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Cincinnati Reds 2024 outlook: Phenom Elly De La Cruz will be the key to a run in NL Central

cincinnati reds
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Over the past decade, the Cincinnati Reds have made the postseason just once, in 2020 when they were swept out of the Wild Card round by the Atlanta Braves. Over the course of that decade there have been a lot of fourth- and fifth-place finishes in the NL Central.

Heading into the 2024 season, there is hope that this year will be different. After finishing with an 82-80 record — just barely missing a wild-card spot by two games — the Reds have made some additions to the roster for the upcoming campaign, plus they’ll be getting a full year from phenom Elly De La Cruz.

The projections at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus are aligned on the win total that Cincinnati is destined for, but the Reds could be in a nice position to surprise some folks this year. Let’s take a look at some of the moves the club made over the offseason, preview their chances in 2024, and give you one player to keep an eye on for the upcoming season.

Cincinnati Reds additions and subtractions

cincinnati reds
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The St. Louis Cardinals are projected to finish atop the NL Central this season after finishing with a 71-91 record and in the basement of the division a year ago. With the track record the franchise has, it’s hard to dispute. Yet, if you’re comparing the off-seasons that the Redbirds and Redlegs have had, they’re pretty comparable.

Over the course of this team preview series we have been tabulating the WAR that the team is losing via free agency, trades, waiver claims, etc. from last year’s team, and then comparing that total with what is projected from the new additions to each team. The Cincinnati Reds will be without Joey Votto, who is a franchise icon, but was a zero-win player last year. In fact, not a lot of the departing players had positive WAR totals at all. The only two that did were relievers Derek Law (0.3) and Chasen Shreve (0.2).

The Reds have brought in Tony Kemp (0.9) on a minor-league deal, as well as Frankie Montas (2.1), and Jeimer Candelario (1.1) as veterans for this young Reds roster. Nick Martinez (1.2) gives the team a reliable fifth starter, too. In total, the Reds projected WAR is +7.1 over the group that has left the team.

By comparison, the Cardinals were at +7.4, but they’re also starting with an 11 game deficit from where the Reds finished last season. St. Louis made some nice additions and will likely see some development from their young guys as well as bounce back seasons from their veterans, but in terms of upside, the Reds have them beat.

Cincinnati Reds 2024 outlook

cincinnati reds
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

The Cincinnati Reds are projected at 79-83 over at FanGraphs and 78.4-83.6 on Baseball Prospectus. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the Reds are projected to be just four back of the Cardinals, two back of the Chicago Cubs, and one back of the Milwaukee Brewers on FG, and six back of St. Louis at BP. In either case, they’re closer to the top of the division than the bottom, though where they’re projected to finish is technically fourth.

Projection systems have come a long way over the years, but they’re not perfect. They’re meant to provide a good idea of what’s in store. If you’re a Reds’ fan, these projections should give you hope. It’s still difficult to project just how well Spencer Steer, Noelvi Marte, Elly, Matt McLain, and TJ Friedl will perform in 2024 because their track record isn’t terribly long. That’s why a roster like the one in St. Louis is projected to finish at the top: they have veterans with loads of experience.

The one worrisome thing with this Reds team, and, yes, they play in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, is that of the members of their projected pitching staff, not one — starter or reliever — is projected for an ERA that begins with something lower than a four. Closer Alexis Díaz has a 4.10 next to his name, while Hunter Greene, the projected No. 1 starter, is at 4.27. On the bright side, there aren’t any ERAs that begin with a five, either.

On the offensive side, this club is just filled with mashers. Of the 13 projected bats on the roster, 11 of them are seen as finishing with over ten home runs. The Atlanta Braves, who had an all-time offense last season, have ten out of 13. Atlanta’s big sluggers are also projected for higher totals. The point here is that the Reds have a good amount of depth on the roster, and with six of 13 players projected for more than ten steals, they can beat you in a few different ways.

Cincinnati will likely be the trendy “bold prediction” pick to win the division in the coming weeks, and it’s easy to see why. With a little bit of luck on their side or another big breakout performance, then they could easy overtake the rest of the Central and claim their first crown since 2012.

Cincinnati Reds player to watch in 2024

Cincinnati Reds
Credit: Kareem Elgazzar-USA TODAY Sports

The easy answer is obviously Elly De La Cruz, who burst onto the scene in his first 21 games in June, batting .307 with a .358 OBP, three homers, two triples, nine stolen bases and 21 runs scored. He was nearly hitting balls out of the ballpark on trip to the plate, then stealing home the next. He’s electric. And that’s why he’s not the answer here. It would be impossible not to watch Elly doing Elly things.

Instead, keep an eye on Christian Encarnacion-Strand. Not only will his full last name not fit on the back of the new jerseys, but he’s also pretty good at baseball. Last season in Cincinnati, the 24-year-old hit .270 with a .328 OBP and hit 13 home runs in 63 games. He also smacked 20 homers in 67 games in Triple-A. The guy has some pop.

He also showed a knack for hitting the ball hard when he made contact last season with a 48.4% hard-hit rate. Given enough plate appearances, that would have been the same exact rate as Giancarlo Stanton last season and ranked him in a tie for No. 38 in all of baseball. Throw in that his launch angle was at 18.6 degrees, and he looks like he could be a breakout candidate for the Reds.

Keep an eye on what is being said about him in Reds camp, because there isn’t necessarily an open spot for him to get everyday playing time. With Marte at third, Candelario at first, and Jonathan India at DH, those are the three spots that Encarnacion-Strand would be most likely to land. He may not be a fixture for the Reds immediately, but those power numbers will open up a spot before long.

Jason Burke covers MLB for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.

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