4 biggest X-factors heading into the Reds 2023 season

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Graham Ashcraft / Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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Welcome to Opening Day, Reds Country! Hopefully you put in your vacation request early and are headed to the ballpark today. At the very least, grab some peanuts and Cracker Jacks, find a comfy spot in your recliner, and enjoy the Cincinnati Reds first game of the 2023 season.

I know last season was difficult to watch, but hope springs eternal and there's plenty to keep an eye on during the upcoming season. This Reds team has some of the best starting pitching in the division and some exciting, young prospects are poised to make their debut during the upcoming season.

Every year, there are some X-factors; players who's unforeseen contributions or unexpected disappointments help shape the overall feel for the season. Last season, Reds fans saw Brandon Drury and Alexis Diaz excel, while players like Joey Votto and Jonathan India disappointed. Who will be the Reds four biggest X-factors in 2023?

1. Reds biggest X-factors in 2023: Christian Encarnacion-Strand, infielder

Let's begin with the player who had the biggest spring, shall we? Christian Encarnacion-Strand came out swinging this spring - literally. It seemed as though every time Encarnacion-Strand stepped into the batters' box the ball was going to go a long way.

The Reds decided that now was not the time for Encarnacion-Strand and reassigned the infield prospect to minor-league camp a couple weeks back. Fans have also learned that Encarnacion-Strand will miss the first few weeks of the 2023 season with a back injury.

When we begin to talk about Christian Encarnacion-Strand's major league debut, t's not a matter of if, but when. The slugger showed more than enough with his bat this spring to be included on the team's Opening Day roster, but Encarnacion-Strand's glove could still use some refinement. That's espeically true with the 23-year-old learning a relatively new position.

Joey Votto, who will be out of the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day lineup as well, may be the biggest hurdle for Encarnacion-Strand to clear this season. There's no way that the rebuilding Reds will accelerate Encarnacion-Strand's development in order to supplant a future Hall of Famer during what could be his last year in Cincinnati.

But the Reds may have no choice if Encarnacion-Strand continues to mash in the minors this season. If push comes to shove, Cincinnati is not going to let Encarnacion-Strand wallow in the minor leagues if a bump in competition is what's necessary. When Encarnacion-Strand makes his big league debut could be an X-factor during the 2023 season.