3 Reds players to watch during the Cactus League opener vs. the Guardians

Cincinnati Reds shortstops Jose Barrero (2), Elly De La Cruz (44)
Cincinnati Reds shortstops Jose Barrero (2), Elly De La Cruz (44) / Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY Sports
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Baseball is back, Reds Country! While the excitement surrounding the Cincinnati Reds 2023 season is a bit diminished because of the perceived lack of commitment to winning, it's still fantastic to have Reds baseball back.

Today marks the start of Cactus League play as later this afternoon the Reds and Cleveland Guardians will get things started from Goodyear, Arizona.

There will be no shortage of players to keep an eye during spring ball as so many will be vying for a spot on the Opening Day roster. But, which three players should draw the most attention during the Reds Cactus League opener?

1. Reds player to watch during the Cactus League opener: Elly De La Cruz

By now, every Reds fan has heard the name Elly De La Cruz. Coming into camp last spring, De La Cruz was a name that only diehard Reds fans knew. But this year, he's probably the most talked about play in camp.

De La Cruz has potential to be a five-tool player. While his position may yet be undefined, his talent certainly is not. De La Cruz has crazy power from both sides of the plate, ridiculous speed, and an absolute cannon for an arm.

But, the Reds have maintained that the plan is bring along De La Cruz very slowly. The 21-year-old ended last season at Double-A Chattanooga and may well begin his 2023 season back in southeastern Tennessee.

Elly De La Cruz's stated goal has been to make it to The Show. But the Reds shortstop prospect may have to wait a couple months before making his goal a reality. However, if De La Cruz is able to wow the coaching staff, there's a tiny chance he could force his way onto the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster a la Jonathan India in 2021.

2. Reds player to watch during the Cactus League opener: Jose Barrero

Sadly, this may be Jose Barrero's first and last chance. Let's pause for a moment and think about everything that Barrero has gone through the past few seasons, shall we? During the pandemic-shortened season, in which everything was backwards and very little made sense, the Reds added Barrero to the roster despite never playing above A-Ball.

The rookie played in place of Freddy Galvis, that is until the Reds made a late-seasonssurge that thrust them into the playoff picture. After starting nearly every game through his first two weeks with the team, Barrero was then relegated to a bench player for the last week of the season and the Reds' postseason appearance.

In 2021, the Reds rightfully started Barrero at Double-A Chattanooga. After all, he'd never even seen a Double-A field until 2021. Barrero was dominant at both Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville and received a call-up to the bigs.

But once again, the Reds took a lukewarm approach to Barrero's time in the majors - moving him from shortstop to second base and then to the outfield. Barrero never received consistent reps in the field or at the plate and logged just 50 at-bats in 21 games.

Finally, last spring looked like Barrero's chance to prove himself in the big leagues. But offseason wrist surgery robbed him of competing for the starting shortstop job, and Barrero never looked comfortable at the plate last season. His time at Triple-A and the major leagues were disastrous with strikeout-rates approaching 40.0%.

So, Jose Barrero enters spring training this year with conundrum. Not only does he have to outplay Kevin Newman in order to be part of the Reds Opening Day roster, but he's also got to fend off top prospects Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz. Barrero has a huge task in front of him this spring.

3. Reds player to watch during the Cactus League opener: Brandon Williamson

Last spring, the Cincinnati Reds front office began to tear it all down. Sure, there was some foreshadowing during the winter when Tucker Barnhart was traded and the team waived left-hander Wade Miley. Even trading Sonny Gray to the Minnesota Twins was somewhat expected.

But it was mid-March last year when the Reds rebuild became fully-known to everybody. With one phone call from Cincinnati to Seattle, the Reds traded fan favorites Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez to the Mariners and in return received a relatively unknown outfielder, an injured pitcher, and two prospects.

Now, Jake Fraley has since shown himself to be, at least, a serviceable outfielder. And while Justin Dunn is likely out until later this season, there's hope that once he's healthy he can reach those lofty expectations that come with being a first-round draft pick.

But it was those prospects that could really help turn things around for the Reds. Connor Phillips is a non-roster invitee to big league camp and will likely begin the 2023 season down at Double-A Chattanooga. But Brandon Williamson has a real chance to break camp with the Reds this spring.

Williamson draws the start for today's Cactus League opener against the Cleveland Guardians. It's highly unlikely that Williamson goes more than two innings (if that), but it's got to be encouraging to see one of the pieces that Cincinnati acquired last spring set to toe the rubber this afternoon.

Williamson is locked in a battle with a handful of veterans for one of the last positions on the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster. A strong showing today and throughout Cactus League play could see the southpaw wind up on the 26-man roster that'll take the field on March 30th versus the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Next. 5 bold predictions for the Reds 2023 season. dark