Cincinnati Reds 2024 MLB Spring Training Storylines

The Cincinnati Reds enter camp with a young core that is being considered real contenders in the NL Central for the first time in a long time.

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: Nick Lodolo #40 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on August 28, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images)

Well, you’ve made it. Another brutal winter is coming to an end and so begins another spring training. Just about a year ago rumblings about which prospects will make the club on Opening Day or get called up throughout the year headlined the news.

Now, we are discussing which of those prospects could be an All Star. While focus is turned towards Elly De La Cruz and his projections or Frankie Montas and his health, other storylines are just as important. What’s on my mind when it comes to the Reds heading into 2024:

The Reds Do Not Have a Logjam, They Have Depth

While uncommon in Cincinnati, depth is an important part in baseball. Playing 162 games will lead to a list of injuries. Sure, the infield was already predictable before the Reds signed Jeimer Candelario, now it’s just deep.

An injury at any position can now be replaced by a starter from last season. A good problem to have.

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Spencer Steer can play all over but will primarily make a move to outfield giving the Reds a much needed righty bat. This also provides insurance if Will Benson doesn’t take a step forward.

A promising .275/.365/.498, 128 wRC+ rookie season also came with a .230 xBA and .398 xSLG, 100 point lower than his actual slugging. Now, I’m a Benson believer, but I can’t ignore these stats from a platoon outfielder.

He’ll have opportunities to show his development, but the plan B is is stronger than years past. Jonathan India has also worked in the outfield which, theoretically, could provide another answer to a possible platoon situation.

With DH “unclaimed” by a complete non-fielder, David Bell has the flexibility to do what he loves to do – play match ups. Expect numerous different lineups, in game substitutions, and players shifting around and getting maybe a more occasional off day. Untraditional, but so is having this much talent.

Can Nick Lodolo Provide Frontline Production?

Let’s not forget Nick Lodolo is only 137 innings into his major league career. Not long removed from being a top 10 pick and top 20 prospect status, the 6’6″ lefty has overpowering stuff combined with plus control and everything it takes to be a frontline starter.

His Achilles heal has been his health. Can he stay healthy and pitch enough to change the trajectory of this team? I believe his talent alone truly can help lift the Reds to another level.

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Talent is one thing, pitching is another. Let’s see if he’s built off his rookie season, put 34.1 innings in ’23 behind him, and claim the No. 2 spot in the rotation.

Sophomore Slumps or All-Star Breakouts?

You could tell me Elly De La Cruz is going to hit 30+ home runs, steal 40+ bags, and put up a 5 WAR season and I could realistically believe that scenario. I could also see a situation where strikeouts pile up, struggles last weeks, and a streaky hitter emerges to not meet our expectations.

That’s just reality with a player like De LA Cruz at only 22 years old. No one on the team has a higher ceiling, but we need to see a little more before putting a 5 WAR season in ink.

Matt McLain, Noelvi Marte, Spencer Steer, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Will Benson are all coming off impressive rookie seasons and will be relied upon to soak up large numbers of at-bats.

This team goes as far as the “sophomores” take them. Every single one will not improve from last year as development is not linear, and that’s ok. Having India and Candelario is a great hedge against any step back a player from the above list might take. It’s baseball, so assuming everyone develops and progresses at the same trajectory is shortsighted.

The Bullpen Has More Options

Bullpens can often times be a coinflip. We see pitchers have a great season followed by a poor season. That’s just life when you don’t have multiple innings to sort things out.

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Adding Nick Martinez was a crucial part to this offseason. A veteran who can fill multiple roles and has pitched very well since coming back to the majors in 2022.

Personally, I want to see him in the bullpen or spot starting but nothing is set just yet. Having a reliable arm like Martinez allows you to keep someone like Williamson and/or Phillips stretched out in the minors.

Emilio Pagan and Brent Suter help push the fringe guys to depth roles and add some stability. Suter has been rock solid his entire career and feels as safe as a bullpen arm can be. Another option to pitch an inning or more, Suter has success against righties and lefties.

Pagan is coming off a nice year in Minnesota with mixed results in prior seasons. Adding these veterans means pitchers in the likes of Carson Spiers, Casey Legumina, or Tony Santillan become depth instead of roster competition.

