When my lady and I decided to take a trip to Cincinnati’s Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona, our goals differed a bit.
My expectations for the journey were simple: establish contact at Goodyear Stadium, observe and assess the state of all Reds personnel and emerge with expert analysis.
The wife’s, on the other hand, were more diverse: spend at least seven hours at the hotel pool, get solid pictures of Jay Bruce’s hindquarters and partake in the Phoenix Area Chimichanga Week.
As I sit here today, hollowed out by the post-vaca blues, I can say with confidence that all those objectives were met. Like the seasoned amateur scout I pretend to be, I took advantage of my ridiculously good view and dug into the baseball minutia. Over the course of a four-day skull-session, I was able to compile a full report.
You can hand in your ESPN Insider passes now, baseball fans, it’s all here...
And when I say fat, I don’t mean husky or stocky or well-built. He’s fat, with a capital huge.
I wasn’t surprised to hear he had put on weight in the offseason, but it was still shocking to see a dude that big and know he gets paid to be athletic.
Francisco came into camp with a gimpy ankle, which makes perfect sense now. If I was carrying around a refrigerator all day, I’m pretty sure my joints would be sore too. It's no wonder he was shipped of to the Braves.
Seriously, Juan, release the African Child.
People have speculated about Jay Bruce’s ceiling over the last few years when he’s hit in the mid-.200s and gone through maddening slumps. And up until now, I’ve led that charge.
However, seeing him play in person (after shedding 15-20 pounds), I’m going to go on record and say this is the year he truly breaks out.
In the only game I saw him in (he didn’t play Saturday) he had two doubles and looked to be in a serious zone. He’s swinging free and easy, not getting fooled by pitches and just generally enjoying himself.
35-40 homers, 130 RBI, a .280 average and some MVP votes could happen. A Gold Glove will happen.
There, I said it.
I know Spring Training numbers are supposed to basically be ignored, but I only semi-buy that. Especially when four of our five starters (Cueto, Arroyo, Leake, Bailey) have 5.00-plus ERAs.
Oddly, the only one I’m not worried about is Arroyo, but that’s probably because deep inside I just don’t expect much out of him to begin with. Our saving grace looked to be Matt Latos, who’s now dealing with a sore calf.
If Aroldis Chapman can’t slide in as fifth man (and with the injuries in the bullpen, it looks like management will be leaving him there for now), I think the rotation has the potential to really disappoint.
Cozart, to me, looked like the real deal.
For much of the spring he led all Reds' regulars in batting average (.345) and looked great all the way through.
Plus, he’s done nothing to quell the notion that he’ll be a superlative shortstop, so if he hits at a decent clip and turns in the power/speed numbers we expect (18 homers, 20 steals?), he should give guys like teammate Devin Mesoraco and that cheese-stache in DC some serious competition.
For those that don’t know, Billy Hamilton is one of the more highly-regarded Reds prospects in recent memory. Mainly because of his speed.
Last season, he set a Cincinnati organization record with 103 stolen bases. The next guy in his league had 63. (And, as a point of comparison, a good base-stealer in the big leagues wracks up around 50 these days.)
Hamilton, if he ever can learn to hit at a big league level, could be a Rickey Henderson-like terror on the base paths. I saw him in one at-bat last weekend (one of his only big league at-bats of the spring), and to the shock of absolutely no one, when he got on base (via walk), he stole second.
Despite the fact that he’s about 5’8'', 140 pounds and looks like he's wearing Barry Bonds' helmet, it’s safe to be excited about Billy Hamilton.
I’ve supported Chris Heisey from the jump.
Whenever Dusty Baker has played him over the last few years, he’s produced. So, when the Reds brought in veteran left fielder Ryan Ludwick this winter, I stood steadfast in Heisey’s corner, concerned that he’d be corn-holed once again.
Heisey needed to pass this spring’s test with flying colors in order to carve out a spot ahead of Ludwick. Instead, he’s done his best Ferris Bueller impression, barely even showing up.
Luckily for him (and unfortunately for Reds fans), Ryan Ludwick has absolutely failed as well, hitting .283 against mostly minor leaguers, missing multiple days with the flu and inexplicably taking the blame when Heisey stole Baker’s Porsche.
Madson is injured. Nick Masset has arm issues and could miss a week or two. Chapman may make the rotation. These are all reasons to doubt the potency of our bullpen.
Yet, for some reason, I don’t.
Sean Marshall, Billy Bray and Jose Arredondo have good enough stuff to close out games until Masset returns, and recently, organizational panic-mode sent Chapman to the 'pen as well.
Too much depth here to get worried just yet.
I didn’t see him when we visited, but the injuries in the bullpen and ineffectiveness in the rotation all point to the Cuban Warlord being more of an X-Factor than we originally thought.
He’s been lights out this spring (2.12 ERA, 18 Ks in 17 innings pitched), even as he stretched out in preparation to start. If he ends up in the rotation, he could immediately become the ace. If he stays in the ‘pen, he could morph into the closer.
Either way, Aroldis, now more than ever, needs to come up big.
Last season, Votto’s numbers were down slightly, but that drop coincided with Scott Rolen being basically nonexistent.
With Rolen completely healthy (he performed really well this spring) and Bruce having a career year, expect Votto to pull in his second MVP.
And, since Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder fled to the AL, a clean sweep at first base (MVP, Gold Glove, Silver Slugger) looks probable as well.
Worth $225 million? I say yes.
It took a five-hour plane ride, two baseball games, twelve beers and an icy sherpa-walk down the Grand Canyon, but I came to a conclusion in Arizona. The Reds will win the division.
Shocked? Don’t be, because it’s pretty simple.
Cincinnati might not have the pitching that St. Louis (or even Milwaukee) does. However, with the recent injury (and unknown status) of Chris Carpenter, the Reds rotation won’t be far behind.
That means, by all accounts, the Reds’ offense should be the difference. In 2012, I say Jay Bruce establishes himself as an elite talent. Scott Rolen, Brandon Phillips and Zack Cozart will fill out a stacked lineup led by Joey Votto, who will continue to be Joey Votto. And Aroldis Chapman will be a difference-maker (finally), allowing the Reds to beat out the Cardinals in a late September push.
This is my story, I’m sticking to it, and no amount of BBQ chimichangas will change my mind.
For more on my scouting trip to AZ, or for more sports coverage and daily picks against the spread (free!), visit my blog: J O U R N E Y M E N. You can also follow me on Twitter: @ReedDS20, or contact me directly at Reed.Domershank@gmail.com.