3 Reds players who could be the difference between success and failure in 2024

The Cincinnati Reds have made some nice additions this offseason, but there are a few players who could determine how far this team goes next season.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene (21) is visited at the mound by catcher Tyler Stephenson
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene (21) is visited at the mound by catcher Tyler Stephenson / Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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Happy New Year, Reds fans. The 2024 season will usher in a new era of Cincinnati Reds baseball. Joey Votto is gone, and the keys have been handed over to a group of young, energetic, ballplayers who are looking to take this franchise to heights it hasn't seen in over a decade.

The Reds have also spent some money this offseason. After a few lean years, Cincinnati's ownership has ponied up this winter and already brought iseveral free agents on major-league deals. Jeimer Candelario, Nick Martinez, and Frankie Montas figure to be a big part of the Reds' plans in 2024.

But for a team like the Reds, free agency is a supplement to what the club already has on the roster. Heading into next season, there are a few players who could be key to the team's success or failure. Who are they, and how can their performance impact the 2024 season?

1. Reds LHP Nick Lodolo could be the difference between success & failure in 2024

Nick Lodolo was absent for most of the 2023 season. Had the left-hander been healthy, perhaps that would have been enough to push the Cincinnati Reds into the postseason last year. But even in the seven games that he did start, Lodolo did not look like the stellar rookie performer from 2022.

Lodolo was 2-1 with a 6.29 ERA, 5.79 FIP, and 1.748 WHIP. No matter how you look at those numbers, it's tough to spin it any way but negative. Did Lodolo's injury contribute to his subpar performance? Probably. But we have no way of knowing since he never returned to the big league mound after landing on the IL in early-May.

It was the long ball that doomed Lodolo early and often in 2023. After seeing 13 balls leave the yard across 103.1 innings of work during his rookie season, the southpaw allowed 10 round-trippers in just over 34 innings pitched in 2023.

Nick Lodolo, if healthy, has the potential to be the Cincinnati Reds best starting pitcher in 2024. But he's going to have to prove it. The competition to be part of the Reds rotation in 2024 will be fierce when spring training begins next month.

While Lodolo, being left-handed and entering his third season, probably has a leg up on almost every pitcher vying for a spot in the rotation, the 25-year-old is going to have to earn it. Not only that, but he'll have to pitch up to his ability in order to maintain that spot. Lodolo could be a difference-maker for the Reds, but could also be a major disappointment.

2. Reds RHP Hunter Greene could be the difference between success & failure in 2024

The Cincinnati Reds showed their commitment to Hunter Greene last spring after signing the young gun to a six-year contract extension. In all likelihood, Greene will be the team's Opening Day starter when the 2024 season begins in late-March.

On pure, raw ability, Greene is the best pitcher on the Reds' staff. Quite frankly, there's not a close second. However, in the big leagues, one cannot get by on talent alone. That's a lesson that Greene has had to learn the hard way during his first two major league season.

Some Reds fans have ridiculed Greene, forgetting that he effectively missed two seasons of minor-league development; Greene missed the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery and the 2020 minor league season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some fans have even suggested that Greene should be moved to the bullpen.

While the frustration is understandable, Greene, based on his overall talent, is a frontline starter. But the right-hander must become more efficient in 2024. That starts with going deeper into ball games and staying off the injured list.

Continued development of his third offering and more movement from both his fastball and changeup will help as well. Greene, according to Baseball Savant, only went to his off-speed pitch five-percent of the time in 2023.

The Cincinnati Reds did not land a top-of-the-rotation starting pitcher this offseason because they believe Hunter Greene can be that guy. The success of the Reds 2024 season may hinge on the development of Greene from developing pitcher to frontline starter.

3. Reds C Tyler Stephenson could be the difference between success & failure in 2024

The Cincinnati Reds have quality depth up and down their lineup. Currently, the Reds have about dozen capable infielders. If Christian Encarnacion-Strand is suffering through a rough-patch, Spencer Steer and Jeimer Candelario can play first base. If Elly De La Cruz struggles, Matt McLain and Noelvi Marte have experience playing shortstop.

Even the Reds pitching depth has become a strength. Fans are arguing, and with good reason, about which five pitchers will begin the season as part of Cincinnati's starting rotation. Connor Phillips, Andrew Abbott, and Brandon Williamson, all of whom had varying success in 2023, will be locked in a battle this spring to remain on the active roster.

But the same cannot be said for the Reds' depth behind the plate. It's Tyler Stephenson, Luke Maile, and a whole lot of question marks. Yes, Austin Wynns plays above-average defense, but the veteran couldn't hit water if he fell out of boat and is unlikely to be called upon unless Stephenson or Maile suffer an injury.

Curt Casali isn't there anymore, so Stephenson will donning the tools of ignorance on a regular basis in 2024. After experimenting with first base, it was clear about three weeks into the season that it wasn't going to work. Stephenson then rotated between acting as the team's catcher and designated hitter until Casali hit the IL midway through the 2023 season.

Stephenson was out of sync; both behind the plate and in the batters' box. The former first-round pick, who had his 2022 season cut short due to injury, was unable to tap into his power. Stephenson's OPS fell from .854 to .695.

But worse than his hitting was Stephenson's defense. Perhaps an absence from regular playing time behind the dish effected his performance. Stephenson's framing has never been above-average, but that area of his game was downright putrid in 2023. According to Baseball Savant, Stephenson ranked incredibly low in blocking, framing, and pop time.

With so many talented hitters on next year's team, Tyler Stephenson doesn't have to have the best bat on the club, but being more than the Reds' No. 9 hitter is almost a must. But more than his offensive performance in 2024, the Cincinnati Reds need Stephenson to become at least an average defender behind the plate.