Cincinnati Reds

The Ohio River is in the background as fans watch a game at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati.

This year has been a bleak one for the Cincinnati Reds as the team braces to finish last in the National League (NL) Central for a fourth consecutive year. Currently, the Reds hold the seventh-worst winning percentage in baseball. However, there exist a few silver linings for the team in 2019.

The Reds haven’t struggled offensively this year. The team holds the fifth-highest batting average in Major League Baseball (MLB), ahead of powerhouse clubs like the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers. Five position players are batting at least .270, including second baseman Scooter Gennett, who boasts the second-highest batting average in the NL. Gennett, first baseman Joey Votto and third baseman Eugenio Suarez were all named to the NL All-Star team this season. More offensive help is on the way, as minor league infielder Nick Senzel is expected to make his debut in the 2019 season. Senzel is the Reds’ top prospect and the fourth-best overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com.

The Reds’ main problem this year has revolved around pitching. The starting rotation holds the second-worst earned run average (ERA) in the NL. No Reds starter has an ERA below 4.40, which is not a recipe for winning. The current staff allows a .266 opponent batting average, placing the Reds’ ranking at 27 out of 30 teams. For the Reds to improve in 2019, the team must upgrade its pitching staff beginning with the starting rotation.

The minor league system doesn’t look promising when addressing pitchers for next season. Of the top 15 prospects (according to MLB.com), only four are pitchers. Top prospect Hunter Greene, the second overall selection in the 2017 draft, was diagnosed with an ulnar collateral ligament injury that could take one or more years to recover from. Tony Santillan, a 21-year-old minor league pitcher, is a potential fit for the starting rotation. He posted a 3.08 ERA this year but is not expected to make his big league debut until 2020.

One minor league pitcher that is expected to make his debut in the MLB for the Reds is 23-year-old Vladimir Gutierrez. He averaged nearly one strikeout per inning in the minors this year and held opponents to a .246 batting average. One possible solution would be to trade Senzel for a front-line starter. However, it’s unlikely to happen, as the team considers Senzel their bat of the future.

With a lack of pitching depth in the minors, the Reds will likely turn to free agency to add pitchers. The 2019 starting pitcher free agent class is headlined by former CY Young award winners Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel. But it is unlikely that the Reds, which hold baseball’s sixth-lowest payroll, will be able to afford them. The Reds will likely target second-tier, more affordable starters, such as Garrett Richards, Edinson Volquez or Lance Lynn. It is essential for the Reds to acquire a couple solid starting pitchers. If the team chooses to sit idly by, they could find themselves in last place yet again in 2019.