3 outfielders the Reds can still bring on board during TJ Friedl’s injury rehab

TJ Friedl will miss the first several weeks of the 2024 season.

Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl
Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl / Emilee Chinn/Cincinnati Reds/GettyImages

Cincinnati Reds outfielder TJ Friedl won't be on the field for Opening Day. The 28-year-old was arguably Cincinnati's best player in 2023 and the table-setter for manager David Bell's lineup. Friedl suffered a wrist injury during spring training and will be out of action for approximately six weeks.

For the moment, the plan is to ride with a combination of Will Benson and Stuart Fairchild in center field. But as the 2024 season is about to begin, the Reds are still short one player.

Cincinnati can always recall Bubba Thompson to take that spot, but there could be some alternatives available. Might the Reds dip back into free agency? Is there a trade candidate that Reds President of Baseball Operations has his eye on? Could the Reds call up one of their young prospects? Who could replace Friedl while the Reds outfielder begins to rehab from his injury?

Kyle Lewis, free agent outfielder

It's somewhat surprising that Kyle Lewis is still without a team. The former AL Rookie of the Year began his career with a bang, hitting a home run in each of his first three games. Lewis' performance during the pandemic shortened 2020 season earned him recognition from all over, and the former first-round pick was expected to shine in the Seattle Mariners outfield for the next decade.

But a knee injury in 2021 torpedoed Lewis' career. The outfielder tore the meniscus in his right knee and subsequently missed most of his sophomore season. Lewis battled a concussion in 2022 and lingering effects from his knee injury saw Lewis play in just 36 games.

The 2022 season was his last in the Emerald City. Lewis latched on with the Arizona Diamondbacks for a short stint last year, but was non-tendered after the 2023 season concluded. Lewis never signed this past offseason.

Lewis could be a sneaky add to the Reds roster, but having not played this spring, it seems like gamble to bring the 28-year-old this close to the season. Lewis does have minor league options remaining, so the Reds could conceivably sign him to a contract and send him to Triple-A for a tuneup. There are very few players on the open market with Lewis' skillset, but health is always a concern. Lewis has played in just 34 major league games the past two seasons.

Óscar Mercado, Padres outfielder

Reds fans are familiar with Óscar Mercado. The outfielder began his major league career with the Reds' NL Central Division rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. After being traded to the Guardians for former Reds outfielder Conner Capel, Mercado spent the next few years in Cleveland.

Mercado was expected to be one of the better young prospects in the Cleveland outfield, but instead, the highly-regarded outfield prospect crashed and burned. Mercado had a tremendous season in 2019, but it was all downhill from there. After hitting .269/.318/.443 during his first year in the bigs, Mercado bottomed out with a meager .348 OPS during the 2020 season.

Mercado bounced around with the Philadelphia Phillies, San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Dodgers, as well as second stint with both the Guardians and Cardinals. Mercado isn't so much a journeyman but rather a failed prospect.

But after signing a minor-league deal with the Padres this past offseason, Mercado put together a nice spring campaign and almost broke camp with the Friars prior to the Seoul Series last week. Mercado hit .320/.433/.640 this spring with two home runs and seven RBI.

Mercado was outrighted to Triple-A El Paso in favor of San Diego's young prospect Jackson Merrill. The 29-year-old could likely be had in a trade for next to nothing and could provide a nice short-term fix for Friedl's absence to start the 2024 season.

Blake Dunn, Reds outfield prospect

If the Reds were in search of an internal candidate, Bubba Thompson would likely be the guy. Thompson bounced around to a couple different teams this offseason, but somehow returned to the Reds prior to the start of spring camp. Thompson hit .269/.367/.462 during Cactus League play.

But the Reds have one of their top prospects on the cusp of making his major league debut. Blake Dunn was invited to spring training this year, and while he battled an elbow injury early in camp, Dunn excelled when he finally got on the field. According to FanGraphs, Dunn hit .571/.667/.714 with a wRC+ of 275.

Dunn has arguably done everything he needs to do in order to make it to The Show. Dunn was the Reds best minor league player in 2023, and at 25 years old, it's doubtful he needs much more seasoning.

However, Dunn's contract would need to be selected in order to make his major league debut. At this stage of the season, it seems more likely that the Reds would run with Thompson, or even Jacob Hurtubise, both of whom are on the Reds 40-man roster.

But don't rule Dunn out completely. Even if he doesn't make the Reds Opening Day roster, a strong showing during the first couple weeks down at Triple-A Louisville could earn the former Western Michigan standout a call-up to the big leagues.

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