Cincinnati Reds: How Joey Votto’s return affects the Opening Day roster

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 21: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during a game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 21: Joey Votto #19 of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during a game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images) /
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Joey Votto is back! But what does that mean for the rest of the Cincinnati Reds roster? The starting lineup is unlikely to change, but Votto’s presence will undoubtedly have an effect on the Cincinnati bench.

According to Mark Sheldon of MLB.com, Reds General Manager doesn’t expect Votto to be back on the field right away, saying the team will let the former MVP “get his legs underneath him an go from there.” If Votto is indeed back for Opening Day versus the St. Louis Cardinals, what does that mean for the rest of the roster?

Joey Votto is back in Reds camp!

Joey Votto may or may not be ready for Opening Day, but I’m always the eternal optimist, so I think you can go ahead and pencil in the six-time All-Star as the Cincinnati Reds starting first baseman on April 1st.

If Votto can’t go, look for Kyle Farmer to start at first base. Mike Moustakas was an option before David Bell shuffled his infield, and moving Moose from second base to third base to first base doesn’t seem like a realistic option.

Farmer was the most likely option to start at shortstop this season before Bell and coaching staff shifted Eugenio Suárez from the hot corner back to the position that he played during his rookie season in 2014. Starting Geno at shortstop will enable Farmer to fill the top utility role on this year’s team, as he’s able to play all four spots on the infield dirt and suit up behind the plate.

Which Reds players are most affected by Joey Votto’s return?

While Farmer’s place on the Opening Day roster seems secure, the same cannot be said for some other utility infielders battling it out for the final utility role on the Reds. Dee Strange-Gordon, Jonathan India, Alex Blandino, Nicky Delmonico, Max Schrock, and Mike Freeman are fighting for those final few spots.

Provided Cincinnati continues to roll with Suárez at shortstop, the Reds’ brass would be foolish not to enter the 2021 season with anyone other than India manning the keystone. India has lived up to the billing of the No. 5 overall pick and looks ready to force his way into the Cincinnati starting lineup at second base.

Schrock has surprised many fans this spring, but the former Cardinals infielder seems like a perfect fit for the Reds bench. Schrock can field second and third base and has a great understanding the strike zone.

Blandino just keeps on producing; both in the field and at the dish. Had Cincinnati not signed Strange-Gordon to a contract this offseason, I think Blandino would be a lock to be on the bench for Opening Day.

However, having signed the former Mariners’ utility infielder to a minor-league deal, if the Reds want to keep the speedster, Strange-Gordon must be added to the 40-man roster. Blandino still has a minor-league option remaining, so unless Joey Votto is unable to go on April 1st, look for Blandino to be left off the Opening Day roster.

Freeman and Delmonico will likely be left off the 26-man roster as well. If another team fails to take a flyer on either non-roster invite, there’s a chance both could wind up at Triple-A Louisville to begin the 2021 season.

If Joey Votto is a go for Opening Day, look for he, Suárez, Moustakas, and India to fill out the infield. With Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Nick Castellanos, and Tucker Barnhart likely to fill out the rest of David Bell’s lineup card, the race to secure the final few bench spots is up for grabs in the coming days.

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Farmer, Strange-Gordon, and Tyler Stephenson will account for 60% of the Cincinnati Reds bench. The group of Blandino, Schrock, Freeman, Aristides Aquino, Mark Payton, and Tyler Naquin will be battling it out over the final two weeks. Let’s see who’s left standing.