Reds Opening Day roster projection 2.0: Rotation becomes clearer, bench still muddled

Spring games have allowed a few players to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.

Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jose Barrero (2) catches a fly ball
Cincinnati Reds right fielder Jose Barrero (2) catches a fly ball / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY
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The calendar has flipped to March and the urgency for players to make their pitch for a spot on the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster has increased. Injuries have slowed the progress of several players this spring, and the Reds depth has been tested.

Jonathan India, Matt McLain, and Nick Lodolo have all been sidelined with various injuries this spring. Noelvi Marte recently made his Cactus League debut and is looking to solidify his spot on the Reds Opening Day roster with a lttle over three weeks left until the Washington Nationals arrive at Great American Ball Park.

Every starter, except Lodolo, has taken to the mound at least once this spring and the results have mixed. But the roster picture is becoming clearer, and the opportunities to secure a flight out of Goodyear headed for Cincinnati are becoming less and less with each passing day.

Reds Opening Day roster projection 2.0: Rotation becomes clearer, bench still muddled

Reds Opening Day infield (8)

  • Christian Encarnacion-Strand
  • Jonathan India
  • Elly De La Cruz
  • Tyler Stephenson
  • Matt McLain
  • Noelvi Marte
  • Jeimer Candelario
  • Luke Maile

The Cincinnati Reds infield is as deep as it's been in quite some time. The Reds can throw out about a dozen different combinations, and that doesn't even include Spencer Steer. McLain and India have been sidelined for the majority of camp, so it'll be good to see those two return to the field and get in some work. All signs point to both players being ready for Opening Day.

For the second consecutive spring training, Christian Encarnacion-Strand is impressing fans and coaches alike. Encarnacion-Strand is setting himself for a monster season, and will see plenty of opportunities despite the Reds' increased depth.

Marte is finally getting some reps this spring after sitting out the first couple of weeks while recovering from a hamstring injury. It appears as though the Reds' top prospect is full steam ahead with Opening Day now just three weeks away.

Elly De La Cruz, one of the most talked about players in Major League Baseball, seems to be setting up for a big year. De La Cruz has altered his approach at the plate, and if he can have success against left-handed pitching in 2024, we may be talking about an MVP candidate.

The catching duo of Tyler Stephenson and Luke Maile can be counted on behind the dish with the former logging the majority of starts heading into the upcoming season. One change Reds fans will see from last season is the likely absence of Stephenson acting as the team's designated hitter.

Reds Opening Day outfield (5)

  • Spencer Steer
  • Will Benson
  • Jake Fraley
  • TJ Friedl
  • Stuart Fairchild

The Reds 2024 Opening Day outfield merits some discussion. It's fair to say that four of the five spots have been claimed, but that final spot on the Reds' bench will feature an interesting battle between two players who are out of minor league options. There are some non-roster invitees who'll be trying to secure a spot as well.

Stuart Fairchild gets the nod for the moment, and his ability to play center field is something that cannot be understated. The former second-round pick has played well this spring and is the leader in the clubhouse at the moment.

But the Reds can't seem to quit Jose Barrero. If you've ever seen that GIF of WWE superstar The Undertaker raising up out of the casket, that's essentially how Barrero's major league career has gone. Every time you think he's done, the former top prospect seems to sneak back onto the radar.

With all things being equal, however, Barrero is going to have to play his tail off over the final few weeks of spring training, and even that might not be enough. But Reds fans shouldn't expect this roster battle to be over until final cuts are made.

Tony Kemp and Josh Harrison are also fighting for a roster spot this spring, but neither has outperformed Fairchild to this point. With less than a month left until Opening Day, it's Fairchild's job to lose.

The other four outfield spots are set in stone. Spencer Steer will get some starts in left field, but don't be surprised if David Bell runs with an outfield on Will Benson (LF), TJ Friedl (CF), and Jake Fraley (RF) on occasion either. Those four players will receive plenty of at-bats in 2024.

Reds Opening Day starting rotation (5)

  • Hunter Greene
  • Graham Ashcraft
  • Andrew Abbott
  • Frankie Montas
  • Brandon Williamson

After the first week of Cactus League action, it looked as though the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation would be the best in baseball. Then everyone came back to reality after a few of the starters were roughed up during their second time on the hill.

But don't be discouraged; that's just how spring games work. Pitchers are working on improving mechanics or crafting a new pitch, and it's better to do that type of stuff when the games don't really matter.

Speaking of a new pitch, it would seem that Hunter Greene has ditched his changeup in lieu of a splitter and curveball. For those Reds fans constantly complaining about Greene's lack of third offering, keep an eye out for both pitches in 2024.

Frankie Montas and Andrew Abbott struggled their second time out, but both pitchers should be expected to be part of the Reds Opening Day roster. Graham Ashcraft appears to be healthy following season-ending surgery last year, so it's good to see the right-hander back on the mound this spring.

The same cannot be said for Nick Lodolo, who has yet to throw a pitch during a spring game. Until he does, Reds fans can't count on the former first-round pick to be part of Cincinnati's Opening Day roster. While Nick Martinez is an option, and a good one, don't be surprised if Brandon Williamson secures that final spot in the Reds starting rotation.

Reds Opening Day bullpen (8)

  • Alexis Diaz
  • Buck Farmer
  • Lucas Sims
  • Emilio Pagán
  • Sam Moll
  • Brent Suter
  • Nick Martinez
  • Tejay Antone

The Reds bullpen is relatively set. Alexis Diaz will be the Reds closer in 2024 with Sam Moll, Lucas Sims, and possibly Brent Suter acting as the bridge to the ninth inning. Moll has been dealing with a shoulder injury this spring, but it's not expected to keep him out of the Reds Opening Day lineup.

Emilio Pagán, one of the many free agents the Reds acquired this offseason, recently spoke to The Athletic (subscription required) and during the interview talked about his willingness to take on whatever role the team needed in 2024. The veteran will be a positive influence on the Reds reliever during the season.

The best pitcher this spring has been Buck Farmer. The Reds inked the right-hander to a one-year deal during the offseason and Farmer has looked incredibly sharp this spring. The 33-year-old isn't putting up great strikeout numbers yet, but he's keeping the base paths clear and limiting hits. You can't ask much more from a middle reliever.

Nick Martinez could go either way once the roster is finalized. The right-hander is being stretched out as a starter, and if the Reds prefer to go to with a four-man rotation to start the season based on how the schedule lays out, Martinez can fill a multitude of roles.

Finally, look for that last bullpen spot to come down to battle between Tejay Antone and Fernando Cruz. The aforementioned four-man rotation idea could see both Antone and Cruz be part of the roster but until David Bell makes his intentions known, it should be assumed the Reds will break camp with five starters and eight relievers.

Ian Gibaut, who's out of minor league options, is also a candidate to be part of the Reds bullpen, but the right-hander is dealing with a forearm issue and is likely to begin the 2024 season on the IL.