Yesterday we looked at the Cincinnati Reds starting pitching staff projections. Today we are going to look at the infielders before moving on to the outfielders, relievers and bench players each day this week. The infield seems set unless there are injuries. Devin Mesoraco will catch, Joey Votto will be at first base, Brandon Phillips at second, Todd Frazier at third and Zack Cozart will be manning shortstop.
The only difference between the 2013 and the 2014 Cincinnati Reds infield is that Devin Mesoraco is taking over for Ryan Hanigan. The rest of the guys are returning starters from last season. How do the five guys on the infield project from an offensive standpoint for the upcoming season?
To answer that question we can head over to Fangraphs.com to get a look at the various projection systems and what they have to say about each player. To get a general answer rather than rely on just one system, I went ahead and grouped together the ZiPS, Fans, Steamer and Oliver projections to come up with one overall projection for each of the project starters on the infield.
The newcomer to the group has struggled as a part time player behind Ryan Hanigan in his first two seasons, but the Reds showed their confidence in him as they moved Hanigan in a trade to free up the position for Mesoraco in 2014. The ZiPS system has the brightest view of Mesoraco where it expects him to hit .251/.313/.421 in 354 at bats. The overall average of the four systems spits out that he is projected to hit .248/.308/.408 with 15 home runs in 441 at bats. That would be a big upgrade from what the Reds got out of the catching position in the 2013 season from an offensive perspective.
Easily the best hitter on the team, Joey Votto has been one of the best hitters in baseball since his rookie season and has shown no reason to think he is fading. The Fans projections were the friendliest for the Cincinnati Reds first baseman as they project a .312//.439/.535 line in 548 at bats in 2014. The overall average of the four systems projects that Votto will hit .300/.425/.510 with 34 doubles and 24 home runs on the season. That would be in line with the 2011 and 2013 seasons that Votto posted, but well off of his 2010 and 2012 seasons.
A bit of a hot subject most of the offseason, the longest tenured Cincinnati Red is returning for his 9th season with the club. Like Joey Votto, the Fans projections were the best for the second baseman as they project a .274/.320/.412 line with 25 doubles and 16 home runs during the 2014 season. The average of the four systems has a projection of .267/.317/.406 with 27 doubles and 16 home runs for Phillips in 571 at bats. That season would fall in-between his 2012 and 2013 season in terms of production and be his second least productive season as a Red behind the 2013 campaign.
Coming back as a starter for the second straight season and for his third full year with the big league club, Todd Frazier is looking to cement himself at the hot corner for the foreseeable future in Cincinnati. Like the two players listed directly above him, the Fans projection system was the most favorable toward him as it projects a .265/.330/.449 line with 31 doubles and 22 home runs in 546 at bats. The average of the four systems projects him for a .247/.320/.435 line to go along with 28 doubles and 20 home runs, which puts him right in line with his career averages.
Cozart turned things around offensively in the second half to help save himself from a disastrous season at the plate in 2013. The Fans once again projected Cozart the best as they project him to hit .255/.292/.400 on the seasonwith32doubles and 14 home runs in 550 at bats. Overall the average of the four systems projects the Reds shortstop to hit .253/.292/.390 in the 2014 season to go along with30 doubles and 13 home runs. That is a very small upgrade over what his career averages are.
Joey Votto is about as sure as they come. He is going to hit .300 and he is going to get on base over 40% of the time he steps up to the plate. He has done that for five straight seasons. With a knee that he feels better about, he could show a bit more power than he did in the last two seasons, but even if it is more of the same, he will easily be the best offensive player on the team. Todd Frazier seems to project about where you would expect him too and there doesn’t seem to be any reason to foresee him being significantly different from his projections at this point.
That does leave three players that could be wildcards though. Brandon Phillips projections are based in part on his down 2013 season. That season though was played in the second half with an injured hand as his numbers went from outstanding to horrible as he played through the injury. If he is healthy and plays a full year like he did the first half of 2013 he will significantly outperform his projections.
Zack Cozart reportedly took a new approach to the plate with him in the second half of the 2013 season and improved his numbers across the board. If he can carry that forward with him, he could also easily outperform his projections that put him in line with his career numbers.
Devin Mesoraco remains the ultimate wildcard. As noted earlier this month, he could be the key to the Cincinnati Reds offense. The former top prospect is finally being given the keys to the car after back seat driving for two years. If playing every day is able to bring the skill out of him that made him the former top catching prospect in all of baseball, he could really make his projections look foolish.
While there is some uncertainty to the offense on the infield once you get beyond Joey Votto, there is some upside to it as well as there is reason to believe that four of the five players could all improve on what their projections suggests they are likely to hit in the 2014 season.