As someone who spent nearly three decades as a hopeless Royals fan, I understand it may not be easy to get excited about baseball for Reds fans.
You're coming off a 94-loss season, your team is likely worse than it was in 2016 and the Cubs are still in your division. If all you're doing is counting wins and losses, it's going to be a long year.
Thankfully, the Reds at least have some young players and prospects. Their development and whether the Reds can find them playing time will be two of the biggest questions in 2017. Another huge one on the offensive side of things will be whether Billy Hamilton ever becomes a professional hitter. This offense was better than expected in 2016, and if Hamilton could take a step as a hitter, that would help them maintain even if someone like Adam Duvall were to regress.
The pitching staff will have to deal with a bad home park, a low win total and a tough division if they're going to make a breakthrough. We'll discuss which pitchers may do just that, but the most likely future stars will start the year in the minor leagues, with Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett all hoping to get a shot at some point this season.
This could all sound a bit surprising, so please remember that the Reds do have Joey Votto. He's one of the best hitters in baseball and should absolutely be considered towards the end of the first round.
What does Billy Hamilton's career year look like?
This is such a fun question. Hamilton is so incredibly fast and has been so depressingly bad at the plate. What if he just had one year where he was below average with the bat and played every day? It would be amazing. The best part is you don't have to look too hard to see it. Let's start with his second-half numbers from 2016.
Hamilton only played in 45 games in the second half and hit .297 with a .369 OBP in just under 200 plate appearances. He scored 32 runs and stole 36 bases. Over a 150-game pace, that's 106 runs and 120 stolen bases. Unrealistic? Yes, but not impossible. Hamilton started walking more and showed a little better plate discipline in the second half. He also led off for most of the second half. For what it's worth, Hamilton was more productive from the leadoff spot as well.
I am not a huge fan of second-half splits, so I'm not trying to convince you that Hamilton is headed for a breakout campaign. We're just trying to look at what it would look like if Hamilton reached his potential. That's probably a .290 season with around 90+ runs and around 100 stolen bases. Or a top-10 outfielder in Rotisserie leagues.
Is there any upside in the rotation?
There's always upside, but with the Reds it may not come from where you're thinking it does. Brandon Finnegan was their best young pitcher in 2016, with a 3.98 ERA over 172 innings. That's not exactly a sparkling resume and Finnegan was extremely lucky to be that average. His FIP was 5.19 and he walked 4.4 batters per nine innings. He didn't have great strikeout numbers either. If anything, Finnegan is the Reds' pitcher most likely to be worse in 2017.
Anthony DeSclafani only made 20 starts due to injury, but he was far better than Finnegan both peripherally and in ERA. But he'll be 27 when the season starts and has 341 innings of a 3.99 ERA in the majors. It's hard to see how he's more than average, and that many be asking too much with his low K rate in this ballpark.
If you're looking for a deep sleeper you're probably looking to someone like Stephenson or Reed instead. Both were awful in their exposure to the major leagues last season. Stephenson is the most likely to start in the rotation in 2017, but I'd rather bet on the track record of Reed or Amir Garrett making an impact later in the season. You're only drafting these three in NL-only leagues.
Can the Reds find playing time for Jose Peraza?
Well, that worked out well didn't it? The Reds finally found someone to take Brandon Phillips off their hands and it looks like Jose Peraza will get every chance to show he can play on an every day basis. What does that look like?
Peraza thus far has shown himself to be a good contact guy with elite speed that almost never walks. I wouldn't expect him to match his .361 BABIP or .324 BABIP from 2016 but Peraza could absolutely be a .300 hitter if he can keep his strikeout rate down. He could also pair with Billy Hamilton to be the best base-stealing duo in baseball.
Peraza will be especially valuable in Rotisserie leagues, where he'll be an excellent middle infield option with an upside as a top 10 second baseman.