Hard to believe, as many of us watch the snow fall outside, that the Boys of Summer are almost back. But it’s true; teams have reported to 2010 Major League Baseball training camps and it’s time to start our team-by-team baseball gambling previews for the year.
Lost in the crowded National League Central, the Cincinnati Reds have been irrelevant for years. Like the Tampa Bay Rays of the early 2000s, they never have trouble developing offensive talent. And, like those Rays teams, they never seem to have the pitching to support their offense.
However, like the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, the Reds may finally have the arms to match the bats. Could we see a breakout in 2010?
Cincy doesn`t have quite the same pop it did during the Adam Dunn days, but its lineup should produce a decent amount of offense. Joey Votto is a rising star, an elite hitter with plus power and batting-title potential in his bat. He posted a .984 OPS in his second full major league season, hitting .322 despite battling anxiety and depression issues; the sky`s the limit for him in 2010.
Scrappy Brandon Phillips, underrated both offensively and defensively, adds pop and speed to the lineup. Drew Stubbs impressed in his late-2009 audition and will open the year as team`s leadoff man. Orlando Cabrera and Scott Rolen are past their primes but still bring experience to the lineup and remain tough outs.
The Wildcard is Jay Bruce. He was baseball`s top prospect when he debuted two years ago but hasn`t evolved, battling injuries and hitting just .240 over his first 758 major-league at-bats. Bruce will only be 23 years old on opening day and has shown bigtime power, topping 20 homers over limited at-bats in each of his first two seasons. If he can raise that batting average and, more importantly, stay healthy, the Reds` offense will become a whole new beast.
Cincy could make major strides in the pitching department this season. Bronson Arroyo is the constant, an innings eater extraordinaire, but he won`t get any better. The rest of the staff, however, has nothing but upside. Johnny Cueto can miss bats; Homer Bailey, a former blue chip prospect, was quietly 3-1 with a 2.41 ERA last September; even Aaron Harang still has time to bounce back at age 31.
Micah Owings is a great pinch-hitter but may not end up in the rotation. That`s because Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman could steal his spot. Chapman, just 22 years old, has really impressed in spring training, regularly flirting with triple digits on the radar gun. If he can have an impact similar to Daisuke Matsuzaka`s in Boston a few years ago, the Reds could suddenly have a formidable staff.
The Reds have a veteran bullpen with proven guys like Francisco Cordero in the closer`s role and Arthur Rhodes in short relief. They`ll be fine in that regard.
It may seem extreme to rank Cincinnati second in the NL Central when it hasn’t had a winning season in 10 years. It`s true that the Reds are hardly a sure thing. But, given how flawed every other team besides St. Louis is in the Central, the Reds should hang with the pack. If their starting pitching realizes its potential, they may even win 85-plus games.
Reds Prediction: Second, National League Central
This article also appears on the Cappers Picks Baseball Handicapping Blog.