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2017 NL Central Preview: Cincinnati Reds

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The Reds have been one of the league’s worst-performing teams over the past two years, and it looks like it might continue for a third.

MLB: Spring Training-Cincinnati Reds at Los Angeles Dodgers Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into last season, the NL Central had two pretty clear tiers -- the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds, and then everyone else. But, you know, not in the good way for the Brewers and Reds.

Last season was a race to the bottom for both teams, trying to out-tank-rebuild the other. In that regard, the Reds won, finishing in last in the division with a 68-94 record.

The tear-down continued in the offseason, with Dan Straily (3.76 ERA/4.88 FIP, 113 ERA+ in 31 starts and somehow credited with 14 wins on a bad team) getting traded to the Marlins in January for prospects Luis Castillo, Austin Brice and Isaiah White. The Marlins' system isn't great, but Castillo was still their 2nd-best prospect according to Baseball America. Not a bad return for a guy the Reds claimed on waivers before the 2016 season.

The biggest change of the offseason didn't happen until February, when Cincinnati finally parted ways with second baseman Brandon Phillips, shipping the 35-year-old to his hometown Atlanta Braves just before the start of spring training. The Reds had to agree to pay $13 million of his $14 million salary for this year just to get two relatively anonymous pitchers back in return, 27-year-old Andrew McKirahan and 29-year-old Carlos Portuondo.

While the Brewers look to be close to turning the corner in the near future, a little work still remains for the Reds, and many new faces should still be on the way.

Outfield

One of last year's bigger surprises was the breakout of 27-year-old Adam Duvall, who after hitting .204/.268/.409 in his first two cups of coffee in the majors, became an All-Star and ended the year with 33 home runs. His overall line of .241/.297/.498 doesn't create a lot of excitement, but the Reds needed an All-Star representative and he had 23 homers at the break.

Duvall will be joined in the outfield by Billy Hamilton, who is still one of the fastest humans on earth and still can't hit. Hamilton's batting line actually improved to .260/.321/.343 last year and he stole a career-high 58 bases thanks to also setting a career best in walks and OBP.

Manning right field will be a human called Scott Schebler, a former 26th round pick who took over for Jay Bruce last season. Schebler was a minor piece of the 3-team deal that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox, and he hit .265/.330/.432 in 82 games for the Reds last year.

Infield

The Phillips trade means someone new will be at second base for the first time in a decade. It'll be former Top-100 prospect Jose Peraza, who was a bigger part of the Frazier deal. Peraza made his debut last year at age 22, and burst onto the scene .324/.352/.411 line. Fellow Venezuelan Eugenio Suarez will handle third base after hitting 21 home runs there as a 24-year-old last year, and Zack Cozart -- who could be the next Red traded -- will start the year at shortstop. Prospect Dilson Herrera could also be promoted at some point this season.

Oh, there's also Joey Votto, one of the best hitters in baseball and still somehow despised by a large portion of Cincinnati. Votto hit .326/.434/.550 last year -- putting up a .985 OPS and a 160 OPS+ -- but if you ask the team's broadcasters, he's a massive disappointment because he failed to hit 30 home runs and had more walks (108) than RBI (97). What a failure. They should just trade him to Milwaukee and be done with him.

Catcher

Devin Mesoraco should, in theory, play this season after injuries have nearly destroyed what was once looked like a promising career. After making the All-Star Game in 2014 at the age of 26, Mesoraco has played in a grand total of 39 games in the past two seasons, struggling with torn labrums in both his hip and shoulder. Whether or not Mesoraco will be ready for Opening Day still seems to be a question mark, though, so we could see a lot of Tucker Barnhart again in 2017.

Starting Rotation

BRONSON ARROYO WON'T GO AWAY. The ageless Brewer Killer is back in Cincinnati and is expected to make the starting rotation, especially after promising young righty Anthony DeSclafani went down with a UCL sprain earlier this spring, getting shut down for at least a month.

Hoping to recreate the magic of Dan Straily, the Reds signed Scott Feldman this offseason and named him their Opening Day starter. Feldman has made a career out of being a solid starter/de facto #1 guy for bad teams, but hasn't thrown 180 innings in a season since 2014.

23-year-old lefthander Brandon Finnegan is probably the starter with the highest ceiling with DeSclafani out. He'll be in his second full season this year after putting up a 3.98 ERA in 31 starts last year, but his FIP (5.19) indicates he was probably a bit lucky last season. Finnegan struck out 145 batters in 172 innings in 2016.

Bullpen

The Reds had a historically bad bullpen last season, and tried to address it at least a little by signing former Nationals closer Drew Storen. The former 43-game-saver is trying to work his way back to prominence after bombing out of Toronto last season, although he did rebound nicely to end the year after landing in Seattle.

Former hyped prospect Tony Cingrani will also figure into the back end of the bullpen after picking up 17 saves last year. He's still struggling with control, though, finishing last season with 49 strikeouts and 37 walks.

Righty Raisel Iglesias was one of the few Reds relievers to perform well last season, putting up a 2.53 ERA while striking out 83 in 78.1 innings. The Cuban was signed to a $27 million contract in 2014 with eyes on him being a future starter, but the stamina has never quite worked out, and now looks locked into the pen. A three-pitch mix could make him a sneaky candidate to steal saves this year for the Reds.

Prospects

A step or two behind the Brewers in the rebuilding process, the Reds placed three players in Baseball America's Top 100 this past winter, led by last year's #2 overall pick, third baseman Nick Senzel (#9 in the Top 100). An advanced college bat, Senzel cruised to a .305/.398/.514 line in his first taste of pro ball and will see his first full season action this year.

Left-handers Cody Reed (#69 on BA's list) and Amir Garrett (#81) should both see big-league action this year. Reed made 10 starts for the Reds in 2016 but retained his rookie status and is in play to make the rotation out of Spring Training. Garrett put up a 2.55 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A last year and throws 96 from the left side with a pretty good slider.

Prediction

The Reds have landed the #2 overall pick in each of the past two seasons, and barring a complete turnaround in the pitching department, should be in the mix for that draft slot again. It's hard to see this team avoiding 90+ losses again, but at least they're finally starting to experience some changeover and get some younger faces into the lineup. They're still a few years away from returning to Annoying status for the Brewers, though, so we can pretty safely project them to finish in last place in the Central.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference