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Dismal 2015 doesn’t erase fans’ interest

Jim Walker

jim.walker@irontontribune.com

 

ASHLAND, Ky. — The dismal record last season and trading of star players should signal nothing but a negative atmosphere among baseball fans.

Unless, that is, you’re a Cincinnati Reds’ fan.

Long-time Reds’ radio broadcaster Marty Brennaman said at the annual winter caravan on Saturday that Cincinnati fans are the most loyal in all of baseball and the attendance at the various stops prove it.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Brennaman. “You wouldn’t know, based on the overwhelming interest that fans have wherever we go, whether they won 98 games last year or lost 98 games. (The fans) always turn out.

“If there’s ever any question as to whether there’s an interest out there two, three or four hours away from Cincinnati, there’s no doubt about it. You expect it when the club has a grat year, but you’re amazed by the number of people that show up even when the club is coming off a terrible year like this one is.”

The Reds were 64-98 last season and last in the five-team National League Central Division.

The Reds traded pitchers Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake during the season and then third baseman Todd Frazier and hard-throwing reliever Aroldis Chapman in the off-season. Not only are they four of the team’s top players but fan favorites as well.

The Reds lineup currently will have Joey Votto at first base, Brandon Phillips at second base, Zack Cozart at shortstop as he returns from a knee injury that caused him to miss most of last season, Jay Bruce in right field, speedy Billy Hamilton in center and Devin Mesoraco at catcher after missing virtually all of last season with a hip injury.

The two big voids will be at third base where the Reds traded All-Star third baseman Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox and in left field.

Again.

The Reds attempted to trade Phillips to two teams but Phillips nixed both deals with his no-trade clause. His deal to Washington was basically due to money.

Backup catcher Tucker Barnhart — who started most of the games last season with Mesoraco hurt — is looking forward to the upcoming season and said the winter caravan is a good launching point.

“When I get back home on Monday, we’re about a week out from going to Arizona (for spring training),” said Barnhart.

“My wife and I will drive out there. This brings the off-season to a close and it’s a good way to finish it by seeing all the fans and stuff. It gets you in the right frame of mind to get ready for spring training.”

The Reds had an all-rookie pitching rotation last season that should benefit from the experience.

Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Michael Lorenzen, Keyvius Sampson, John Lamb and a healthy Homer Bailey are expected to be candidates for the starting rotation.

Bailey had Tommy John elbow surgery last season and is not expected to be available until mid-May.

The bullpen will be a major concern. Tony Cingrani, Carlos Contreras, Jumbo Diaz and J.J. Hoover are holdovers from last year. Lorenzen could be targeted for the bullpen depending on how the starting rotation develops.

There may be help in the minors, but it could be a year or two before the talent is ready for prime time.

The Reds placed five players among the top100 minor league prospects led by No. 34 prospect Jesse Winkler and No. 35 prospect Robert Stephenson.

Winkler is a left-handed hitting outfielder and Stephenson is a right-handed starting pitcher.

Winkler, 22, shook off a slow first half last season and finished with a .282 batting average, 13 home runs and 55 runs batted in for Double-A Pensacola and was named the Reds’ minor league Hitter of the Yeara.

Last season Stephenson was 8-11 with a 3.83 earns run average and 140 strikeouts in 25 combined starts at Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville.

Also on the list are starting pitcher Cody Reed at No. 66 and Amir Garrett at No. 69, and second baseman Jose Peraza at No. 71.

Garrett was named to the Sirius-XM All-Star Futures Game and was the Reds’ minor league Pitcher of the Year. He was 9-7 with a 2.44 ERA with 133 strikeouts in 26 starts.

Peraza, 21, was acquired in a three-team deal from the Los Angeles Dodgers. He batted .293 with four homers, 42 runs batted in and 33 steals at Triple-A last season.