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2010 N. L. Central Preview: Reds Hoping To Find Winning Formula

Jeffrey BrownAnalyst IMarch 30, 2010

The Cincinnati Reds finished the 2009 season in fourth place with a 78-84 record. As the club enters the 2010 season, there finally appears to be some honest-to-goodness hope that better days may lie ahead. They could finish as high as second place—IF everything goes right—but I think they’d need to be completely healthy to do so, and with Edinson Volquez unavailable until at least August they’re starting the season with one strike against them.

Key additions: OF Josh Anderson, SS Orlando Cabrera and LHP Aroldis Chapman

Key subtractions: OF Willy Taveras

Key Performer, 2010: Aaron Harang

Starting Rotation

The rotation is pretty decent, even without Volquez. RHP Bronson Arroyo (15-13, 3.84 ERA) anchors the starting rotation… he hopes to carry a great second half from last season into 2010. RHP Aaron Harang (6-14, 4.21 ERA) was all right last year, his record notwithstanding… nonetheless, he was a considerable disappointment as he has the ability to be much more than ‘all right’.

After the Big Two, the Reds have a trio of young pitchers with significant upside. RHP Johnny Cueto (11-11, 4.41 ERA) had an excellent first half… but a horrid second half, which included a stint on the DL, raised red flags coming into 2010. Righty Homer Bailey (8-5, 4.53 in 20 starts) struggled mightily when he was rushed to the big leagues in ‘07 and ‘08, but last year he started putting it all together, especially late in the season — when he went 5-1, 1.75, in his final eight starts.

The betting here is that the No. 5 spot will go to Cuban defector Aroldis Chapman - if not on Opening Day then sometime very soon. The southpaw is a young fireballer with tons of potential, though most scouts warn it may take a while for him to reach his potential. He’s been compared to Randy Johnson.

Bullpen

The ‘pen is anchored by closer Francisco Cordero, but concerns about his effectiveness are starting to mount. While his outward numbers look okay, some of the underlying metrics reveal a steady three-year decline in his performance. His strikeout rate has dropped precipitously since 2007 (from 12.2 to to 10.0 to 7.8) and his K:BB ratio has likewise gone into the toilet (from 4.8 to 2.1 to 1.9). These are not the kind of numbers a closer can rely on over the long haul if he hopes to remain effective.

Setup men RHP Nick Massett (5-1, 2.37) and LHP Arthur Rhodes (1-1, 2.53) are very solid, while RHP Micah Owings (who will likely move from the rotation to the bullpen) and lefty Daniel Herrera (4-4, 3.06) will provide good depth to the relief corps.

Lineup

Ramon Hernandez (.258, 5 HR, 37 RBI) suffered through an injury-plagued 2009 campaign, his first in Cincinnati, and looks to prove he’s fully recovered from arthroscopic knee surgery. He hopes to regain the form he had with the Orioles in 2008 (15 HR and 65 RBI).

The Reds are very solid around the infield. 1B Joey Votto (.322, 25 HR, 84 RBI) had another excellent offensive season, and his numbers would have been better except for the fact he played in only 131 games. Slugging 2B Brandon Phillips (.276, 20 HR, 98 RBI and 25 SB) will almost-certainly have another 30/30 year sometime very soon. SS Orlando Cabrera (.284, 9 HR, 77 RBI) returns to the National League for the first time since 2004. Scott Rolen (.305, 11 HR, 67 RBI) will man the hot corner after coming over from Toronto last year.

The outfield is an area of concern. RF Jay Bruce will turn 23 years old just before Opening Day… he is a former blue-chip prospect who has largely struggled through his first two pro seasons despite hitting for power (.240, 43 HR, 110 RBI). The Reds will need him to take the next step in his development this year if they are to have a chance at challenging for one of the top two spots in the division.

Otherwise the outfield is the great unknown. Drew Stubbs should earn the starting job in center field after an excellent major league debut in the second half of 2009 (.267, 8 HR, 17 RBI, 10 SB). While it is unlikely he will put up consistent power numbers, his speed is legit and he could evolve into a 30 SB guy. Left field is murky, with four guys (Wladimir Belantien, Chris Dickerson, Jonny Gomes and Laynce Nix) vying for the job… though it says here that Gomes (.267, 20 HR, 51 RBI) did enouogh last year to hold onto his job.

Outlook

While things are looking up over the long-term in Cincinnati, I expect they’ll have to wait another year before they take a huge step forward. As was the case last year, the ball-club has several players with a ton of potential, but it is too much to expect a half-dozen young players to establish themselves all at once.

SOX1Forecast: 3rd place (tie), 81-81.

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Cincinnati Reds — Top Five Prospects

1. INF/OF Todd Frazier
2. 1B Yonder Alonso
3. OF Chris Heisey
4. 3B Juan Francisco
5. LHP Travis Wood

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