Give this young Reds team a chance. You might like what you see
So glad the baseball season is finally here; that the gates of Great American Ball Park will swing open on Thursday. So glad that my Cincinnati Reds will take the field; and the summer game returns.
It was a rough off-season for an ever-optimistic Reds fan like me. I felt like I was trapped on an island where my hopeful, positive vibes were overwhelmed by nay-saying, doomsday pessimists.
I listened to one person after another wherever I went making a completely unwarranted assumption about a baseball team that lost 100 games last year and was doomed to do the same over and over again until the end of time.
It involved some heavy lifting, but I talked more than a few Reds fans off the ledge in this off-season, which is, thankfully, coming to a close.
Most of the wailing and gnashing of teeth was coming from what baseball's management calls the "casual fans" — fans who have an affinity for the hometown team but don't really follow it on a day-to-day basis.
All the casual fans see is a team that has traded away a lot of names they know — Luis Castillo, Eugenio Suarez, Jesse Winker, Kyle Farmer, Sonny Gray, Tyler Mahle — and replaced them with a lot of very young players whose names they do not know — Noelvi Marte, Edwin Arroyo, Brandon Williamson, Spencer Steer, Levi Stoudt, Casey Legumina, to name a few.
They yearn for the familiar. They don't much like change.
They don't seem to understand that everyone one of those veteran players they long for were once raw prospects, completely unknown except to the baseball cognoscenti and the fans who watched them play in towns like Billings, Dayton and Chattanooga, where they were the stars of the local minor league teams.
I saw an unknown kid from Canada named Joey Votto play for the Dayton Dragons. And Adam Dunn. And Todd Frazier. And Jay Bruce. And Johnny Cueto. And a host of others.
And the enormous talent these kids had was plain as the nose on your face.
The Reds' number one prospect, according to the MLB.com rankings of the team's top 30 young talents, is Elly De La Cruz, a 21-year-old, 6'5" shortstop from the Dominican Republic, signed as an international free agent for the modest sum of $65,000 in 2018.
De La Cruz is going to start the season at AAA Louisville, but he's a five-tool player who has little left to prove at the minor league level. He's dealing with a slight injury right now, but that won't set the kid back.
You will see him at some point this season at Great American Ball Park. Probably sooner rather than later.
When you do, your eyes will pop out of your head. You will never forget it.
I saw this kid with the Dayton Dragons and I have never seen anything like him.
Until he was sidelined by a slightly herniated disk late in spring training, Christian Encarnacion-Strand, an infielder who came to the Reds from the Twins' minor league organization, was en fuego in Arizona, hitting .577 and driving in 13 runs in 27 plate appearances.
Encarnacion-Strand is a likely successor to Joey Votto at first base.
Votto, a future Hall of Famer, is in the last year of his contract and still coming back from rotator cuff and bicep surgery. He won't be with the team Thursday; he's going to be in Louisville to start a rehab assignment. Will he be back? I believe so; I learned a long time ago not to bet against JDV.
"Casual fans" will probably not recognize one name in the Reds outfield — Will Benson, a 24-year-old left-handed power hitter who came over to the Reds in a trade with the Cleveland Guardians.
Benson has the potential to be a star. He is going to blossom in a bandbox ballpark like GABP. If my seats were out in the right field Sun/Moon Deck, I'd wear a helmet. Benson is going to launch a whole lot of missiles into the right field seats.
So too will Wil Myers, a veteran outfielder for the Padres who was signed as a free agent by the Reds. Myers, a right-handed hitter, will be hitting bombs into the left field seats.
The three stars of the Reds pitching rotation were all rookies last year — Hunter Greene, the Reds' Opening Day starter; Nick Lodolo, the lefty sensation; and Graham Ashcraft, who had spectacular outing in his final spring training game last week, with six innings, zero runs, zero walks, one base hit and 10 strikeouts.
Greene, Lodolo, Ashcraft. Cy Young Awards waiting to happen.
Teams coming into GABP will not be happy about facing those young pitchers three days in a row.
A serious baseball fan keeps an eye on all levels of the minor league system of his or her favorite teams.
That way, when there is an upheaval and suddenly there are brand-new lineups to learn and box scores to decipher, you won't think it is the end of the world.
Because it is the beginning of a new world.
Go to the ballpark. Get a beer and a Big Red Smokey. Enjoy the show. They just may make a believer out of you.