Reds gain experience, seek consistency in 2017

Rotation more settled, bullpen still in flux, lineup getting younger

Reds gain experience, seek consistency in 2017

CINCINNATI -- If the 2016 season and the previous offseason were marked by massive upheaval for the Reds, this winter should be comparatively tamer when it comes to changes involving players on the field.

Many of the younger players were given opportunities -- with varying degrees of results -- but their acquired experience should be to the team's benefit heading into 2017.

2016 was tale of two seasons for Reds

"Everyone knows our team is a young team. We have to keep developing, even me, and keep working hard," said reliever Raisel Iglesias, via interpreter Julio Morillo. "I think this team is going to be really good in the future if we keep going and keep doing the smallest thing, working on the small details."

Once the team became healthier, the current group seemed to jell, and performances improved -- especially with contributions from Iglesias in the bullpen, Anthony DeSclafani in the rotation and Billy Hamilton in the leadoff spot.

Hamilton swipes third

"When guys aren't coming up and just trying out, we're more comfortable with guys up here," reliever Michael Lorenzen said. "You will see what you've seen from the second half, but it will be even better. It will be fresh, and it will be new."

The retooling may not be finished as the bullpen's depth needs to be improved. Starting pitchers will need to show more consistency toward working deeper into games, and the pitching staff as a whole must cut down on home runs and walks allowed after a record-setting year for long balls. In the lineup, the club must determine if its veteran middle infield tandem of Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart should remain or be moved to make way for the likes of Jose Peraza and/or Dilson Herrera.

Phillips' four-hit game

Cincinnati will likely get little mention next spring as contenders, especially when it shares a division with a team like the Cubs. But the goal will be continued progress and pushing toward playing winning baseball throughout the season.

"We have to continue to grow together, continue to build on the good things we've done this year," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "We've had so many young starters this year show that they belong in the Major Leagues as starting pitchers, Brandon Finnegan especially. He's had a hell of a year. It's something he should be happy with. He's a guy we'll really need to count on, as well as other guys. We have young, talented players as well as veteran guys that have helped us all out a ton."

Here is a look at where the Reds stand heading into the offseason:

Free agents: RHP Alfredo Simon; RHP Ross Ohlendorf

Arbitration eligible: SS Cozart (third year); OF Hamilton (first year); LHP Tony Cingrani (first year); RHP Blake Wood (second year)

Rotation: Assuming everyone returns healthy, the Reds appear to have four of their five spots looking secure already with DeSclafani, Homer Bailey, Finnegan and Dan Straily. That leaves a deep pool of candidates for the remaining spot that likely will include Lorenzen, Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Tim Adleman, John Lamb and maybe Amir Garrett. If he doesn't go into the bullpen, Iglesias also would be a good bet. The top three pitchers are all capable of 200 innings seasons with Finnegan having the most room to grow if he can become more pitch efficient and go deeper into his starts. Bailey must show he's healthy after making eight starts in the last two seasons.

DeSclafani fans Moss

Bullpen: This was the biggest headache for the Reds in 2016, and it was a group prone to home runs and walks, which are crippling in the late innings. It was tough for manager Bryan Price to define roles for much of the first half, but optimism grew with the additions of Iglesias and Lorenzen. If they don't start, the right-handers would be a power duo in the late innings. If Cingrani is brought back and can cut down on walks, he'd be a potential lefty for the back end of the bullpen. The rest of the roles would be up for grabs again with Blake Wood, Keyvius Sampson and Josh Smith among the contenders, possibly along with some of the rotation candidates that don't wind up starting.

Catcher: For the second straight year, Devin Mesoraco will be coming back from a lost season. This time, Mesoraco didn't have one major surgery -- he had two, to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder and the labrum in his right hip. He will have to show he is healthy to be counted on. Fortunately, Barnhart stepped up and showed he could handle regular catching duties while Ramon Cabrera backed up. Signing a veteran catcher for added depth wouldn't hurt going into next season.

Mesoraco's heads-up defense

First base: Joey Votto got off to the worst start of his career -- batting .213 as of May 31 -- before catching fire and never cooling off. He raised his batting average more than 100 points and was baseball's best hitter in the second half. He certainly will be looking to have a better start next season, which would make him an instant MVP contender. One area for improvement, however, must be Votto's defense. The 33-year-old was ranked near the bottom defensively in all of baseball by Fangraphs.com, which is an amazing decline for a former Gold Glove Award winner.

Votto hammers a solo homer

Second base: Coming off another nice offensive season, Phillips is entering the final year of his six-year contract and will be making $13 million. The 35-year-old has full no-trade protection, which he used to decline deals last winter. Perhaps the Reds will try to move him again, but there are plenty of hurdles to cross. Herrera was not brought up from Triple-A after being acquired in the Jay Bruce trade from the Mets but could get a chance if there is an opening.

Shortstop: Third-year arbitration-eligible and a year away from becoming a free agent, Cozart could again be a trade candidate. But moving Cozart could be hindered by his missing the last three weeks of the season with soreness in his surgically repaired right knee. Kudos to him for his nice rebound season, however, as he played great defense and hit a career-high 16 home runs. Peraza, 22, needs a place to play regularly, and shortstop is one of his four positions -- and his natural one. Peraza also could play second base if Phillips is moved.

Cozart's RBI single

Third base: For a player who never manned third base in the Majors before 2016, Eugenio Suarez did a nice job overall. Showing growth during the season, he made a lot of errors in the first half but cut them down after the All-Star break. He also demonstrated more power with a 20-homer season. The Reds' 2016 first-round pick (No. 2 overall) and top prospect, Nick Senzel, had a nice first pro year in Class A Dayton and will be moving quickly toward the Majors.

Outfield: Center fielder Hamilton took a big leap forward at the plate in the second half and showed he can handle leading off. His defense was among the best in baseball but often came with a price in injuries that kept him off the field. In the corners, Adam Duvall became the first Reds' left fielder since Adam Dunn to cross the 30-homer mark. Duvall also surprised with some nice defensive work. Right fielder Scott Schebler replaced Bruce and showed some skills, including an improved throwing arm that wasn't there in Spring Training. What remains to be seen is what the organization does with Jesse Winker, the Reds' No. 3 prospect who hit well in Triple-A Louisville but has yet to show much power.

Duvall's second home run

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.