COMMENTARY | The top of the batting order for the Cincinnati Reds proved to be such an issue for the team in 2012 that it dealt a still-promising center fielder in Drew Stubbs and a future starting shortstop in Didi Gregorius to acquire the leadoff services of Shin-Soo Choo for just one year -- the rapidly approaching 2013 season.
The cleanup spot in the order also presented issues for the Reds in 2012, but by season's end it was clear that left fielder Ryan Ludwick was the man.
Ludwick hit cleanup 36 starts in a row to finish the season. A hot July for Ludwick last season led to his bump to the cleanup spot in August. However, the cleanup numbers trailed off for Ludwick the final month of the season, including just one home run and nine RBIs in 17 starts.
Overall, Ludwick definitely produced well enough in 2012 to earn the incumbent role as cleanup hitter for this year. But if Ludwick starts as slow as he did in 2011 and 2012 for the first month of the season, Reds manager Dusty Baker might go through enough toothpicks to make a switch.
In 2012, Baker slotted five different cleanup hitters. Third baseman Scott Rolen started last season as the Reds' cleanup hitter but did not produce and was dropped in the order by the middle of April.
Second baseman Brandon Phillips took over cleanup after Rolen and maintained the spot for three months. Overall, Phillips was a clutch cleanup hitter, driving in 50 runs and hitting .303 in 73 games. The right-handed hitting Phillips admirably performed sandwiched between lefties Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to provide a solid meat of the order.
However, the knee injury in mid-July that knocked Votto out for nearly two months forced Baker to tweak his lineup. Phillips shifted between the third spot and leadoff, and Bruce was bumped up in the order until Ludwick staked his cleanup claim for the final two months of the season.
But there was one other cleanup hitter for the Reds in 2013 whose sampling there (seven games) hardly signaled the future but certainly put him in the mix as an option for Baker.
That would be third baseman Todd Frazier.
Like last year, Frazier is putting together a decent spring in terms of power -- four long balls in 43 at-bats. Unlike last spring, Frazier is better settled with his role on the team. Last year, Frazier didn't join the team in Cincinnati to start the season. It took an injury to Rolen and the trade of third baseman Juan Francisco to the Atlanta Braves for Frazier to finally get his shot to be a major-league starter. Frazier also solidified his value by starting at first base during the two months of Votto's absence.
Now, Frazier has a ways to go before he can be expected to legitimately vie for the Reds' cleanup spot. But he has shown he is game for opportunity when the circumstances arise.
Frazier has also shown something else at the plate that should spark a blast from the past in the eyes of fans in Reds Country who have seen a season or two over the years: His stance and swing are reminiscent of Reds great Tony Perez. The ability to drive pitches out of the strike zone and the gap power that Frazier has shown stand to produce similar results as Perez did during the era of the Big Red Machine.
Albeit the sampling size for Frazier is limited, the future is there. And with the Perez-like swing he has, so is the past.
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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