The Reds go into the 2023 campaign looking at another evaluation year. Cincinnati is coming off a 100-loss season and didn’t make many immediate upgrades over the winter. It’ll be a non-competitive season, one that sees a number of unproven players look to carve out longer-term roles.
No area of the roster is more wide open than the outfield. Cincinnati has eight outfielders on their 40-man roster. Of that group, only offseason signee Wil Myers has a lengthy big league track record. Myers had some ups and downs as a member of the Padres, showcasing strong power potential at times but undercutting it with lofty strikeout totals at others. Signed to a one-year, $7.5MM deal, he’ll surely receive regular playing time either in the corner outfield or at first base. The franchise will hope he’ll hit well enough to draw some attention from contenders at the trade deadline.
Everyone else in the Cincinnati outfield is hoping to earn a consistent spot in the lineup. It’s a similar group to that of the rebuilding Athletics — one that has a glut of upper level options but very little in the way of established big league production.
Jake Fraley, 27, two minor league options remaining
Fraley is probably the favorite for regular reps among the group of unproven players. Acquired from the Mariners in last spring’s Eugenio Suarez/Jesse Winker deal, Fraley put up an impressive .259/.344/.468 line with 12 home runs over his first 247 plate appearances as a Red. Most of that work came in the season’s second half, as he lost a good portion of the beginning of the year to right knee issues.
The lefty-swinging Fraley also posted solid offensive marks in a limited role in Seattle the previous year. He carries a .235/.348/.419 line with 21 homers and 16 doubles in 145 games over the past couple seasons. He doesn’t hit the ball especially hard but makes contact at a decent clip and has an extremely patient offensive approach. Fraley has limited experience in center and right field (rating poorly at both stops); he’s gotten solid reviews from public defensive metrics for his left field glovework.
Nick Senzel, 27, three options remaining
A former #2 overall pick, Senzel was a consensus top prospect before reaching the majors in 2019. He hasn’t met those expectations thus far, struggling to a .240/.303/.360 line in 1036 career plate appearances. A natural third baseman, Senzel moved primarily to center field at the MLB level and has gotten middling to well below-average reviews for his glove from various metrics.
Senzel has shown above-average contact skills at the big league level, though he hasn’t made much of a power impact. Despite his early-career struggles, the Reds have maintained throughout the offseason they plan to give him another crack at seizing the center field job. It feels like a make-or-break season, with Senzel now into his arbitration seasons and having performed below replacement level thus far.
The Reds are obviously still hopeful he can take a long-awaited step forward. He’ll first need to get healthy. Senzel underwent surgery to repair a fractured toe over the offseason. Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer wrote this afternoon that he’s begun swinging a bat in simulated games at the team’s spring complex. He has yet to progress to full speed running.
TJ Friedl, 27, two options remaining
Friedl has been one of the more interesting outfielders in the Cincinnati farm system for a few seasons. He got a brief big league look late in 2021 and received his first extended action last season. In 258 plate appearances across 72 games, he hit at a league average clip: .240/.314/.436 with eight home runs, a modest 7.8% walk percentage and a tiny 15.5% strikeout rate.
The left-handed hitter had more resounding success over a similar stretch of time for Triple-A Louisville. Friedl posted a .278/.371/.468 line with eight homers, an 11.6% walk rate and a 19.9% strikeout percentage over 241 trips with the Bats. That mostly aligns with his longstanding prospect reputation. Friedl doesn’t have much power but he has a solid feel for the strike zone and puts the ball in play with regularity. He can play all three outfield positions, though advanced metrics weren’t enthused with his first MLB work on the grass. Friedl has typically been regarded by prospect evaluators as a high-probability fourth/fifth outfielder. The upcoming campaign could be his best opportunity to outperform that expectation.
Will Benson, 24, three options remaining
Benson, acquired from the Guardians last month, has a polar opposite approach from Friedl. He’s also a left-handed batter but boasts huge power upside with a long track record of lofty strikeout totals. A former first-round draftee whose prospect shine had dimmed, Benson put himself back on the map with arguably a career-best season last year.
