McCoy: Spring Training, Baseball Is Upon Us

By Hal McCoy

Spring training is not a popular period for most professional baseball players. I have never heard a player say, “I love spring training.”

To them it is mostly six weeks of monotonous drudgery, boring workouts, long bus rides with box lunches and a succession of meaningless games day after day after day.

But the golf and fishing are relaxing after workoutrs and early afternoon exhibition games.

Iconic broadcaster Harry Caray probably put it best when he said, “It’s the fans that need spring training. You gotta get ‘em interested, wake ‘em up. Let ‘em know that their season is coming, tha good times are gonna roll.”

So it is that time of year, the pleasant sound of bat meeting ball, time to be outdoors in sunshine with the whiff of freshly mowed grass.

The Cincinnati Reds open camp this week at their complex in Goodyear, AZ., with pitchers and catchers signing in Tuesday. It is the beginning to see if, indeed, as Caray said it, are the good times going to roll for the Reds?

It used to be that spring training was for players to get in shape, to sweat off the winter fat after working off-season jobs to supplement their meager salaries.

That is not the case these days, not with astronomical salaries that enable players to hire personal trainers to keep them in shape in the off-season.

Players report in shape with beach-ready bodies and mostly the time is for pitchers to get their arms stretched out and ready for the season.

And it used to be that spring training was a tryout camp with positions to be won or lost. But now most teams know the makeup of their rosters before the first spring training lap is taken around the outfield or the first exercise/stretch session.

That appears to be the case for the 2024 edition of the young and multi-talented Reds. Barring injuiries, which always happen, most positions already are claimed. The major focus will be on discovering the starting five, the pitching rotation.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t questions. Why did the Reds sign infielder Jeimer Candelario? Where is he going to play? Where is second baseman Jonathan India going to play?

The Reds have nearly a dozen starting pitching candidates and it begins with the oft-injured Hunter Greene, a problemn that rampant with last season’s starting staff.

Returning are Graham Ashcraft, Nick Lodolo and Andrew Abbott. While they are young and energetic, their earned run averages last season was between 4.25 and 4.85.

Lodolo missed a large segment of last season and Ashcraft went through a 10-game stretch where he was one step above a batting practice pitcher.

For augmentation, the Reds acquired swing man Nick Martinez, slated for the bullpen but capable of starting. And they added Frankie Montas, who received some Cy Young votes three year ago before encountering shoulder miseries. He made only one start last season.

Last year’s extremely inconsistent bullpen has undergone a strong fix to get to closer Alexis Diaz with the additions of Brent Suter, Emilio Pagan and Martinez.

Usually a baseball manager says, “You can never have enough pitching.” With the Reds, it is more like, “You can never have enough infielders.”

Even though it appeared they didn’t need him, the Reds signed Candelario to a three-year $45 million deall. That’s too much money to pay a designated hitter. He plays third base and first base, so it is likely he will be stationed at one of those spots.

If he plays first, what do the Reds do wih young Christian Encarnacion-Strand? If he plays third, what to they do with Noel Marte. Encarnacio-Strand and Marte both are projected as future stars and the designated hitter spot usualloy isn’t occupied by young players..

Then there is perhaps the team’s best young player, based on what he did last year, second baseman Matt McLain. He claimed second base when Jonathan India was injured and played better, offensively and defensivelly, than India.

All winter the rumor mongers had India putting on another team’s uniform. It never materialized. So now what? DH? Or will the Reds trade him?

After a flashy start during which he did everything on a baseball field but do handstands and cartwheels, shortstop Elly De La Cruz hit that invisible wall that always slows down rookies.

When he got on base, De La Cruz was baseball’s most exciting entity. Who else, within a week, hit for the cycle and stole second, third and home on two pitches.

But opposing pitchers discovered that his knowledge of the strike zone was not high IQ. He chased down and away breaking pitches out of the strike zone almost daily.

Has he learned the strike zone, learned to lay off those tempting low-and-away pitches and willl make the pitchers come to him? Spring training will tell the tale.

With the addition of Candelario, Spencer Steer’s days of infield play probably are over. But he was arguably the team MVP last season and needs to be in the lineup, probably in left field.

Center field once again should belong to blue-collared T.J. Friedl, a steady guy with a functional bat and a glue-like glove.

That leaves right field in most likely a platoon situation with the lefthanded Jake Fraley and the righthanded Will Benson.

And to add some mystery and spice to the spring proceedings, the Reds signed free agent Josh Harrison, a Cincinnati native and product of Princeton High School. The two-time All-Star was signed to a minor league contract as a non-roster invitee to big league camp.

If he makes the team he’ll be paid $1.5 million and be a utility player at second base, third base, first base and the corner outfield spots.

It appears that manager David Bell wil have many interchangeable parts, players that can play several positions. The problem is, there are not enough positions to accommodate all the players.

And so the shakedown begins to see if the good times roll.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *