Hal McCoy: Spring training a happy time, even for teams like the Reds

Spring training is a happy time for major-league baseball teams, even those with little or no chance of playing postseason games.

The weather usually is superb, there is little or no pressure on the players because statistics don’t count and wins or losses are meaningless.

And after working out in early morning through early afternoon there are golf balls to hit and fish to snag.

Spring training begins this week and many publications list 10 to 12 teams with no chance to make the playoffs. The Cincinnati Reds are prominent in that list.

Why? Because the Reds are still in their reconstruction mode, still rebuilding, still waiting for prospects to develop into major leaguers.

That, of course, doesn’t fit well with fans who pay large dollars to see their teams, expecting them to at least try to win.

Are the Reds trying? Some media outlets, player agents and the players union actually are accusing several rebuilding teams of tanking — not trying to win.

They are accused of trying to position themselves for high draft picks. The Reds, who have finished last three years in a row in the National League Central, have benefited by getting third baseman Nick Senzel and pitcher/shortstop Hunter Greene in the last two drafts.

In addition, there are more than 100 unsigned free agents available, many top-shelf players who could helps teams win. But they are being ignored.

What have the Reds done in the off-season? Well, they lost shortstop Zack Cozart to free agency. They made zero trades. They’ve signed a couple of mid-level free agent relief pitchers, Jared Hughes and David Hernandez.

What does it mean? The Reds probably will be arguing for last place again, most likely with the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates ostensibly are beginning their own rebuild after they traded their best player, Andrew McCutchen, and their best pitcher, Gerrit Cole.

It was believed the Reds might compete this year with the Milwaukee Brewers, until the Brewers stunned the baseball family by acquiring start outfielders Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. They reportedly also are in the market for a front-line starting pitcher.

Meanwhile, the Reds go to spring training with one major objective and that’s to put together a starting rotation from a long gray line of contestants.

Manager Bryan Price says he has his starting rotation in mind, but how can he with so many questions and so many pitchers standing in line.

The names include Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Brandon Finnegan, Jackson Stephens, Tyler Mahle and Michael Lorenzen.

That’s 12 names for five spots and some could end up in the bullpen, guys like Reed and Finnegan and Lorenzen.

For various reasons, injuries and tryouts, the Reds used 30 pitchers last year and 16 different starters.

In a perfect world, Bailey and DeSclafani would be at the top of the rotation. But Bailey has had three surgeries the past couple of seasons and DeSclafani missed the entire 2017 season with a pair of injuries.

So they have to enter camp as question marks.

Castillo was the best of the rest and Stephenson finished strong. Finnegan missed most of the season with injuries and wants to be in the rotation, but might be better suited in the bullpen. Lorenzen, one of the bullpen mainstays, wants to return to the rotation and Price said he will be given that opportunity.

Garrett began the 2017 season with a fantastic early run, but the club destroyed his confidence by sending him back to Triple-A to save service time and when he came back he was not close to being what he was before his demotion.

So, finding a five-man rotation among all those developing arms behind Bailey and DeSclafani, if they are healthy, will be a monumental challenge.

Replacing Cozart at shortstop won’t be as easy as some might expect. The plan is to insert Jose Peraza at shortstop. After a great September in 2016, Peraza was a disappointment last season both offensively and afield. While he has a strong arm, it often is a scatter-arm and some scouts question his range.

The Reds could move Eugenio Suarez from third base to shortstop and put Senzel at third. Suarez was a shortstop for the Detroit Tigers but the Reds moved him to third base. He was not very good at first, but worked diligently and became above average. The Reds are averse to moving him back to short after he worked so hard to become solid at third. And despite outstanding minor-league success so far, Senzel isn’t ready and probably will begin the season at Class AAA Louisville.

The outfield is a bit of a problem Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton and Scott Schebler are still there, but the Reds know that Jesse Winker is major-league ready.

As the team goes to spring training, the message is that the Reds will employ a four-man outfield. Winker can spell Schebler in right and when Hamilton isn’t in center Schebler can move to center and Winker can play right.

But the point of emphasis this spring definitely will be to find a starting rotation — and it won’t be easy and it probably will change several times during the early parts of the season due to injuries and ineffectiveness.


Tuesday: Pitchers and catchers report

Wednesday: First workout

Feb. 18: Position players report

Feb. 19: First full-squad workout

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