better than it was last year, and it’s because Cueto will be healthy and Cingrani will be there too. They never really had that last year, and it should be fun to watch, assuming Cueto is OK.

Aroldis Chapman is probably the most must-see closer in the game right now, as he throws consistently over 100 mph from the left side. He saved 38 games last year and had 112 Ks in just 63.2 innings, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be about the same in 2014. That last sentence was written before the big Cuban took a line drive to the face last week in a spring training game. Apparently, he suffered lacerations and fractures above his eye, so your guess is as good as mine as to when he’ll come back. Until then, I imagine Jonathan Broxton will take the closing role, which is still pretty good. The other cast of characters in the bullpen include J.J. Hoover, Sean Marshall (who is returning from injury), Sam LeCure, Manny Parra and even Alfredo Simon, assuming he doesn’t accidentally murder anyone this season.

Final Thoughts

A dramatization of how Billy Hamilton will make the Reds this spring.

If the pitching staff stays healthy, the Reds should be up there with the Pirates and Cardinals again in 2014. Their offense does leave a little to be desired with the departure of Choo, but I can’t wait to see what Billy Hamilton does on the base paths this year. I hope he bought 100 pairs of batting gloves… one for every base he’s going to steal, like my boy Willie Mays Hayes.

Fantasy Prospects

Can’t go wrong with Votto, Bruce, and probably even Phillips, just because second base is weak overall. If you want to win steals this year, draft Hamilton too. Aroldis Chapman should obviously be drafted, and I think the entire rotation will contribute to fantasy teams this year as well. To review, that’s Cueto, Latos, Bailey, Luke and Cingrani. Gotta catch them all.

Featured image courtesy of: Joey Robbins/Getty Images

Martin Stezano

About Martin Stezano

Uruguayan born and American raised with a unique perspective on the domestic and international sports scenes. It will both tickle your funny bone and enlighten your mind. Love it or hate it...just read it.

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