The Cincinnati Reds have finished atop the NL Central in two of the past four years, but failed to make it past the first round in either trip to postseason.
Outfielder Ryan Ludwick is an integral part of this Reds’ team, but is being highly undervalued in fantasy leagues. Come draft day, owners should be pouncing on this “sleeper” in Cincinnati.
» Ryan Ludwick, OF (current ADP: #289):
Fantasy owners had a lot of hope for Ryan Ludwick after his fantastic 2012 season in Cincinnati, but injuries derailed what could have been a great follow-up campaign. Owners should be monitoring him on draft day, though, because the Reds’ outfielder is back and ready to flash his bat.
Ludwick broke out in St. Louis during the 2008 season. The Florida native slugged 37 HR and drove in 113 runs, both career-highs. But after regressing the following two years, he was shipped to San Diego in a three-way deal that sent Jake Westbrook to the Cardinals and Corey Kluber to the Cleveland Indians.
His play didn’t get any better in the vast expanses of PETCO Park. Over two-and-a-half seasons in San Diego, Ludwick hit a measly .228 with 28 HR and 100 RBI in 160 games. Midway through his second season with the Padres, he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates, becoming an afterthought in their offense.
In 2012, Ludwick bounced back in a big way. After signing a two-year, $15 million deal with the Reds, the slugger hit 26 dingers while knocking in 80 runs. Unfortunately, on Opening Day of the 2013 season, Ludwick suffered a dislocated right shoulder and would need surgery to repair torn cartilage.
Fantasy owners who took a gamble on him as a power hitter in a hitter-friendly ballpark were left empty-handed. Ludwick did eventually return to the Reds lineup in August, but was largely ineffective, batting just .240 with 2 HR and 12 RBI in 38 games.
It’s now Spring Training and Ludwick is about as close to 100 percent as he will get. He’ll be 36 years old in July, but with an everyday role in the Reds’ potent lineup, there will be lots of opportunities for fantasy owners to get production out of him.
According to first-year manager Bryan Price, Ludwick will be a big part of the Reds’ plans this season. Cincinnati.com is reporting that Price plans on having Ludwick bat fifth vs. righties, but hit cleanup vs. left-handed pitchers. It would be optimal to have Jay Bruce slot into the No. 4 spot, but Price doesn’t want Bruce and Joey Votto (who are both lefties) hitting back-to-back when facing a southpaw. Bruce has a career .267/.341/.502 line vs. RHP, but that plummets to .234/.306/.438 vs. LHP.
Assuming Price follows through with this proposition, Ludwick would be hitting in the heart of a Reds’ lineup that ranked sixth in baseball last year with a .327 OBP. Having Billy Hamilton (and his 395 career minor-league stolen bases) manufacturing runs at the top of the order should mean even more available run production for Ludwick. Second baseman Brandon Phillips had 96 of his career-high 103 RBI batting while batting fourth in the Reds’ lineup last year.
If he stays healthy, Ludwick has a shot to man the middle of the Reds’ order for the entire season and play half of his games in the bandbox known as Great American Ballpark. The only real competition would come from Chris Heisey, but he’s never been able to put together any success for a full season. In 2013, Heisey posted a .237 BA with an awful 9/51 BB/K ratio.
As of Wednesday, Ryan Ludwick is currently the 289th player being taken in fantasy baseball drafts, and would be a nice fourth or fifth outfielder on any fantasy squad. He offers little risk at that spot, but has the potential to make solid contributions in the HR and RBI categories. That kind of upside for his relatively low cost earns him my vote as the Cincinnati Reds’ “sleeper” for 2014.
2014 Projections: .273/.333/.431, 18 HR, 80 RBI, 59 R, 3 SB
» Missed any of my earlier picks? Please click here for links to all the sleepers I’ve have covered from each team so far.