3 Reds players who must outperform expectations in Matt McLain's absence

The Reds will need several players to step up with Matt McLain on the IL.

Cincinnati Reds shortstop Matt McLain (9) and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) jog
Cincinnati Reds shortstop Matt McLain (9) and Cincinnati Reds second baseman Jonathan India (6) jog / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

The Cincinnati Reds made it official just before Opening Day. Matt McLain will miss at least the first two months of the 2024 season, and likely much more after undergoing shoulder surgery earlier this week. McLain was placed on the 60-day IL on Thursday, and the team has yet to determine a timeline for his return.

While the Reds will also be missing TJ Friedl and Noelvi Marte, there may not be a bigger hole to fill than the vacancy left with McLain on the shelf. McLain put together a fantastic rookie campaign in 2023 and was expected to be the Reds' every second baseman this season.

The Reds received contributions from all over during Thursday's game against the Washington Nationals, but that will have to carryover to the next game, the next week, and the next month. The NL Central will be more difficult than some want to admit, and if Cincinnati is looking to return to the top of the division, it'll take some players who are focused on outperforming their expectations. Who will the Reds look to with McLain out of action?

Santiago Espinal, Reds 2B

The Reds made a late-spring acquisition after learning of McLain's injury. The Reds sent a minor-league pitcher to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for Santiago Espinal. The versatile infielder is presumed to see time at both second base and shortstop.

McLain was the backup to Elly De La Cruz at shortstop. Without No. 9 in the lineup, that duty was going to fall to Spencer Steer until Nick Krall picked up the phone and worked out a deal with Blue Jays Executive Vice President Ross Atkins.

Espinal is likely to play behind both De La Cruz and Jonathan India on a regular basis. Espinal was an All-Star in 2022, but he's not going to pack the same punch with his bat as McLain. Espinal is a contact hitter with a low strikeout rate.

Look for Reds manager David Bell to utilize Espinal as a defensive replacement late in games and a spot starter when De La Cruz or India need a day off. Marte could've easily filled this spot on the roster, but after getting busted for using performance enhancing drugs, the 22-year-old won't return to the Reds until sometime later this summer.

Jonathan India, Reds 2B

India will undoubtedly get the lion's share of starts at second base in McLain's absence. It's a position that the former NL Rookie of the Year is familiar with, and while India has spent the offseason learning how to play multiple positions, with all the injuries, the Reds will be relying on him to man the keystone at the outset of 2024.

India will also be needed to hit atop the Reds lineup. It was questionable where India was going to fit with Friedl and McLain in the lineup, but with both players on the IL, look for infielder to be Bell's leadoff hitter more times than not.

India's defense at second base has been a point of contention since his arrival in the big leagues, and understandably so. The 27-year-old grades low when it comes to most of the advanced defensive metrics. But India committed just nine errors in 2023 after logging 10 miscues in 18 fewer games the year before.

The Universtiy of Florirda alum is never going to win a Gold Glove at second base, but India's bat is his carrying tool. If India is able to get on base with regularity, and lead the Reds in runs scored, he'll have done his job while McLain is recovering from surgery.

Will Benson, Reds OF

Whatever the Reds expectations were for Will Benson heading into the 2024 season, they'll need to be increased with the team now playing without McLain. No, Benson doesn't play on the infield dirt, but his style of play is quite similar to McLain's. Based on Bell's Opening Day lineup, Benson is going to get more opportunities than Reds fans initially thought.

Saturday's roster will be very telling with left-hander Patrick Corbin on the bump for the Nationals. It's doubtful Bell bats Benson as high as he did on Opening Day, and the left-handed slugger may be out of the lineup altogether.

But when a right-handed pitcher is on the mound, you can bet that Benson will be on Bell's lineup card. Benson has the similar type of power/ speed combination that McLain possesses, but the outfielder is about 10 inches taller.

Without McLain, Friedl, and Marte for the foreseeable future, it'll take an all-hands-on-deck type of mentality for the Reds to overcome the loss of three of their most talented players. If Espinal, India, and Benson can step up, Cincinnati has a great chance to remain afloat until their made whole again. Nick Martini took it upon himself to be the star on Opening Day, but Cincinnati can't count on that type of production every game, or can they?

More Reds News from Blog Red Machine