The Cincinnati Reds have the benefit of playing in the worst division in the National League, the NL Central, where the Pirates, Brewers, Reds and Cubs are all hovering around .500. The winner of that division will make the playoffs, even if it has a losing record, and October remains a long way away. 

So even though the Reds are on the Betway board at +30000 to win the World Series, strange things happen in baseball, where the Philadelphia Phillies finished third in the NL East last season yet made the World Series.

Yes, regular seasons are becoming more and more meaningless in professional sports. It was not always that way, but expansion, expanded television-rights fees, and the desire for sports leagues to provide that essential quality – “hope” – to their fans has made this a reality that cheapens regular seasons but keeps fans interested over the course of a summer when they might otherwise be checking movie listings or offerings at the local state fair.

That is certainly the case in Cincinnati, where “The Big Red Machine” existed five decades ago and where the team’s last postseason victory, a sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers, happened way back in 1995. However, rookie shortstop Matt McLain is hitting .328 and can be found in Betway’s MLB futures markets at odds of +4000 for National League Rookie of the Year.

Who is the top prospect for the Reds 2023?

McLain’s batting average is significantly higher than that of Arizona Diamondbacks rookie Corbin Carroll, the -325 favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year. Carroll entered the June 17-18 weekend with 14 home runs, 35 RBIs and 19 stolen bases, while McLain’s numbers in those categories -- three homers, 13 RBIs and two stolen bases – do not exactly measure up. But McLain did not debut this season until May 15, so Carroll had a massive head start before McLain displaced Kevin Newman as the everyday shortstop when Newman was shifted to first base. From a gambling perspective, especially for folks in Ohio who follow the Reds closely, this bears watching. Those sold on McLain continuing to hit for this high of an average could do worse than taking a +4000 flyer. Remember, midseason leaders in individual awards races often do not pan out. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic.

Ranking the Top 10 Rookie Seasons in Cincinnati Reds History

  1. Tommy Helms, 1966

Position: Second base
Rookie Stats: .284 batting average, 9 HRs, 72 runs scored

A natural shortstop and a native of Charlotte, N.C., Tommy Helms played third base as a rookie and was moved to second base the following season. Reds fans therefore remember him as the guy who turned Pete Rose into an outfielder.

  1. Jonathan India, 2021

Position: Second base
Rookie Stats: .269 batting average. 21 HRs, 69RBIs, 98 runs scored
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (2021)

The fifth overall pick in the 2018 draft out of the University of Florida, Jonathan India, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native, swung at a lower percentage of pitches in the strike zone than any other major leaguer at 58.2. He received 29 of 30 first-place votes for Rookie of the Year.

  1. Tom Browning, 1985

Position: Pitcher
Rookie Stats: 20-9 record, 3.55 ERA, 261.1 innings, 155 strikeouts

Tom Browning was not a Rookie of the Year snub because he debuted in the same season as Vince Coleman, who stole 110 bases for the St. Louis Cardinals to capture the NL Rookie of the Year Award. Nevertheless, Browning, from Union, Ky., won 20 games as a rookie and went on to pitch the only perfect game in Reds history three years later in 1988.

  1. Pat Zachry, 1976

Position: Pitcher
Rookie Stats: 14-7 record, 2.74 ERA, 204 innings in 38 appearances (including 28 starts)
Awards: National League Rookie o the Year (1976)

New York Mets fans remember Pat Zachry, a Richmond, Texas, native as one member of the bag of hammers that New York got back when Tom Seaver was dealt to Cincinnati in the so-called “Midnight Massacre.” As a rookie on one of the greatest teams ever, Zachry finished in the top 10 among NL pitchers in ERA, leading the Reds in that category, along with winning percentage, hits per nine innings and strikeouts per nine innings.

  1. Chris Sabo, 1988

Position: Third base
Rookie Stats: .271 batting average, 46 stolen bases, 74 runs scored
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (1988)

Fondly remembered for the goggles he donned instead of eyeglasses, Chris Sabo was a thrill to watch as a rookie. He was seen as the heir to Pete Rose because of his hustle, his position, and his willingness to always go for the extra base. Nicknamed “Spuds,” the Detroit native never came close to duplicating the 46 steals he recorded in his debut season.

  1. Scott Williamson, 1999

Position: Pitcher
Rookie Stats: 2.41 ERA, 19 saves, 12-7 record in 62 appearances
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (1999)

Some Reds fans might believe we are ranking him too high, but Scott Williamson, from Port Polk North, La., was an All-Star in his rookie season after making just six Triple-A appearances. Sadly, Tommy John surgery had a major impact on his career. He was a strong closer for the Reds in 2002 but was dealt to Boston in the 2003 fire sale.

  1. Vada Pinson, 1959

Position: Outfield
Rookie Stats: .316 batting average, 20 HRs, 84 RBIs. 21 stolen bases

As a rookie, Vada Pinson led the majors in runs scored, doubles, and at-bats. Additionally, in the National League, the Memphis native finished in the top five in plate appearances, triples, stolen bases, extra-base hits, batting average, total bases and hits. He had the misfortune of being a rookie in the same year as Willie McCovey of the Giants, who batted .354 that season.

  1. Johnny Bench, 1968

Position: Catcher
Rookie Stats: .275 batting average, 15 HRs, 82 RBIs
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (1968)

A 14-time All Star (13 straight appearances), Johnny Bench is one of only three catchers to win two MVP awards, and his 10 Gold Gloves are second to only Ivan Rodriguez. Not only is Bench one of the best players in team history, the Oklahoma City native might be the best catcher the game has ever seen.

  1. Pete Rose, 1963

Position: Second base
Rookie Stats: .273 batting average, 9 triples, 101 runs scored
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (1963)

We highlight those nine triples because the triple is the most exciting play in baseball, a product of a player believing that a double is not good enough. Pete Rose, a Cincinnati native, embodied that belief, chugging around second base with a full head of steam and constantly diving head-first into third base to get so many of his 135 career triples. If you want to learn more about Pete Rose and where he ranks among the greatest Reds of all time, check out of rankings on the Top 10 greatest Cincinnati Reds players in history

  1. Frank Robinson, 1956

Position: Outfield
Rookie Stats: .290 batting average, 38 HRs, 122 RBIs
Awards: National League Rookie of the Year (1956) 

Frank Robinson had such a dominant inaugural season that he finished seventh in MVP voting at a time when the crusty members of the Baseball Writers Association of America were pretty much philosophically opposed to listing a player on two major award ballots. But Robinson, from Beaumont, Texas, broke that mold. He ranked in the top five in slugging percentage, runs scored, total bases, home runs, runs created and extra-base hits. The only players who routinely ranked ahead of Robinson in those categories were Hank Aaron, Duke Snider, and Willie Mays.

Parameters of Ranking

We gave a lot of weight to winning Rookie of the Year while also recognizing that some Cincinnati Reds rookies simply had the misfortune of coming into the National League in the same season as a future Hall of Famer. Talk about luck of the draw. Because the Reds’ championship history is mostly centered on the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s, we weighted that in favor of players from those years. Yes, we value winning championships and winning awards. In this corner of the universe, winning is highly valued and cannot be overvalued. In sports, after all, every team is a failure except for one in every single season.

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