Reds Infield: Depth Chart Discussions

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Breaking news out of Cincinnati: Joey Votto is awesome. He was awesome in each of his four full seasons leading up to 2012. He was awesome before he injured his knee last year, taking a ridiculous .354/.476/.639 line into the June 30 game in San Francisco that saw him leave after five innings due to the injury. He was a different kind of awesome in 25 September games after returning from surgery, failing to hit a homer but still managing to compile a .316/.505/.421 line. That’s not a typo; Votto had 105 September plate appearances, and despite being on the shelf for two months, he reached 57 times.

I’ll take your standard disclaimers about small sample size and varying September competition and I will reply with, simply, Joey Votto is awesome. That’s not to say he’s infallible, because there’s a conversation to be had about the fact that he never did hit another homer after taking Scott Diamond deep on June 24, which led to his somewhat disappointing total of 14 on the season. That’s fair, but his powerless September showed that he’s more than capable of being a very dangerous hitter even if he’s not going deep; that is, even if he never matches his career-high mark of 37 from 2010, he’s still going to be contributing in the other main offensive categories. It would sure be nice to see him showing some of that past power in the spring, now that he’s so much further from surgery, but at a first base position that is no longer as strong as it used to be, Votto belongs in an elite trio along with Albert Pujols & Prince Fielder.

Standing to Votto’s right in the Reds infield is one of the most consistently reliable players in baseball, Brandon Phillips. Though he’s never been able to recapture the magic of his breakout 30/30 2007 campaign, Phillips has more or less repeated the same very good season in each of the five years since. He’s hit between 18 and 21 dingers in each year (including 18 on the nose for the last three), stolen between 15 and 25 bases, and put up a wOBA of between .324 and .336, with the only exception being a somewhat BABIP-fueled .353 in 2011. As he heads into his age-32 season, Phillips seems likely to put up another year of ~15-20 homers, ~15-20 steals, and a batting average in the .280s. That’s not quite Robinson Cano-level elite, but it does make him a very good second-tier option at the keystone, just as he’s been for years.

Continuing across the diamond to shortstop, we get to Zack Cozart, who is probably the least desirable of the four non-catcher Cincinnati infield starters. The good news is that he hit 15 homers, which is both nice for a shortstop and on par with the power that he’d shown in the minors. The bad news? Well, pretty much everything else, at least from a fantasy perspective. Cozart stole only four bases and lagged behind with a .246 batting average and a poor .288 OBP; while he helped the Reds with effective defense at an important position, that doesn’t help your fantasy team all that much. It’s nice to get the odd homer now and then from shortstop, but Cozart doesn’t offer much else, so avoid unless you’re desperate.

That brings us to the hot corner and the only new starter in the Reds infield, Todd Frazier. He had an impressive debut in 2012, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year ballot while seeing starts at first, third, left, & right. Though he’s expected to be the primary starter at third now that Scott Rolen has moved on, Frazier retains his eligibility at first in all leagues and outfield in some, increasing his value. As JP Breen noted in FanGraphs+, there’s a lot to like here:

The top five ISOs for third basemen last year consisted of Miguel Cabrera, Aramis Ramirez, Adrian Beltre, Pedro Alvarez … and Todd Frazier. His .225 ISO was the fourth highest among third basemen who had at least 400 plate appearances last year. At 27 years old, he’s hitting his prime and plays in a great ballpark for power hitters. His .354 wOBA was also in the top ten for third basemen last year.

Frazier has a bit more swing-and-miss in his swing than you like, and with Jack Hannahan in town on a two-year deal, Dusty Baker has an option to turn to if Frazier doesn’t get off to a good start. Still, Frazier showed a lot in 2012, and belongs in the second tier of third baseman, right around guys like Alvarez & David Freese. As for Hannahan, he’s glove-only and has shown little at the plate, so he’s not really fantasy-relevant.

To finish off the group, we turn to Ryan Hanigan behind the plate, who carries fantasy value in only one kind of league — the kind that counts OBP, since Hanigan has an excellent .370 mark in parts of six seasons of play. Unfortunately, that’s all he offers, because he has just 18 homers in 1,320 career plate appearances, and like most catchers he has no value on the basepaths. In leagues that don’t consider OBP, Hanigan is probably undraftable, and is lower-tier even in ones that do. There’s not much to recommend behind him, either; highly-touted rookie Devin Mesoraco failed badly in his first real shot in 2012, and while he’s still young enough to turn it around, the fact that the Reds added Miguel Olivo may indicate that Mesoraco is going to spend more time in Triple-A Louisville than in Cincinnati this year.

I assume I don’t need to tell you not to draft Miguel Olivo, right?




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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times site, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


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