Former Cincinnati pitcher and current broadcast analyst Jeff Brantley summarized why Reds fans should be going crazy about this team.
“Right now, this team is at the top of the heap,” Brantley said. “With the way that this club has been put together, you’re not only coming to watch a baseball game, you’re coming to watch championship-caliber baseball.”
Young rising stars such as Todd Frazier and Billy Hamilton only add to that excitement. They joined Brantley, relief pitcher Logan Ondrusek, broadcaster Jim Kelch and Vice President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams as the Southern Leg group began their four-day trek on the annual Reds Caravan. The crew stopped by WUGO-WGOH studios in Grayson on their way to Fannin Motors in Summit on Thursday.
Fans are quickly growing familiar with both Frazier and Hamilton. Frazier hit .273, had 19 home runs and 67 RBIs in 2012. The soon-to-be 27-year-old finished third in last season’s National League Rookie of the Year voting after not making the team out of spring training.
Frazier’s role is much different after helping key a run to the NL Central Division crown. The backup third baseman was basically a fill-in wherever needed.
With veteran Scott Rolen still undecided between returning and retiring, Frazier is heading into this spring with a starter’s mindset.
“I am going in thinking that it’s my job,” Frazier said of being the starting third baseman.
Fans fell in love with Frazier’s childlike, all-out approach to the game.
“I’ve had a lot of old school coaches, my father’s old school,” Frazier said. “They’ve kind of taught me that’s how it’s supposed to be, that’s the way the game’s supposed to be played. Have a lot of fun, play with enthusiasm. Show your emotions, don’t hide them. Take a little pride in what you do.”
Frazier talked about a couple moments that made his first official season in the big leagues extra special — his first career walk-off home run against Atlanta that gave the Reds their fifth straight win in May; and a game-tying solo shot in the bottom of the ninth in the last regular season home game, a win over Milwaukee.
“That one was pretty cool,” he said. “I was kinda struggling a little bit at the time and finally connected with one, and I was like, aw man I’m back.”
Ondrusek offers an imposing figure on the mound — the Texan is 6-foot-10. He signed a two-year deal during the offseason to help solidify what figures to remain one of the top bullpens in the league.
Jonathan Broxton is set to assume the closer’s role, while Aroldis Chapman will likely become a starter.
Brantley, a former closer, expressed appreciation for the high emphasis on pitching.
“The Reds not only had five starters that made every start last year, they also had the best bullpen in the big leagues, statistically,” Brantley said. “When you combine those two things, and you’re really looking at a staff that’s trying to get better, that’s a big deal.”
Offensively, the offseason re-signing of Ryan Ludwick helped solidify a talented lineup.
Cincinnati is paying especially close attention to an intriguing center field situation.
Offseason acquisition Shin-Soo Choo figures to be the Opening Day starter in center, but electrifying minor league Billy Hamilton might just be waiting in the wings. The 22-year-old set a professional record with 155 stolen bases last season.
Hamilton has always been an infielder, mainly a shortstop. The Reds like Zack Cozart at shortstop, so they’ve been working with Hamilton in the outfield.
“I always thought, man, outfield is easy,” Hamilton cracked a smile. “But there’s a lot to it — there’s a lot of running, you have to know where the wall is, know what angle to take, know the backspin of the ball ...”
So far, it’s been a progressing, and interesting, transition. He worked with former Red great Eric Davis in the Arizona Fall League.
“(Davis) said, I’ll just show you all the stuff I know and you just take it in,” Hamilton said. “I took it in, and I was satisfied with where I was after a month and a half. I still have a lot of work to do.”
The most difficult part in his adjustment: “Just reading the ball,” he said.
With Single-A Bakersfield and double-A Pensacola, Hamilton batted .311 with a .410 on-base percentage last season.
He’s waiting for his big-league opportunity, but he realizes the Reds roster is a tough one to crack at the moment.
“I’m OK with being patient,” he said.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2664.