COMMENTARY| If Cincinnati Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick misses extended time due to the dislocated shoulder injury he sustained opening day, his absence won't have a negative impact defensively for the Reds, but a batting order without Ludwick could force some significant changes.
Ludwick started the 2013 season where he had left off for the last 36 games of 2012-- as the Reds cleanup hitter. After an ill-advised head-first slide into third base by Ludwick on opening day, the Reds find the cleanup spot unsettled for the first time in quite some time.
Third baseman Todd Frazier is the likely heir apparent to Ludwick at cleanup, given he's got more pop than anyone else available to slot between first baseman Joey Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce. Considering the preference of Reds manager Dusty Baker to have a right-handed hitter separating Votto and Bruce in the order, it's unlikely Bruce gets bumped up to cleanup.
Frazier showed promising power and clutch hitting in his rookie season last year (16 HRs, 67 RBIs), but it remains to be seen if Frazier can deliver in the middle of the order providing protection for Votto.
Besides Frazier, the only viable option to replace Ludwick in the cleanup spot would be second baseman Brandon Phillips, who was the Reds primary cleanup hitter for much of 2012 before Ludwick took over. However, moving Phillips from second in the order to cleanup would force another change that would impact the table-setting role of the top of the order led by right fielder Shin-Soo Choo.
If opening day were a sign of things to come for leadoff hitter Choo (on base three times), he'll thrive atop the Reds order. Also, if opening day were an indicator, the Reds will be sacrificing one of the better hitters on the team -- Phillips -- to move Choo along the bases if he continues to bat behind Choo. Phillips looked challenged in his attempts to bunt opening day to advance Choo. Of the three jabs he made to bunt in two at-bats, only one worked, and the Reds may be re-thinking the wisdom of using Phillips in the two hole, regardless of the injury to Ludwick.
Frazier may be ready for cleanup now, but the more productive use of the spot in the order might be to reinstall Phillips there and move shortstop Zack Cozart from seventh to second in the order, where he hit in 27 starts last year.
With Phillips and Cozart shifted to cleanup and second respectively, Frazier would remain the sixth hitter and Ludwick's replacement would hit seventh. Outfielders Chris Heisey and Xavier Paul would likely platoon in left field in Ludwick's absence, but the minor leaguer the Reds brass and coaches would probably most likely want to see take Ludwick's spot on the roster if he misses significant time would be Donald Lutz, who very well may turn out to be the left fielder of the Reds future. Besides Lutz, Denis Phipps and Derrick Robinson would be the other likely candidates to replace Ludwick.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years. You can read his articles about the 2012 Reds season here.
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