MLB Spring Preview: Cincinnati Reds
When I sat in my seat at Great American Ballpark last April, I like many of the other Reds faithful had tremendous hopes for our boys in red. With a lineup that bolstered power in the middle with Dunn and Griffey, a consistent hitter at second base with Brandon Phillips, and a base stealing specialist in Freel, I figured the Reds would be in good shape at least until August or so. Little did I know that the Reds bullpen and a slew of injuries would quell those hopes faster than you can say "Edwin Encarnacion to the minors!" I saw a team that completely flat-lined before June even got going, and the team that took playoff hopes well into August just a year before was no where to be found. Well, one Jerry Narron-less season later, I have these same high hopes for the sentinels of the Ohio River. Though I expect maybe a 3rd or 4th place finish at best, I think this is year one of the Dusty Baker experiement that could bring a welcomed edition to the left field championship banners. Those 70s championship banners sure do look lonely, by the way. So let's get down to business. I will break down the team, and how I think they will fare, by position.
The Reds split time last year at the backstop between Javier Valentin and David Ross with Ross being more productive in terms of home runs. However, Valentin had a higher batting average and almost as many RBIs in 100 fewer at bats. Because Ross will start the season questionable and injured, we should see alot of Valentin. The bottom line is neither catcher is stellar for sure, and they are almost too similar (and too mediocre) statistically for me to favor one over the other. I'll be happy as long as they don't have too many passed balls and hit well at the bottom of the order.
Grade: I'll go with a B- because I hear talks of Ross being dealt because of his consistent injured status. Let's hope we can get a slugger in there if it is the case.
I am thrilled about the emergence of Joey Votto. I think he will be a fabulous addition to this lineup. I will say, in Hatteberg's defense though, that this was not a big problem spot last year. Hatteberg held down the fort, and he produced some solid numbers. Now with Votto, I feel like the Reds went from dating a girl on the dance team to dating a cheerleader. I have very high hopes for Votto, but I wouldn't be surprised if Dusty went with the vet to start the season. Votto was a beast at the end of the year with a .321 average and 4 long balls.
Grade: I'm obviously a Votto fan, and I think the Reds have depth here...which is rare for them. A-
Ken Griffey Jr. was an all-star starter last year. I'm fine with that. The man stayed healthy for a full season for the first time since coming to Cincy. Wow. BUT. His hype seriously overshadowed the effort being thrown down at second base by Brandon Phillips. Phillips was an animal last year hitting 30 HRs, 94 RBIs, and hitting a .288 average. By the way, 32 stolen bases ain't bad. Trivia question. When was the last time the Reds had a 30-30 middle infielder? That would be Barry Larkin. Amost two decades. This man has power, speed, fielding prowess, and is consistent. So why was he not an all-star? If he does that again this year, there is no way he's not going to be at the game. The only thing that worries me is that the Reds don't really have a great backup for him. On the other hand, very few teams can produce a backup to pick up the slack for Phillips. Let's hope he stays healthy.
Grade: A. Phillips is a monster.
So this is where it gets a little fuzzy in the infield for the Reds. I have never felt that the proven steroid user Alex Gonzalez has ever been a threat to any pitcher, but maybe he can prove us all wrong this year. He is hurt right now, so look for benchwarmer Jeff Keppinger to hustle out there for the Reds on Opening Day. Gonzalez did show spurts of good hitting last year, but nothing was sustained.
Grade: C-. This isn't a great position for the Reds. A lot of semi-talented guys that produce spotty numbers.
Much like Gonzalez, I've never felt that Edwin Encarnacion poses much of a threat to many NL pitchers. He was awful to start last year, but when he came back from Louisville, he was better. He finished well with a .307 average in the last 100 games or so. Not bad for a guy who slumped early. I still do not think Encarnacion should be starting on this team. His numbers are not spectacular, and I think Cincy could do much better than him. Andy Phillips quietly came over to the Reds in the offseason by the way. You didn't know that either? Well he did. Let's see if Baker wisens up and gives the former Yankee a shot.
Grade: C+. I'm not a fan of Encarnacion. I just don't think he is reliable enough.
Ah Ken Griffey Jr. The Reds lone all-star last year. I don't think there is much to say. I hope he hits his 600th homerun this year and stays healthy. You all know what he is capable of, so let's hope he pulls through. The outfield is thin though with the baffling departure of Josh Hamilton.
Grade: B. Do it again, Griffey, and I'll make it an A-
Ryan Freel is the best hustler in the game. No doubt about it. He goes 100% every play, and he brings an enthusiasm to the game like no other. Great leadoff man for the Reds. However, the Reds might be putting a fire under him to produce with the likes of Corey Patterson and the much anticipated Jay Bruce making their way up AAA. We should see both up at the majors before too long, which could give the Reds great depth if they both produce.
Grade: B+. This outfield has the potential to do some great things if Jay Bruce does what we think he is capable of.
So I am of the school of thought that thinks Adam Dunn should have been traded last year. He has absolutely no hustle out in left, and I think he is so lazy it is sick. Sure he has power at the plate, but he strikes out just as often as he hacks one over the fence. I hope he gets traded and someone with the fire of Josh Hamilton (maybe Bruce?) will take his place.
Grade: B-. He has power but a bad attitude.
Pitchers: I could write a whole other article about the thing that is Reds pitching. So I will. Ha!
This group of guys could do some great things. However, a lot of things have to go there way. I mean a lot. As in the Cubs would have to choke and the Cardinals would have to implode (maybe Wainwright's could fall off?). They have to get production from the bottom of the lineup. If someone down there emerges as a consistent hitter, this team will be in it late into the summer. Obviously, there are pitching problems but Homer Bailey is a beacon of hope. If Fancisco Cordero can live up the hype, we could be talking wild card. However, this might be a case of one two many planets having to align. I still think the Reds are a good 2 years away from breaking out of the bottom of the division. This will be an improved team for sure, but they probably won't finish higher than 4th in the division.
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