Continuing my springtime tradition, I will give my thoughts on the upcoming season for the Cincinnati Reds.
Again, like last year, I am a little late getting started. The Reds have jumped out to a 4-0 start as I write this.
In Reds history, this has been done four times and each time the Redlegs have made it to the World Series. That's a pretty amazing statistic.
The Reds were virtually ignored by the national media in the offseason. Part of it is they are a small market team and the other part is due to the fact that they pretty much kept their team in tact for this coming season with no major free agent signings and no trades.
How far the Reds go this season depends on how quickly their young talent develops.
There are already signs of improvement as Drew Stubbs (22 homers, .255 avg. in 2010), enters his second full season as a starter. Fellow outfielder Jay Bruce (25 homers, .285 avg. in 2010) is on the threshold of stardom too.
The Reds have the reigning National League Most Valuable Player in Joey Votto (37 homers, .324 average in 2010). The question for Votto is, can he have an even better year than what he had 2010?
The Reds are solid at every position. Gold Glovers Scott Rolen at third base and Brandon Phillips at second base are joined by slick fielding Paul Janish at shortstop.
The catching duo of veteran Ramon Hernandez and up-and-comer Ryan Hanigan were not only the second best offensively in the league, but also one of the best at throwing out potential base stealers.
Aside from Stubbs, Bruce, Janish and Hanigan, young guns on the pitching staff are going to be tough on National League hitters.
Twenty-three-year-old Mike Leake, a right hander drafted out of Arizona State, has never pitched in a minor league game. He was almost certain to go to the minors this season but early injury setbacks to right handed pitchers Homer Bailey and Johnny Cueto haveleft him in Cincinnati.
Lefty Travis Wood, 24, could well be the next Cliff Lee the way he has thrown since the end of last season and to start this season.
Everyone knows about Bronson Arroyo (17 game winner in 2010) and Edison Volquez (coming off Tommy John surgery).
Arolis Chapman, a 23-year-old left-handed Cuban defector, turned the baseball world on its side with his blazing fastball last year. One pitch in San Diego reached 105 miles per hour last year. He joins a bullpen that is solid with Francisco Cordero (40 saves in 2010) and Nick Masset (3.40 era in 2010).
Expect Bailey and Cueto to return shortly and make things hard for manager Dusty Baker to pick his top five starting pitchers.
With all of this said, the strength of the Cincinnati squad is depth.
General Manager Walt Jocketty has 'em lined up three and four deep in the minor leagues waiting to get their crack at the big league club.
An example is at catcher. Hernandez and Hanigan are followed by minor leaguers Yasmani Grandal and Devin Mesoraco. Mesoraco had one of the best spring trainings of any Reds player. You can also add Corky Miller, a seasoned veteran, playing in Louisville to the mix.
It's like that at nearly every position for the Redlegs.
In the not so distant past, the Reds were lucky to go one deep at most positions, thus the difference this year.
So much this season will depend on the grand motivator—manager Dusty Baker. In the early going, Baker has played his bench players to "get them involved" in the quick start.
It's really hard to imagine any team seriously challenging this team in the National League Central division.
My prediction is the team will make it back to the playoffs, but are they good enough to get past Philadelphia and San Franscico?
Look for the Reds in the World Series.
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