Photo Credit: Minda Haas Kuhlmann from Omaha, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Okay, so how would I describe the first couple months of the Reds season? The feeling is somewhere between wanting to insert a bamboo shoot under my left thumbnail and hitting 100 MPH on the speedometer in my car for the first time. Up and down, I guess, would be the kindest way I can describe it.
Hunter Greene has been as breathtaking as he’s been bewildering. Nick Lodolo was unhittable for a couple games and hasn’t missed a right-hander’s bat since. And now Graham Ashcraft is getting in on the action, allowing eight earned in less than two innings in his last start – and that was after all the nice things I said about him! At least Jonathan India’s having a bounce-back season, otherwise this season would start to look really dark.
I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been saying this since spring training: the Reds aren’t going to be all that great this year. It might be a long season. But that doesn’t mean there won’t be great moments. The young players are going to have their growing pains, but it’s a talented group. Can the front office take advantage? That’s a completely different question (and one that makes me feel a bit squeamish).
Okay Ian, eyes on the prize. Focus on the newbies – think about how fun TJ Friedl has been this year… Hope is a loaded word, but there’s times when I legitimately believe that this Reds squad could be good. Not this year (can you imagine?), but next year? Maybe? Two Years? Definitely.
That’s because, at the moment, the Reds farm system looks absolutely stacked. Seriously. You don’t want to be a AAA pitcher facing the Louisville Bats right now. It’s like the ‘27 Yankees down there (well, a resemblance, anyway). Check out this:
Elly De La Cruz, the Reds top prospect and a genuine five-tool player, is currently slashing .268/.348/.598 with 6 HRs, 17 RBI and 4 SBs in 19 games and is just a few days removed from a game where he hit three balls with an exit velocity over 116 MPH – one that was recorded at 118.8 MPH, the highest exit velocity for any hit in the majors or minors this year
Matt McLain, the Reds #5 prospect has absolutely annihilated AAA pitching this year to the tune of 17 HRs, a .341 BA, and a gargantuan 1.171 OPS through 36 games
Christian Encarnacion-Strand, the Reds #6 prospect and one of the players the Reds received in the Tyler Mahle trade, is also destroying the baseball, slashing .347/.372/.720 with 8 HRs and 17 RBI through 17 games
Left-hander Andrew Abbott, the Reds #10 prospect, was recently called up from AA after completely overwhelming hitters in his first three starts, and has barely missed a beat after being called up to AAA, going 1 - 0 with a 3.00 ERA and an absurd 24 strikeouts in just 15.0 innings (although I'm worried I may have just jinxed him like I did Graham Ashcraft...)
And that’s just AAA. Noelvi Marte, the centerpiece of the Luis Castillo trade and the Reds #2 prospect, is tearing it up in AA and right-hander Chase Petty, the Reds #7 prospect, looked great in his first AA start. As much as we’ve complained about the Reds recent inability to develop young talent, you can’t denigrate them now. The pipeline is filling quickly.
And while no amount of hits or strikeouts or wins in the minors will do the major-league club a lick of good, it appears that far-better days are ahead for the Cincinnati Reds. They haven’t been good in 2023 (currently sitting at 18 - 21), but they’ve been in most games and seem to have a knack for comebacks – and they're currently riding a three-game win streak. In two years, the roster will likely look a lot different, but you can already see the makings of a genuine, competitive core to this franchise.
Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft are going to have their struggles, but they’re the future of the rotation. Jonathan India and TJ Freidl are the future table-setters for this offense. Tyler Stephenson needs to step up his game, but after going without a home run to start the season in his first 33 appearances, he’s knocked two out of the park in his last five games. Hopefully, he’s breaking out of his slump and will start to look like the elite hitting catcher he appeared to be blossoming into last year.
There are still plenty of questions. Will Joey Votto ever play again, and if he does, will he look the same? The bullpen looks good now, but which relievers can be counted on for years to come, given relief pitching is notoriously inconsistent year-to-year? What is the future for Jose Barrero and Nick Senzel? Has Spencer Steer locked down an everyday spot? And for the love of God, can we please find somebody to be the fourth and fifth starters?
We aren’t going to get all the answers this year – and that’s okay. This was always going to be a rebuilding year. What we needed to see, more than anything, was progress. Given the Reds were 11 - 28 last year through their first 39 games, I think it’s safe to say progress is being made, but there’s also no reason to think this process won’t accelerate once the young studs get their opportunities. So, try to resist scratching your eyes out the next time Luke Weaver allows six runs in the first inning – it’ll be worth it to see Elly De La Cruz.