2008 MLB Preview: Cincinnati Reds

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2008 MLB Preview: Cincinnati Reds

Manager: Dusty Baker
Arrivals: RP Jeremy Affeldt, C Paul Bako, RP Fransico Cordero, SP Josh Fogg, 1B Andy Phillips, P Edison Volquez
Departures: IF Jorge Cantu, RP Eddie Guardado, OF Josh Hamilton, SP Eric Milton

Offseason grade: C+

Starting rotation

Aaron Harang has quietly developed into one of the National League's best starting pitchers at the top of Cincinnati's rotation. An absolute horse, Harang threw 231.2 innings last year, striking out 218 batters en route to a 16-6, 3.73 campaign. 

In 2007, Bronson Arroyo lost some of the mojo he had in 2006, a year in which he went 14-11 with a 3.29 ERA. Arroyo's ERA was still respectable last year at 4.23, but he went just 9-15. Arroyo's numbers may be best suited for a mid-rotation starter, but for Cincinnati's sake, he's a good enough No. 2.

Behind Harang and Arroyo, the Reds have five or six guys who are competing for spots in the rotation: Jeremy Affeldt, Josh Fogg, Matt Belisle, Homer Bailey, Edison Volquez, and Johnny Cueto.

Affeldt hasn't started a game since 2006 and had a lot of success coming out of the bullpen with Colorado last year, yet he will be given all the opportunity in the world to make Cincinnati's starting rotation.

While he may find success as a starter, he's best suited to pitch in the Reds' bullpen, which is not very deep.

Fogg, if he makes the rotation, will provide the Reds with about 10-13 wins and and ERA around 5.00. Not great numbers, but he should serve as a decent stopgap if Bailey, Volquez, or Cueto aren't ready yet.

Belisle went 8-9 with a 5.32 ERA in his first full season in the majors last year. He's just 27 and still has room to improve, but likely is nothing more than a back-end starter for the Reds.

The last three pitchers are all very young but highly touted.

Bailey, regarded as one of baseball's best pitching prospects, started nine games for the Reds last year. Like most rookies, he was erratic, walking 28 while striking out the same number.

If Bailey can get his command under control, he could start to fulfill the great potential he has as early as this year.

Volquez was brought over from Texas for Josh Hamilton and is another very good talent. He was mismanaged with the pitching-starved Rangers and would have been best served to stay in the minors instead of getting called up to be shelled by hitters he wasn't ready to face.  

More than likely, Volquez will start the year at AAA unless he blows away Dusty Baker in Spring Training. With some work, Volquez could be part II of a three-headed monster that Cincinnati could be building down the road. 

The third part of that monster would be Cueto, a 22-year-old righty who is starting to hear his name mentioned alongside Bailey as a top pitching prospect in the Reds' organization. While he hasn't sniffed the majors yet and is a longshot to make Cincinnati's rotation out of Spring Training, keep an eye on him as the season progresses. 

It wouldn't surprise me if Cueto was called up mid-season due to an injury or poor performance by a starter (I'm looking at you, Josh Fogg).

Cincinnati's rotation is headed in the right direction with Harang, Bailey, Volquez, and Cueto. Probably not this year, but maybe by 2009 we could be talking about Cincinnati's rotation leading them into contention for the NL Central crown.

Starting rotation grade: C+

Bullpen

Cincinnati's big offseason move was to sign Fransisco Cordero to a ridiculous 4 year, $46 million contract. However, GM Wayne Krivsky could afford to overpay for Cordero to give the Reds a long-term closer option–something they haven't had since the glory days of Danny Graves.

Behind Cordero, the only dependable reliever the Reds have is David Weathers. Weathers did a pretty good job closing for Cincinnati last year, saving 33 of 39 games and posting a 3.59 ERA. Weathers should be a good eighth inning option for Baker.

This is where Affeldt should come into the equation. The rest of the Reds' bullpen will be comprised of any combination of Mike Stanton (yes, he hasn't retired yet), Gary Majewski, Bill Bray, Jared Burton, Jon Coutlangus, Todd Coffey, and Marcus McBeth.

Stanton, Majewski, and Coffey simply aren't that good and have proved that over the last few years.

Bray is still young but hasn't proven over the 65 innings he has thrown in the majors that he's anything more than a left-handed mopup man.

Burton, Coutlangus, and McBeth all got their first taste of the majors last year, but none threw more than 45 innings. If these three pitchers can show signs of improvement in their second year in the majors, Cincinnati's bullpen could be halfway decent.

However, that's a big if, and because of that, Cincinnati's bullpen likely will struggle outside of the 8th and 9th innings.

Bullpen grade: C

Lineup

The Reds will once again trot out a powerful lineup that features Adam Dunn, Ken Griffey Jr., and Brandon Phillips–all of whom smacked out at least 30 home runs last year. If those three stay healthy, they will give Cincinnati another powerful core to their lineup.

Everybody knows that the trio of Dunn, Griffey, and Phillips will be good. I'm more interested in the younger talent that's starting to make its way through Cincinnati's lineup.

First, there's Edwin Encarnacion, a 25-year-old third baseman who has seen significant playing time–and improvement–over the last few years. It wouldn't surprise me if Encarnacion built off his .289/16/76 stats of 2007 and finished 2008 a .300 hitter with 20 home runs and 80-90 RBI.

Next up is Joey Votto, a 24-year-old first baseman who appears to have overtaken Scott Hatteberg as Cincinnati's starting first baseman. Votto hit .294 with 22 home runs and 92 RBI with AAA Louisville last year and could develop into a really good major league hitter over the next few years. It'll be interesting to see how he progresses through 2008, assuming he can keep his starting job.

Finally, there's Jay Bruce, a 21-year-old outfielder with a world of potential. Bruce put up great stats across A, AA, and AAA ball last year, finishing with a .319 batting average and 26 home runs. 

While Bruce may not be able to knock off Ryan Freel for the starting centerfield job out of Spring Training, the Reds should seriously consider inserting him in that spot mid-season if Freel is struggling and the team isn't going anywhere.

However, if Bruce doesn't pull off a surprise and win the centerfield job out of Spring Training, the Reds should not make him their fourth outfielder. Doing so would stunt his growth, as he'll gain much more experience starting in AAA than sitting on the bench at the MLB level.

Lineup grade: B

Bench

Norris Hopper gives Cincinnati a solid bat and good speed off the bench and, along with Drew Anderson, likely will be a late-inning defensive replacement for Dunn or Griffey.

Jeff Keppinger can play 3B, SS, and 2B and provides another good bat off the bench. Scott Hatteberg should be a very good player off the bench after losing his starting spot and would be my first choice to pinch hit if I was Dusty Baker.

Bench grade: B+

I like the direction this Cincinnati franchise is going in. They may not win this year, but they definitely have the pieces to make a run for the NL Central sooner rather than later.

Trading away those pieces for a guy like Joe Blanton, as it has been rumored, would be a mistake.

The Cubs likely are going to run away with the division this year (but then again, they are the Cubs) and it would be better to develop a guy like Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto, or Jay Bruce rather than trade a combination of them for Blanton, who probably wouldn't be able to lead the Reds to a division title this year anyways.

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