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Positions for grabs as Reds open spring training

It’s finally here.

After a long offseason marred with trades of fan-favorite players, the Cincinnati Reds baseball team will return to the field for the first time in 2016 today in Arizona for the start of Spring Training.

I’ve written about my love of the sport of baseball several times, and I’ve spent a few paragraphs on the Reds’ prospects for this upcoming season as well. Neither of those two things have changed since the last time: I still love the sport and I still believe the Reds won’t be very good at it this season.

The key word in that sentence is “believe.” This is the time of year where it doesn’t matter what last season’s record was, every team and every player has to believe they have a shot this season. It’s a long campaign. Why would you bother pouring your heart and soul into something if you know you’re not going to win? There’s no point.

Every year at this time, media outlets all over the country of various size release their predictions for the upcoming season. For instance, earlier this week the USA Today predicted the standings for the entire league, and *spoiler alert* it wasn’t good for the Reds.

In their eyes, there are three teams who lose at least 100 games this season: the Phillies, the Rockies and the Reds. Cincinnati is predicted to come in fifth place, trailing the Brewers by three games.

These predictions are hard, and often incorrect. I made some last year, and I decided to go back and see how I did. Given the fact that I predicted a Dodgers/Blue Jays World Series and both of those teams lost in the postseason, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Then again, I picked the Nationals to win the NL East and said it wasn’t really close, so there’s some grey area.

Even actual professionals make bad predictions. The entirety of CBSSports last year whiffed completely on the World Series, with none of them picking either the Mets or the Royals to make the fall classic. One of the more enterprising writers chose a Pirates/Indians matchup that, while gutsy, required Cleveland to be good at a major sport, which isn’t a good thing to rely on.

Regardless, the 2016 season is not going to be a memorable one for the Reds in the standings. The important thing this season is to have growth from young players both in the mound and on the field.

Assuming he isn’t traded to the Baltimore Orioles or anywhere else before the opener, Jay Bruce will be in right field for the Reds in April. Joey Votto will be at first base, Brandon Phillips at second, Zack Cozart at shortstop and Devin Mesoraco behind the plate.

Billy Hamilton will also likely be in center field, but third base and left field are vacant at the moment. It’s logical to assume Eugenio Suarez did enough last season with his .280/.315/.446 line to play somewhere this year, but in his brief major league career he’s appeard in exactly three games at third base.

The situation in left field closely resembles a traffic jam in a major city: there are a bunch of people you probably don’t know very well jockeying for a very limited amount of space.

There are five outfielders on the Reds’ roster (not including Bruce or Hamilton) that could find themselves manning left field on Opening Day. You could also include Ivan DeJesus Jr. in that list, as even though he’s listed on the roster as an infielder he played 14 games in left field for the Reds last season.

From a strategic standpoint, putting six players in left field would certainly help defensively, but unfortunately it’s against the rules. The Reds have to decide which player, or combination of players, will be the best fit for the position. That’ll be interesting on it’s own, since outside of DeJesus Jr. the remaining outfield candidates have combined for fewer than 100 at-bats at the major-league level.

The situation on the mound is just as murky. Homer Bailey will be one of the team’s five starters, whenever he returns from injury. It’s logical to assume Anthony DeSclafani and Raisel Iglesias have locked down two other spots. That still leaves two places in the rotation up for grabs in Spring Training.

Another question arose with the trade of Aroldis Chapman: who in the world will be the team’s closer? Will it be J.J. Hoover? Someone outside the organization? Who knows.

That’s the maddening thing about this spring: the Reds have more questions than answers. They’ll get things sorted out as the season draws closer, and while it may take a few weeks to match the names of the players with their faces, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

Baseball is back, and even bad baseball is still baseball. I’d rather have that than nothing at all.

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By Garth Shanklin

gshanklin@civitasmedia.com

Reach Garth Shanklin at 937-378-6161 or follow him on Twitter at @GNDShanklin.

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2016 News Democrat