Ranking the Reds top 10 rookie performers from the 2023 season

The Reds rookies were some of the best in baseball during the 2023 season.

Cincinnati Reds rookie Elly De La Cruz
Cincinnati Reds rookie Elly De La Cruz / Andy Lyons/GettyImages
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The Cincinnati Reds had an abundance of rookies take the field in 2023. With over 20 first-year players seeing the field this season, the fact that Cincinnati finished with a record above .500 should give Reds fans a lot of hope heading into 2024.

But who was the best rookie performer for the Reds this season? Don't forget that players like Spencer Steer and Fernando Cruz, though they debuted in 2022, were still considered rookies this past season.

Obviously ranking every single rookie that took the field would be absurd. No offense to Jake Wong and Randy Wynne, but those two did not make the cut. Who were the Cincinnati Reds Top 10 rookie performers in 2023?

10. Connor Phillips, Reds rookie pitcher

Poor Connor Phillips. He'll remember that outing against the St. Louis Cardinals during the final weekend of the season in which he walked three batters on 12 consecutive pitches. But don't let that define the rookie hurler's first taste of the big leagues.

Phillips was added to the Reds roster as an injury replacement while half of the staring rotation was on the COVID-19-relatetd injured list in September. The right-hander had been dealing all season in the minors and got his shot to shine in the majors with five starts during the final month of the season.

Obviously, Reds fans saw why there had been some hesitancy with calling Phillips up so early; his command and control still need some work. But fans also got a glimpse of why the Cincinnati coaching staff is so high on the 22-year-old as well.

Connor Phillips has the type of repertoire that will play at the major league level. I would love to see Phillips begin next season back in Triple-A. The Cincinnati Reds have enough horses to get through the first couple of months of the 2024 season while Phillips gets to make some adjustments against minor league hitters before returning to The Show.

9. Daniel Duarte, Reds rookie pitcher

Daniel Duarte was actually added to the Cincinnati Reds 40-man roster during the 2021-22 offseason and made his major laegue debut in 2022. Along with Alexis Diaz, Duarte showed promise during the Reds' 2022 spring training and was part of Cincinnati's Opening Day roster that year.

Unfortunately, an elbow injury put Duarte on the shelf for the remainder of the season after pitching in just three games during the 2022 season. This year, Duarte was signed to a minor league deal during the offseason and was a non-roster invitee to spring training.

Though he didn't make the Opening Day roster, Duarte worked hard while down on the farm and eventually received a call-up to the major leagues. Duarte's perseverance paid off, and the right-hander became a key piece of a Cincinnati bullpen that overachieved in 2023.

Daniel Duarte looks like a keeper. There were even times in 2023 where David Bell leaned hard on Duarte with so many other relievers absolutely gassed due to overuse. Not sure how Duarte will fit into the Reds bullpen in 2024, but there's a good chance that the 26-year-old will break camp with the big league team.

8. Noelvi Marte, Reds rookie third baseman

Keep in mind, these rankings have nothing to do with a player's potential. If that were the case, Noelvi Marte might be sitting in the Top 3 on this list. As it is, the Cincinnati Reds rookie, who'll still be considered a rookie in 2024, solidified himself during the final month of the 2023 season.

Marte had been mashing all season down in the minor leagues, but it wasn't until late-August that the Reds made the move to call up the 21-year-old. Marte had already been added to the 40-man roster during the previous offseason.

I'm not sure what the expectations were for Noelvi Marte, but it's safe to say that he exceeded him during the first 35 games of his major league career. Marte was, of course, the key piece of the trade last summer that sent Luis Castillo to the Seattle Mariners. That trade looks pretty good right about now.

The Cincinnati Reds may have found their third baseman. Marte hit for power and hit for average while also showing off some above-average speed on the base paths. While others like Spencer Steer and Christian Encarnacion-Strand can suit up and play the hot corner, that spot looks like Marte's to lose heading into spring training next year.

7. Elly De La Cruz, Reds rookie shortstop

This might shock a few people, but again, this is based on performance. Elly De La Cruz has all the physical tools in the world to be one of the Top 5 best players in baseball. But, there were definitely some concerns that fans saw during De La Cruz's rookie campaign.

De LaCruz has an absolute cannon for an arm, but his defense at shortstop needs some work. His elite athleticism allows him to make plays on the infielder dirt that nobody else can. However, there were times when the routine plays seemed to trip up De La Cruz.

Strikeouts were also a concern about midway through De La Cruz's rookie campaign. The 21-year-old seemed to hit the rookie wall around the middle of August. But, once David Bell got De La Cruz out of the leadoff spot, he began to return to the player that set the baseball world on fire during the month of June.

Don't take this low ranking as an indictment of Elly De La Cruz's ability, but rather a fair evaluation of an up-and-down rookie season. De La Cruz's WAR ranked sixth on the team among rookies according to Baseball Reference, so this seems like an appropriate spot for the budding superstar.

6. Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Reds rookie infielder

The Cincinnati Reds picked the right time to finally find a replacement for Joey Votto. After years of searching for a potential successor for the future Hall of Famer, the Reds seem to have a good one in Christian Encarnacion-Strand.

One of two rookies who were part of last year's trade with the Minnesota Twins, Encarnacion-Strand is an absolute monster. The Reds infielder may well crush 35-plus home runs every season, especially playing half his games at Great American Ball Park.

There are flaws to his game to be sure, but there might not be a more intimidating presnece in the batters' box for the Cincinnati Reds than Encarnacion-Strand. the 23-year-old, in just over 60 games, recorded 113 OPS+ and clobbered 13 home runs. Over a 162-game season, that would equate to 33 round trippers.

