By Matthew McAdow | Contributing Columnist
While Spring Training has just begun, there certainly have been some “stand-out” players that have caught the eye of many Reds fans tuning into some early baseball. Of course this is just a small sample size, but for these young players, it is important to make an immediate impact in March and some players have certainly impressed early into Spring Training. I have been highly impressed with these players to begin the Cactus League in 2023:
Noelvi Marte – 4-9, .444 AVG; Will Benson – 3-7, 3 Stolen Bases; Christian Encarnacion-Stand – 4-7, 1 HR, 5 RBI; Richie Martin – 4-7, 6 RBI, 2 BB, 3 Stolen Bases; Fernando Cruz – 2 IP, 0 Hits, 0 ER, 2 K’s; Nick Lodolo – 2 IP, 0 Hits, 2 K’s; Ian Gibaut – 2 IP, 0 Hits, 6 K’s; Buck Farmer – 2 IP, 0 Hits, 3 K’s; Alex Young – 1 IP, 0 ER, 1K
As I am writing this article, the Reds are currently leading the Majors in steals with 14. Not only are they leading, but they are 14-14 and haven’t been caught stealing so far this season. With the increased base size, along with pitching rules and pickoff rules, steals are going to be at an all-time high this year. Having speed on the bags and having a disciplined baserunning group will be key for putting runs on the board this season. Jonathan India impressed me with a stolen base early on in Spring Training and he really seems to have “slimmed down.” His speed and versatility will be needed both on the bases and in the field this year, as the shift ban is really displaying the need for athletic infielders.
Shortstop Question Mark
While many believe that Jose Barrero and Kevin Newman will get the majority of playing time this season at shortstop, there are many within the organization that are fighting to prove they can fill this need as well. Of course, many are looking to the future in Elly De La Cruz, but I think we might still be a year away before he makes his mark in the league. Matt McLain is my “dark horse” candidate that could really surprise people and end up playing a lot of time for Cincinnati at shortstop. Matt hit a walk-off homerun to begin the season and his fielding thus far has been exceptional. To me, Barrero is on a short string and if he doesn’t show improvement soon, he might just take a back-seat at this position. Newman is without a hit to begin the year, although he has already proven himself as an established big league infielder. Having options at this position is a good thing for this ball club and I am eager to see who takes the reins.
Alex Young joins Matt’s Take
This week, Alex Young kindly joined Matt’s Take. Alex played college baseball at TCU before spending time with the Diamondbacks, Guardians, and Giants. Alex is new to the Reds roster this year and he hopes to add value with his dynamic left handed pitching. Alex holds a career 4.58 ERA, 174 strikeouts, and a record of 12-16 at the big league level. Alex has impressed early on in Camp and I am eager to watch him continue to shine throughout March.
Q: What is your goal for the 2023 season?
A: “To have a healthy and successful season. The obvious would be to shock the world and win the World Series.”
Q: What did you work on the most this off-season?
A: “My pitch shaping and refining my mechanics.”
Q: What has been your favorite moment of your career so far?
A: “For me in college, it was going to the College World Series and getting drafted the same night. In professional baseball, it was my rookie year against the Reds in Cincinnati. I broke the D-backs rookie strike out record in a single game which was 12, went 8 scoreless innings, and got the win!”
Q: Who in the Reds clubhouse do you look up to the most?
A: “I feel like I have to say Joey Votto, but I want to say that because he does it the right way. He has fun and he’s so good at what he does on the field. He does so much for Cincinnati off the field as well.”
Q: If you could watch a game with any player past or present, who would you choose?
A: “Oh I love this question but that’s a tough one. I’m going to say Willie Mays. I met him last year when I was with the Giants. He was very funny and genuine. He’s one of the best of all time and it would be so cool to just talk about baseball and life with him.”
Devin Mesoraco joins Matt’s Take
If you enjoyed watching Reds baseball from 2011-2018, then an introduction isn’t even necessary for Devin Mesoraco, but I will do one anyway! Devin made his major league debut in 2011 for the Reds and continued to make an impact in the Queen City. I still remember Devin being ejected back in 2012 and Dusty coming to split him and an umpire up! Devin was fantastic behind the plate, had a great relationship with his teammates, and provided great experience at the catcher position for quite some time.
Q: What was your favorite moment as a Cincinnati Red?
A: “The best moments I had were as a rookie in 2012. We had a very tight knit, talented group that won 97 games. Being a rookie, I probably didn’t appreciate it enough at the time, but that was an awesome year. Personally, it would’ve been when I hit a homer in the bottom of the ninth with two outs to tie the game against the Braves. Shin-Soo Choo then followed that up with a game winning homer.”
Q: How is life treating you now outside of playing baseball?
A: “Awesome. I get to enjoy a ton of family time with my young kids. We are heading to Disney this week. I’m also coaching at the University of Pittsburgh where I coach the catchers and help out with the pitchers and hitters. It’s been a very rewarding and enjoyable experience.” Q: How would you rate the current catching group in Cincinnati?
A: “I think that Tyler Stephenson has the potential to be one of the very best catchers in baseball. I hope the injury bug spares him this season, and he solidifies himself as such. Injuries stink, I have a lot of experience in that regard, and I wish Tyler the best of health moving forward.”
Q: Do you plan to make it to a Reds game this season?
A: “I haven’t been to a big league game since I quit, so I doubt it. I may come when Bronson gets inducted to the Reds Hall of Fame, but haven’t planned that far ahead yet.” Q: If you could watch a game with any past or present player, who would you choose and why?
A: “At this point, I view the game from a little different point of view as a coach. It would be cool to sit down with some recent managers; Joe Torre, Joe Maddon (just read his book and we share a love for charcuterie so I’ll bring the board), and Jim Leyland are a few that come to mind.”
Bryce Spalding joins Matt’s Take
Bryce Spalding kindly joined Matt’s Take this week as well. If you have a Twitter account and enjoy Reds baseball, then you certainly have read Bryce’s tweets. Bryce is highly intelligent and provides great optimism surrounding the Reds organization. Following along with him during a game is very enjoyable and he provides great insight when you don’t have a chance to tune into a game.
Q: Who have you been impressed with the most during Spring Training so far?
A: “Matt McLain has really impressed so far. He’s such a disciplined hitter already, but he has put together a lot of really quality plate appearances.”
Q: Who do you believe will be the starting shortstop on Opening Day?
A: “In my heart, I want to say Matt McLain, but in my brain, I believe it will be Jose Barrero.”
Q: What is your overall prediction on the Reds record this season?
A: “I’m not too good at these, but I’ll go 75-87. The young talent within the organization is exciting.”
Q: Do you believe this is Joey Votto’s last season?
A: “I do not believe it will be his last season. In a Reds uniform- possibly, but I sure hope they keep him around if he is still playing at a high level.”
Q: What do you believe the starting rotation will look like to begin the season?
A: “The big 3 are locked in – Greene, Lodolo, Ashcraft, then the last two, I’ll go with Luke Weaver and Brandon Williamson. I think they’ve been impressed with him in camp so far.”
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