September 25, 2017 – Tucker Barnhart and the Reds

Here’s an excerpt of the piece that went out to subscribers this morning, about Tucker Barnhart’s contract extension and what the Reds will need to do if they’re going to make Barnhart part of a winning team before that contract is up.

In the Brewers, the Reds can see what they have to hope they can be in 2018 or 2019: an upstart team succeeding on the merits of a surprising pitching staff and a fistful of young players maturing as the season progresses. I wrote the player comment capsules for the Reds in last year’s Baseball Prospectus book, and came away from the process feeling that they had a lot more prospect depth than the industry was giving them credit for. We saw a lot of that depth come up to fill holes as this season wore on, although the results (and the long-term prognoses) are mixed. Getting Luis Castillo (the hardest-throwing starter in baseball this year, and a guy with more than raw arm strength going for him) for Dan Straily last winter is looking like a coup, even as Straily finishes up a fine first season in Miami. On the other hand, whatever hope the Reds had for Amir Garrett has to be pretty severely dented at this point. Anthony DeSclafani’s inability to get healthy at any point in 2017 certainly bodes ill for him, and he looked like a mid-rotation starter just last year. Tyler Mahle is a prospect with more finesse than pure stuff. He’s looked good in a handful of starts, but he’ll be tested when he goes around the league again next spring.

Overall, the pitching remains a mess, but the positional core is increasingly viable. Joey Votto isn’t turning into Albert Pujols any time soon; it looks like he’s going to age about the way his idol, Ted Williams, did. Eugenio Suarez is a borderline star-caliber player, at this point, a guy who hits for power, accepts his walks, can cover the plate, and who (after a rough adjustment period last year) is bringing the physical presence of a converted shortstop to bear at third base. Jesse Winker hit for zero power in the International League, but his hit-first approach is letting him get to plenty of pop in the bigs. (Sure, that makes sense, ball’s not juiced, no sir, Mr. Manfred, sir.) If Winker can hold down right field next year, then the Reds can platoon Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall in left, and that would be one of the most productive platoons in recent memory. Billy Hamilton has lost a step in the field and still hasn’t figured out how to get on base consistently, but if he’s in center, your corner guys have a little less ground to cover.

There remain a whole host of unanswered questions. Jose Peraza can’t have inspired tremendous confidence with his uneven season. Last summer’s second overall pick, Nick Senzel, had an awesome season in the minors, and could be ready by the middle of next year. If he can play second base, the holes are starting to fill up for this team. If he’s stuck at third or regresses and ends up in left field, there’s less help there. No matter what, the team faces the prospect of replacing Zack Cozart, who will hit free agency this winter and probably never look back.

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