Roster Bubble Position Players

Jose Barrero and Stuart Fairchid are the primary 40-man roster players who are possibly fighting for a spot come Opening Day. Both out of options, Fairchild and Barrero both offer a right-handed bat off the bench with pros and cons.

While I am not a much of a Fairchild fan, I think his path to the roster is a bit easier than Barrero. He’s fine, I just thought the path to upgrading him was easy and relatively cheap, but we are splitting hairs. Assuming a healthy spring, Barrero is the odd man out. We know his story.

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Former top prospect who was called up too soon, never given much of a fair chance, and has not hit enough to stick. Considering the Reds playoff expectations, they cannot afford to keep Barrero around and hope he puts it all together.

The only way he will is with consistent at-bats, which is not available in Cincinnati. He’ll need a huge spring to convince me otherwise, and even then, I would prefer to trade him. The return will not shock the world, but it’s better than a DFA.

The hometown kid and 13-year vet, Josh Harrison, is in camp hoping to claim a utility role.

With all due respect, I do not see it happening. He’s in the twilight of his career and his play has fallen off. A non-Roster invitee to watch is everyone’s new favorite prospect, Blake Dunn. The righty outfielder has a ton of speed and put together a fantastic 2023 across two levels in the minors. I think he starts in the minors, but could be an early call up.

Pitchers Adding New Pitches

Look through the best pitchers first few seasons and you’ll likely see substantial changes in what they throw, or how often they throw certain pitches. Learning what works, what doesn’t, and tinkering along the way is often what leads to pitchers reaching the next level.

Earlier this offseason there was buzz around Graham Ashcraft adding a curveball back into his bag while Hunter Greene has been working on a curve and splitter. I’m sure the list does not stop there, and although this doesn’t guarantee success, it is at least something to monitor.

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Jonathan India is Important to This Team

You do not have to search twitter too long before you see every possible take or opinion on Jonathan India. The team leader, trade bait, bounce back candidate, poor defender. You name it, he’s been labeled it. The simplest way I can put it: The Reds have a league average bat with tons of experience who’s also training at multiple positions. That’s a good piece to have.

Adequate is underrated.

Walk with me here. Elly De La Cruz plays the game at a million miles per hour. Slides, stolen bases, diving plays, all of which could potential to lead to injury. If, and I hope it doesn’t happen, he gets injured you move India to second and McLain to short. No Barrero, no Kevin Newman.

How about CES or Candelario goes down? India can DH and has also been working at first. Tough lefty? India can fill in.

He does not need to be the Rookie of Year trending towards All-Star. He needs to be average, which is usually well above bench player standards, and he needs to offer a little more than just second base. I’d argue he still has upside, but at least will be average.

Depth Chart and Roles of Young Pitchers

For the sake of this exercise, we’ll consider this group: Connor Phillips, Lyon Richardson, Brandon Williamson, Julian Aguiar, Chase Petty, and Rhett Lowder. Some fun names, high draft picks, and top prospects. I want to see what these arms look like after another offseason.

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Does Phillips come in with better command and more control of his breaking balls? If so, could he pass Williamson on the “first guy up” depth chart?

How about Chase Petty and Rhett Lowder?

No, the Reds do not need to rely on these arms in 2024 and they likely stay in the minors all season but what if one, especially Lowder, is simply dominating level after level?

Luckily, the way things are shaping up, the front office can just be happy and have a better idea of their role for 2025. But, it’s a non-zero chance they are knocking on the door late summer.

For Brandon Williamson, I struggle to grasp how the organization views him. To me, he’s a great arm to have in Louisville ready to go at a moments notice. While not perfect, he flashed enough to show he can be an adequate big leaguer.

I still think Lyon Richardson ends up in the bullpen. I do not think there’s enough there to keep him in the rotation long term, especially with the aforementioned names shuffling the depth chart. See if you can make his fastball add a tick and play the changeup off of it along with a breaking ball. Simplify things and narrow the focus. I think he’s a useful arm in some fashion.

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I could make this list go on and on and on. Hell, we didn’t even touch on Tyler Stephenson, but you can find those thoughts here. The NL Central will be fun battle all season. The Cubs improved, the Pirates are coming around, the Cardinals are more likely to bounce back than not, and the Brewers are in a transition to prospects.

Luckily, the Reds have enough talent to be completive all summer long. This is just the start of what might be the most exciting summer in Cincinnati in the past decade. Soak it up.