Young players hope to make an impact

In rebuilding phase, Reds looking for top prospects to take leap in 2017

Young players hope to make an impact

Editor's note: With Spring Training fast approaching, will take a look at a different aspect of this year's Reds squad each day this week. Today's topic: The perfect season.

CINCINNATI -- When a team like the Reds is trying to finish a rebuild and become more competitive, the definition of what might be viewed as a perfect season requires more nuance and realism than just saying "World Series or bust."

Sure, the Reds want to win as many games as possible, take steps forward and perhaps even surprise the baseball world. But on a different level of thinking, a perfect season for Cincinnati would be if prospects expected to be key for future contention can emerge and establish themselves in 2017.

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"I think the key is, you're going to have a lot of guys who at some point this year are going to be playing in the big leagues for the first time," Reds general manager Dick Williams said. "By the end of the year, we want them to feel like they belong. We want to get past that phase where you show up and hit those first few speedbumps along the road. We want them to get past that and know they can play at this level."

Across the Majors, goals set for 2017

Prospects like starting pitchers Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson hit such speedbumps last season as rookies. Reed was 0-7 with a 7.36 ERA in 10 big league starts. Stephenson had two promising April spot starts but struggled in September and was 2-3 with a 6.08 ERA over eight starts. Both will get to compete again for rotation spots this spring.

Price on Reds' starters

Those two will be joined in competition for the rotation by the organization's top pitching prospect, Amir Garrett, and Sal Romano. Neither has been to the big leagues before. Brandon Finnegan will be expected to mature and improve after his first full season as a big-league starter in 2016. Finnegan was often dealing with a lack of pitch efficiency that prevented him from working deeper in games.

In the bullpen, Michael Lorenzen could still be a future starter but has a chance to take on a key late-inning relief role this year. Lorenzen could share closing duties with Raisel Iglesias, Tony Cingrani and Drew Storen. If the four-headed monster helps shut things down in the final few innings, and shorten games, Cincinnati could be much improved.

On the eve of Spring Training, Manager Bryan Price may have found a much easier path to playing time for 22-year-old Jose Peraza, who batted .324/.352/.411 in 72 games last season. The Reds want Peraza, primarily a shortstop, and second baseman Dilson Herrera to play every day at some point. With an agreement in place for the Reds to deal veteran Brandon Phillips to Atlanta, playing time at second base has become available. Peraza and Herrera will compete for the spot, but Peraza would appear to have the inside track.   

The team has also made efforts this winter to move shortstop Zack Cozart. If Cozart is dealt, Peraza and Herrera would form the new Cincinnati middle infield.

Reds shift focus to future

"At the end of the day, we'll work with Bryan to get people playing time," Williams said. "We have to see if everybody is healthy and how they're performing. Getting people playing time will definitely be a focus this year."

Regardless of the team's relative inexperience, both Williams and Price want to the Reds to be a factor in the National League Central Division and Wild Card races into the second half.

"Once the bell rings and the season starts, we're all trying to win and compete in ballgames," Williams said. "That's the attitude we want the players to have when they're on the field."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for 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.