In 89 games with Cleveland’s top minor league affiliate, he hit .278/.426/.522 with 17 home runs. Benson walked a massive 18.7% clip — par for the course throughout his career — and struck out in an average 22.7% of his trips. It was the first time he’d posted a strikeout rate below 28% at any stop and only his second season fanning in fewer than 30% of his PA’s. Benson didn’t produce in a 28-game MLB cameo and was still buried on Cleveland’s outfield depth chart, but his step forward intrigued the Reds enough to take a look. He’s best suited for right field and can cover center on occasion.
Nick Solak, 28, one option remaining
Another one-time top prospect, Solak has had some inconsistent performances the past few years with the Rangers. He had an excellent 33-game debut in 2019. Since the start of 2020, however, the righty-swinging Solak carries a modest .246/.317/.354 line in 839 MLB plate appearances. Longstanding concerns about his defense at second base eventually pushed him to left field, where he has gotten subpar grades from public statistics.
To his credit, Solak hasn’t allowed his MLB inconsistency to bleed into his performance in the minor leagues. Optioned to Triple-A by Texas last season, he put up an impressive .278/.371/.489 mark with 10 longballs, an 11.6% walk rate and a 19.7% strikeout percentage in 57 contests. The Rangers never seemed to trust him enough to give him an extended look despite woeful MLB production from their left fielders, though. Texas dealt him to Cincinnati for cash immediately after the season ended.
Michael Siani, 23, three options remaining
A former fourth-round pick, Siani has spent the past few seasons ranked among the middle tiers of the Cincinnati farm system. Praised for his speed and defensive acumen in center field, he went 49 for 61 as a basestealer over 121 Double-A games last year. His overall .252/.351/.404 line with 12 home runs at that level was solid if unexceptional for a 22-year-old. Siani earned cups of coffee in both Louisville and Cincinnati towards the end of the season.
It stands to reason Cincinnati will start Siani back in Triple-A given his lack of experience there. Baseball America ranked him the organization’s #19 prospect this winter, projecting him as a glove-first fourth outfielder.
Stuart Fairchild, 26, one option remaining
A former Cincinnati second-round pick, Fairchild was dealt to the Diamondbacks at the 2020 trade deadline. He made his MLB debut with Arizona the following season, getting into 12 games. The Wake Forest product bounced around via minor trade and waivers last year, playing in four different organizations. He finished the season back with his original club when the Reds nabbed him off waivers from the Giants in June.
Fairchild played in 38 games for Cincinnati, connecting on five home runs in 99 trips. He struck out 29 times while drawing only eight walks but showed intriguing power. That was also the case in Triple-A, where he combined for a .258/.353/.490 line in 53 contests despite the constant uniform changes. He’s capable of playing all three outfield positions.
Chad Pinder, 30, not on 40-man roster
Pinder, a longtime member of the Athletics, signed a non-roster pact with a major league Spring Training invitation this winter. He’s coming off a .235/.263/.385 showing in 111 games for Oakland. The right-handed hitting Pinder has some power and a decent track record of hitting lefty pitching. He’s versatile enough to cover anywhere on the infield in addition to his corner outfield work. Pinder seems to have a strong chance at securing a bench role given that flexibility and Cincinnati’s fairly left-handed outfield mix. As a major league free agent who signed a minor league contract, he’ll have an automatic opt-out opportunity five days before the start of the regular season if he’s not added to the MLB roster.
Aside from Pinder, former highly-regarded prospect Allan Cerda and KBO veteran Henry Ramos are also in camp on non-roster contracts. Neither looks to have a strong chance at cracking the Opening Day roster considering the number of alternative outfield options for the front office and coaching staff to evaluate.
Myers is the only member of the current group who can’t be sent to the minor leagues, although Pinder couldn’t be optioned if he cracks the MLB roster. That could set the stage for plenty of shuffling over the next six months. The organization is surely hoping two or three players from the group will cement themselves as everyday options based on their 2023 production, lending some clarity to the longer-term mix.