Fantasy baseball 2013 team previews: Cincinnati Reds
Matt Kemp and Chris Carpenter sustained two of the most high-profile injuries last year, but the oblique strain Johnny Cueto suffered in Game 1 of the NLDS against San Francisco had arguably the biggest impact on the 2012 season. The Reds went on to win that game despite losing Cueto in the first inning, but he was unavailable to start either Game 4 or 5, in which the Reds could have closed out the series and moved on to the NLCS. Instead, the Giants rallied from a two-game deficit and went on to win the World Series. Had Cueto been healthy, the story could quite easily have been different.
Now, the Reds enter 2013 with a World-Series-or-bust mentality. They patched the one hole in their offense, acquiring Shin-Soo Choo in a three-team trade with the Indians and Diamondbacks that only cost them one major leaguer, Drew Stubbs. They have a potentially dominant rotation, with Cueto and Mat Latos finally joined by Aroldis Chapman. One through eight, their lineup is as deep as any in the National League, built around Joey Votto, the league's preeminent on-base machine, and Jay Bruce, who should get into the mid-30s in homers. Chapman's move to the rotation might mean the bullpen isn't as strong as it was last year, but Jonathan Broxton, Sean Marshall and J.J. Hoover give the Reds a reliable back end in the 'pen. Befitting a team with World Series aspirations, the Reds are flush with prime fantasy assets.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, CF
2. Brandon Phillips, 2B
3. Joey Votto, 1B
4. Jay Bruce, RF
5. Ryan Ludwick, LF
6. Todd Frazier, 3B
7. Zack Cozart, SS
8. Ryan Hanigan, C
1. Johnny Cueto
2. Mat Latos
3. Aroldis Chapman
4. Homer Bailey
5. Bronson Arroyo
Bullpen: Jonathan Broxton (closer), Sean Marshall, J.J. Hoover, Jose Arredondo, Sam Lecure, Nick Masset, Alfredo Simon, Logan Ondrusek
• What can we expect from Aroldis Chapman as a starter? Thank goodness the ball was in general manager Walt Jocketty's court on this one. Dusty Baker would have preferred to keep Chapman as the closer, believing for some inane reason that he'd rather get 70 relatively low-stress innings out of one of his three best pitchers instead of at least 150 relatively high-stress ones. While we can't expect the level of dominance Chapman attained as a closer last year, there's no doubt that he's more valuable, both in real life and fantasy, as a starter. But he has just 13 professional starts under his belt, and all of those were back in 2010 at Triple-A Louisville. That makes Chapman one of the hardest players to value this season.
The 98-mph fastball and power slider that made Chapman unhittable as a closer should translate well to the rotation. Even if it takes him a while to develop a reliable third pitch -- a necessity with the Reds looking for at least six innings every time out -- those two pitches alone will make him a force as a starter. That third pitch will surely be a changeup, and if he can learn to throw even an average one, it will be a devastating pitch for him. Even if he isn't sitting in the high-90s the way he could when he was coming out of the bullpen, he'll likely throw a fastball that averages around 95. An average changeup that takes off 10 mph would be very difficult for left-handed hitters geared up for the fastball. If Chapman can push up around 150 innings, he should strike out 200 batters. There may be some growing pains associated with moving to the rotation and doubling his innings, but he'll be just 25 this season, and his arm is ready to be stretched out. The Reds will likely limit his innings, but he looks like a fantasy ace in the making.
• What can Todd Frazier do as a regular? Getting his first significant playing time in his age-26 season, Frazier did not disappoint the Reds, hitting .273/.331/.498 with 19 homers and 67 RBI in 465 plate appearances. Last year Frazier was able to get nearly a full complement of games in as an injury fill-in, first for Scott Rolen at third base, then for Joey Votto across the diamond. This year, he'll be the third baseman on Opening Day, and the Reds are no doubt hoping he can duplicate his success from last year.
I think he can. First, the power is for real. Frazier hit 17 homers in 130 games with Triple-A Louisville in 2010, then 21 combined with Louisville and the Reds in 2011. His 13.2 percent home run/fly ball ratio is perfectly sustainable for him over a full season, especially given the friendly confines of the Great American Ballpark. Last year's .316 BABIP suggests a bit of good fortune for a player who isn't going to leg out many infield hits, but not an amount that should concern us. A solid walk rate near eight percent should keep his OBP respectable. He'll also be in a great spot in the lineup, likely hitting sixth behind Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick. That should mean a bevy of RBI opportunities. Frazier qualifies at third and first, but you'll probably want to play him at third if you get him. A season with 25 homers is on the horizon.
• What does the cross-state move mean for Shin-Soo Choo? A lot, actually. Choo had three monster years with the Indians between 2008 and 2010 before his disastrous 2011 season. Last year, he looked more like the player we came to know, but didn't quite make it all the way back. Still, his resurgence should give us plenty of confidence to consider the 2008-10 Choo back and ready to deliver this season. Removing 2011, Choo's worst season was last year, when he hit .283/.373/.441 with 16 homers and 21 steals. Not bad at all.
However, Choo will really be unleashed now that he is in Cincinnati. He'll have protection in the lineup for the first time in a long time. Brandon Phillips, Votto and Bruce will line up behind Choo in the Reds' order. That means the famously patient Choo (he has a career walk rate of 11.4 percent) should see plenty of pitches to hit. If he gets on base, Baker will allow him to run nearly at will, and he'll have three proven run producers coming up behind him. That should set our fantasy cash registers ringing already.
In addition, Choo has left behind pitcher-friendly Progressive Field for the hitter's haven of the Great American Ballpark. Last year, only 10 stadiums saw fewer homers per game than Progressive. An average of 1.59 home runs per game were hit at GABP, second most in the majors. That move alone should provide Choo a few more homers this season. Atop the Reds order, the best year of his career could be coming. A season of .305/.385/.500 with 25 homers, 100 runs, 80 RBI and 20 steals could be in order.
Billy Hamilton: Hamilton shattered records last year when he stole 155 bases combined at two minor league levels. He will begin the season at Triple-A Louisville, but a promotion to the big leagues is likely coming this season. Assuming the Reds promote him, they'll find a way to make him useful. Should the Reds show a need for more speed and on-base ability, they could start Hamilton in center and lead him off, bumping Choo and Phillips down to the middle of the order.
Brandon Phillips: I feel like I write something along these lines every year. As a true admirer of infield defense, Phillips is one of my favorite players to watch. But he's drafted too high every single year. He hasn't reached 20 homers since 2009, is no longer a threat to steal 20 bases and has topped a .300 batting average and .350 OBP just once in his career. For my money, Jason Kipnis, Ben Zobrist and Aaron Hill are all better options at second base.
Aroldis Chapman: Please refer back to the section above to recall how much I love Chapman this year. The transition to the rotation will be a challenge, but I think he's going to be a part of a lot of winning fantasy teams this year.
Zack Cozart: He's not an elite offensive option by any means, but Cozart is a shortstop with a 15-homer floor. You could easily do worse.
Devin Mesoraco: The 24-year-old catcher hit .289/.371/.484 with 15 homers and 71 RBI with Triple-A Louisville in 2011. He struggled in the majors last year, but only Ryan Hanigan blocks him. He's worth taking a flier on in NL-only leagues.