Every team enters spring training with some level of optimism — even the Cincinnati Reds, who lost 100 games last season for the first time in 30 years.
For catcher Tyler Stephenson, the team’s youth is one reason to be optimistic.
“I’m curious what our average age is going to be this year,” Stephenson said, “because you look at our core foundation and it’s a lot of young guys. I know there’s more young guys coming who are very talented, who are going to help us grow and be a part of this team in the future. So we’re all looking forward to it. We’re all very close, and we’re looking forward to the season. I think the big thing from last year is health. Let everybody be healthy. Let us play 162 games together and go out there and just play well together and figure out ways to just compete and build this team for years to come.”
Stephenson talked to reporters via Zoom from Goodyear, Ariz., along with starting pitchers Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft on Tuesday as pitchers and catchers reported to spring training. They’ll hold their first team workout Wednesday. Position players report for physicals Sunday. The first full-squad workout will take place Monday.
The Reds play their first Cactus League game at 3:05 p.m. Feb. 25 against the Cleveland Guardians in Goodyear. The Reds open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Pirates at 4:10 p.m. on March 30 at Great American Ball Park.
The Reds finished 62-100 last season. The .383 winning percentage tied for the seventh-worst in franchise history. Only the 1982 Reds, who were 61-101 (.377), have posted a worse record in the past 80 years.
The experts don’t expect the Reds to bounce back in a big way this season. ESPN ranked the Reds 30th out of 30 teams in a Major League Baseball power ranking in January.
“The Reds aren’t likely to be good this season but they might well have some key components of the next Cincinnati team that will be good,” ESPN’s Bradford Doolittle wrote.
In another power rankings story published earlier this month by The Athletic, former Reds General Manager Jim Bowden ranked the Reds 29th.
“The Reds are rebuilding the right way through scouting and player development and have done an excellent job since the trade deadline of dealing for high-end athletic prospects while bringing along a bunch of young pitchers in the pipeline,” Bowden wrote. “They are loaded with middle-infield prospects, and it will be interesting to see where they play them all, or if they end up making prospect-for-prospect trades to improve other areas of their roster. This year will be another painful one in the win-loss column, but the future looks bright — it’s just going to take a lot of patience and time.”
Ashcraft said Tuesday the players see and hear stuff all the time about the low expectations outside the clubhouse.
“All it does is add fuel to the fire,” Ashcraft said. “We have high expectations every year, and we plan on executing them. I think we’re in for a real fun season this year.”
The Reds ranked 28th in baseball in team ERA (4.86) last season. They ranked 26th in team batting average (.235) and 23rd in runs scored (4.0 per game). They return their top three starting pitchers — Greene, Ashcraft and Lodolo — but traded their top run producer, Kyle Farmer (78 RBIs), to the Minnesota Twins in November.
Stephenson, first baseman Joey Votto, second baseman Jonathan India and outfielder Nick Senzel are the only position players remaining on the roster who started Opening Day a year ago.
Stephenson’s health is one reason for optimism this season. Injuries limited him to 50 games last season. He said he’s been full-go since Thanksgiving and is ready to compete again and ready for the team to prove people wrong.
“I know there’s a bunch of people doubting us,” Stephenson said, “and we are young but we are very talented. Let’s go out there, and let’s shock a lot of people. Everybody in the clubhouse believes in what we can what we can do and what we’re capable of.”