Christian Encarnacion-Strand is that middle-of-the-order power-bat that so many Reds fans want to see the Cincinnati Reds acquire during the offseason. Don't worry, Reds Country they've already got one. Encarnacion-Strand is going to be a problem for opposing pitchers.

5. Fernando Cruz, Reds rookie pitcher

If there's one player who doesn't get enough love from the Cincinnati Reds fanbase, it's Fernando Cruz. Yes, it's difficult to think of a player who's over the age of 30 being a rookie, but that's technically true when it comes to Cruz. Cruz made his major league debut last September after years in the independent leagues.

The Reds reliever bailed the starting rotation out of so many jams this season. While Reds fans were irrate with Cruz after his first performance of the season on Opening Day, the right-hander slowly won back their affections by dominating opponents over the second-half of the season.

With Alexis Diaz, Ian Gibaut, and Lucas Sims being absolutely gassed following the All-Star break, Cruz's stint on the IL midway through his rookie campaign allowed the right-hander to get a much-needed break.

Over the second-half of the 2023 season, there may not have been a more reliable reliever on the Cincinanti Reds roster than Fernando Cruz. Along with Diaz, Gibaut, Sims, Tejay Antone, and Daniel Duarte, the Reds would seem to have six of their eight bullpen spots already covered for the 2024 season.

4. Brandon Williamson, rookie Reds pitcher

Brandon Williamson failed to make the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster out of spring training. After being added to the 40-man roster during the offseason, Williamson worked hard to find a spot in the rotation while pitching in Goodyear.

But, it was not to be. The Reds instead went with a rotation of Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo, Connor Overton, and Luis Cessa. But, as things oftentimes do, the situation changed. After Cessa was DFA'd and Overton and Lodolo landed on the IL, it became neessary to find a replacement.

Williamson had struggled with command and control down in the minors, but became the Reds most reliable starting pitcher after the All-Star break. I have to admit, I did not see this coming from Williamson following his 2022 performance down on the farm. But the left-hander looks the part heading into next season.

The Cincinanti Reds starting rotation is going to be full heading to Goodyear, and that doesn't even include some potential additions through free agecny or trades this offseason. But after seeing the success that Williamson had in 2023, it's hard not see him in the mix on Opening Day next season.

3. Andrew Abbott, Reds rookie pitcher

Andrew Abbott ran out of gas down the stretch, but for the first few months of his major league career, the left-hander was carrying a battered and bruised Cincinnati Reds rotation. Several starters landed on the IL, but Abbott stepped up and was the leader of the Reds rotation for most the year.

Abbott is a throwback player, and Reds fans are going to love him for years to come. There were questions about whether or not Abbott would be a reliever or a starter, but the southpaw let his left arm speak for him.

Abbott's insvi-ball is darn-near un-hittable. The left-hander does a tremendous job of hiding the baseball through his delivery, and even though his velocity is nothing to write home about, Abbott is able to get the job done.

I wouldn't want to be David Bell next spring when the Cincinnati Reds skipper is tasked with laying out his 2024 starting rotation. If Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo, Brandon Williamson, Connot Phillips, and Andrew Abbott are all healthy, how do split those six up?

And again, that's not including any potential offseason additions. Furthermore, I wouldn't want to be an opposing team that has to stare down that starting rotation. Sheesh!

2. Matt McLain, Reds rookie infielder

If Matt McLain didn't finish his 2023 campaign on the the injured list, he might have been the Cincinnati Reds top rookie performer this season. The former UCLA Bruin showcased a ton of talent during his first season in the major leagues.

McLain was just drafted a little over two years ago, but showed during his brief time in the minors that he was major league-ready. McLain made the jump to the bigs before Elly De La Cruz, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, and Noelvi Marte. McLain led all rookie in bWAR this season.

McLain occupies a very intriguing position heading into the offseason. Will he stay on the infield dirt or move to the outfield grass? Will he line up at shortstop or perhaps occupy second base? McLain is arugbaly the Reds best infield defender and offers more range at shortstop that 2021 NL Rookie fo the Year Jonathan India.

It was a shame to see Matt McLain end his rookie year on the IL, but Reds fans saw enough of the 23-year-old during his first season to know that he looks the part of a big league ballplayer for years to come. While McLain's ceiling may be lower than any other player on this list, his floor is very high.

1. Spencer Steer, Reds rookie infielder/ outfielder

What more can you say about Spencer Steer? The Cincinnati Reds acquired Steer from the Minnesota Twins in 2022 and he became the team's most versatile defender in 2023. I'd argue that Steer was Cincinnati's MVP in his first full year in the big leagues.

Steer's 3.0 bWAR ranks second among all Reds rookies behind only Matt McLain. Steer led the team, not just rookies, but the entire team, in hits (158), doubles (37), home runs (23), walks (68), and RBI (86). Steer was also among the top 3 on the team in on-base percentage and OPS.

Steer came up through the Twins farm system as a third baseman, and that's where the 25-year-old opened his rookie campaign. But, as the season moved along and more players received a call-up to the big leagues, Steer became David Bell's most versatile piece.

Steer saw time at the hot corner as well as first base, second base, left field, and right field. I firmly believe the Reds coaching staff could walk up to Steer, ask him to play catchers, and he'd go grab a face mask and shinguards. He is a team player.

Spencer Steer was the Cincinnati Reds most consistent hitter and the best all-around rookie this season. There's even an argument to be made that outside of TJ Friedl, Steer was the Reds' MVP. But we'll leave that debate for another day.