Hal McCoy: Cincinnati Reds embark on 2017 season seeking progress

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A look at Cincinnati Reds opening day history

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Everybody knows the Cincinnati Reds won’t win the World Series. They won’t even play in it. They can leave that expectation to that other Ohio team up north on Lake Erie.

Everybody knows the Reds won’t win the National League pennant. They have to win the National League Central or be one of the two best wild card teams to do that. Won’t happen.

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Everybody knows the Reds will argue with the Milwaukee Brewers for last and next-to-last in the NL Central.

So, as the 2017 baseball season unfolds or unravels for the Reds on Monday at Great American Ball Park against the Philadelphia Phillies, what are the expectations?

Everybody who has paid attention the last two years while the team lost 98 and 94 games knows the Reds are in their own Reconstruction Era, a complete rebuild.

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When they take the field Monday there will be only two everyday players older than 30 — 33-year-old first baseman Joey Votto and 31-year-old shortstop Zack Cozart.

The only reason Votto remains is that he has not yet revoked his no-trade clause. The only reason Cozart remains is that they haven’t been able to trade him, but they’re still trying because the grand plan is to move Jose Peraza from second base to shortstop and plant Dilson Herrera at second base.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto warms up at Fifth Third Field on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Dayton. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds first baseman Joey Votto warms up at Fifth Third Field on Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Dayton. David Jablonski/Staff

Yes, 34-year-old Scott Feldman is today’s Opening Day starting pitcher and 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo are in the rotation, but that is by default because the team lost Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani early in spring training.

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After those two, the rotation is stuffed with young guns like Brandon Finnegan and rookies Rookie Davis and Amir Garrett. Will they be Top Guns or pop guns?

With a rotation like that a strong bullpen is necessary, a bullpen that some say was the worst in baseball history last year. OK, maybe second worst.

Have they fixed it? Not really. After Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen and Drew Storen, there isn’t much. They have placed a couple of young guys, Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson, in the bullpen as sand bags. Neither have bullpen experience and they are just there because, well, right now there is no other place to put them.

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So, the expectations?

Manager Bryan Price, beginning his fourth season, has no mandate to win, not even a mandate to finish .500. Wins and losses are not in the equation.

“What we’ve talked about is the influence Bryan and his staff can have on a young developing group,” said new general manager Dick Williams. “Our measurement tool is development strides taken by that young group. How that is going to be measured in wins and losses I can’t tell you.

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“We are not numerically oriented as much as we are seeing guys like Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Robert Stephenson and Sal Romano, guys like that, take the next step in development. If we’re doing that the wins will follow. Most importantly, we want to see how Bryan and his staff go about bringing these guys up in developing at the big league level.”

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For the Reds it is called on-the-job training and there will be a slew of bumps and bruises along the way.

“The second half of last year we saw some momentum,” said Williams, referring to the team’s 32-57 record before the All-Star break and 36-37 after the break. The 36-37 record was accomplished despite the trade of right fielder Jay Bruce.

Along the way, 12 players made their major league debuts and the Reds used the disabled list 20 times. Over the past two seasons, rookie pitchers started 166 of 324 games and that total will continue to climb.

What does Price think about the expectations?

“The talent is here and that talent will develop over the course of the year,” he said. “Most importantly for us is to continue to take steps forward. The second half of last year was a great step forward for us and we need to continue that momentum.

“We can’t wait until we get Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani back and think that’s the time to start to compete,” he added. “I look at our ballclub and I love our lineup. I love the camaraderie we have among our position players. We have the catching with Tucker Barnhart and Stuart Turner and when we get Devin Mesoraco back that will create a very good catcher-pitcher environment. These kids are going to grow quickly.”

Price, though, knows the score, knows the high hurdles that must be jumped.

“Everything in tempered,” he said. “We know where we are and understand we are introducing a lot of young players to the big leagues. However, the environment is very positive and I expect these guys to go out there and perform at a higher level than we did when we began last year. We have a better group of athletic pitchers and bench players and a more mature starting lineup. So I have improved and better expectations.”

This season, though, isn’t like the Charles Dickens novel, “Great Expectations.” The Reds are looking for a bunch of forward steps by a bunch of eager but inexperienced players, the youngest in the majors at an average of just over 26.