While the corners remain the same, the Cincinnati Reds made a big change in center field with a major three-team trade with the Diamondbacks and Indians during the offseason. They gave up a fine, defensive shortstop prospect, but obtained an outstanding 20-20 outfielder to cover center and possibly opened the door a little wider for one of their most-hyped prospects down the road. There’s some interesting flexibility that the team has right now, so let’s take a quick look…
As always, let’s start with what the depth chart looks like right now:
|Left Field:||Ryan Ludwick||Chris Heisey|
|Center Field:||Shin-Soo Choo||Chris Heisey||Billy Hamilton?|
|Right Field:||Jay Bruce||Chris Heisey||Xavier Paul|
We’ll open with the starters and then talk back-ups and reserves…
Right Field: This is the easiest position to define here as Bruce will remain locked in as the starter once again. The lefty slugger is pure power and now entering his sixth major league season, we all have a pretty good idea of what to expect — 30-plus home runs, 90-plus RBI, a strikeout rate hovering between 23 and 25-percent and an average hovering just above the .250 line. His walk rate dropped and his strikeouts spiked a bit last season, but nothing that should be too alarming. He still struggles against left-handed pitching, but obviously not as much as he did when he first broke into the league. He is still worthy of use as a second outfielder as power should continue to be at a premium this season.
Center Field: This is where the big splash came as the Reds basically traded away former center fielder Drew Stubbs and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius and received Shin -Soo Choo from the Indians. Without even having to look at numbers in detail, you know it’s an upgrade for the Reds. Choo has 20-20 potential (especially in a more favorable ballpark), just as Stubbs does, but Choo has a better walk rate, fewer strikeouts, and subsequently, better on-base numbers. He plays a sound defensive game and actually has a bit less ground to cover here in Cincy than he did in Cleveland. He’ll take over the leadoff spot which should also add to his runs scored totals. The RBI may lag, but if he’s contributing well in the other four categories, you can deal with it.
Left Field: Ludwick put together a fantastic season last year and showed that in the right ballpark, his bat could again be considered potent. The 26 home runs and .256 ISO were his best numbers since his career year in 2008 when he smacked 37 dingers for the Cardinals. The slight drop in strikeouts we saw from him are always encouraging, but he still struggles against the tougher southpaws out there. He’s seen a bit of improvement over time, but in leagues with daily roster moves, removal when facing tough lefties is probably a safe bet.
Heisey remains the Reds fourth outfielder this season, a role he actually fills in rather well. His 2011 season was unreal and there looked to be some interesting promise, but he came back to Earth in a major way last year as his ISO dropped over 100 points and he hit less than half the home runs he hit in 2011 with 67 more plate appearances. He’ll still probably eke out 300 plate appearances so he’s going to have some value in NL-only leagues.
The real interesting thing sitting on the horizon is the news that, while uber-speedster Billy Hamilton will start the season at Triple-A Louisville, he will be manning center field down there to hone his defense. The club is content with Zack Cozart and back-up Jason Donald and have decided that the outfield might just be the best place to get Hamilton up to the big leagues. The Reds and Ludwick have a mutual option for 2013 and he’s only making $2.5M this year, so that makes him a very interesting trade candidate. Should Hamilton continue to play well, he could force the team’s hand to make a move. That would probably bring Hamilton to center with Choo moving over to left. B-Ham’s legs are coming soon, so a late-round flier, if you can afford the bench spot, might be a worthwhile move so you don’t have to fight too hard for him later. Because once he’s up, he’s going to cost you some big bucks.
And finally, there’s Xavier Paul — modest power, modest speed, decent glove. He’ll be a decent left-handed bat off the bench and possible late-game defensive replacement. Nothing more and only useful in the deepest of NL-only leagues.