1. Shogo Akiyama, Reds outfielder
There may be no more exciting player to follow on this year’s Cincinnati Reds team than Shogo Akiyama. Last year’s free agent signee from Japan encountered an unexpected hurdle in 2020 when Cactus League play was halted due to the coronavirus pandemic. Few players may have been impacted more but the stoppage than Akiyama.
This season, without a universal DH, the question becomes how often will we see Akiyama in the lineup and where will he play? Akiyama played both center and left field last season, but with Jesse Winker likely to own an everyday spot in the lineup, it’s going to be tricky for David Bell to offer up enough time to both outfielders.
There’s also the matter of centerfielder Nick Senzel, who Bell views as the team’s everyday centerfielder. And given the size of this contract, I don’t expect anyone on the Reds roster to supplant Nick Castellanos.
Bell’s greatest challenge this season will be getting his four outfielders ample playing time while keeping the vibe loose around the clubhouse. While Akiyama does not possess the same type of power of Winker and Castellanos, his ability to hit and get on base will likely find the left-handed hitting outfielder atop the Reds batting order on a regular basis.
Over the final month of the 2020 season, Shogo Akiyama seemed to find his stride. When the calendar flipped to September, Akiyama hit .317, scored 11 runs, and racked up three doubles. Given the adjustments Akiyama had to make to adapt to playing in America, these stats should give Reds Country hope that last year’s struggles are behind the 32-year-old.