Key Losses—Orlando Cabrera
Lineup—As good as this lineup was last year, I think they take a step back this year. I think Joey Votto is a great hitter, but it is unrealistic to expect the same type of year this year as he had last. Brandon Phillips is a very solid 2b, but the Reds need to find a permanent spot in the lineup (not cleanup.) Regardless of who the SS is, they will not provide much offense, and although an All-Star last year, Scott Rolen really faded as the season went on. At catcher, Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hannigan combined to have a tremendous year for the catching position, but that cannot be expected again. In the outfield, I do expect Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce to continue to mature and become better hitters. They were arguably the Reds best hitters at the end of last year and I expect that continue. It will have to for this lineup to be as good as last year. My big problem is left field. Yes people will point to Jonny Gomes overall numbers last year and say he is good out there, but outside of the first 60 games he was terrible. And his defense is just awful. It amazes me how people would hound on Adam Dunn for how bad he was in LF, but Gomes is rewarded for his hustle, although in my opinion he is worse out there. I really felt that this team was a LF from being a very good offensive team. Without that LF, they will need big years out of multiple guys to maintain the consistency from last year.
Rotation—You could argue that the full year addition of Edinson Volquez could be as big of a pitching acquisition as anyone outside of Cliff Lee. He showed signs of returning to his 2009 form near the end of last year, and if he can do that he will give this team an ace at the front end. Add him to the always consistent Bronson Arroyo, who gives you basically the same numbers every year, and youngsters Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Travis Wood, and you have a rotation with strong arms and the ability to go deep in games. Bailey is finally at a make or break year. He is out of options so will get every opportunity to finally realize his potential, and if he can will be a top of the rotation starter. Cueto continues to improve, and gives this team another good arm. And don’t sleep on Wood, he showed flashes of absolute brilliance last year. They also have good arms in Matt Maloney and Mike Leaked as players who could step in for injuries, or possibly be trade bait. All in all, this rotation is deep and very good.
Bullpen—In most of these write-ups, I have found that the closer is fairly solid for most teams but they lack the other aspects of having a good bullpen. In this case, if Francisco Cordero can have a big year, this could be the best bullpen in the National League. If Coco can close down the 9th inning, then you can save phenom Aroldis Chapman for the 8th inning role, and will still have arms such as Nick Massett and the rising Jose Arredondo to plug any holes that may be formed. They are one of the rare teams that even if the closer implodes, they have guys to plug in the holes and get the job done.
Impact Rookie—Aroldis Chapman, LHP. As stated above, Chapman will man the 8th inning role for the Reds. The proud owner of the fastest fastball ever recorded (105.1 mph), Chapman’s fastball grades out as the best on the planet. Chapman was an immediate success last year but fortunately for him, any of his flaws were hidden by his devastating stuff. He lacks command of that stuff but his velocity creates a larger margin for error. If hitters can be patient, they’ll rattle the fireballer, generate baserunners and get to Cordero an inning earlier.
Outlook—While I think the Reds made a mistake by not going out and getting themselves a left fielder to fill a huge hole, I still think this team has what it takes to compete again for the division title. What will be interesting for this team is whether ownership will be willing to spend the money at the trade deadline to add a piece to the puzzle, whether it be a veteran LF or a SS (Jose Reyes anyone???) If they are, this steam could very well be the class of the NL Central again.
Brad Koesters, MLB Correspondent
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