Cincinnati Reds 2010 preview

Cincinnati’s 27-13 finish in 2009 provided some hope. But will Joey Votto have his breakout season? Can Scott Rolen stay healthy? Will Aaron Harang bounce back in a contract year? Will Homer Bailey’s strong second half carry over? How good is Aroldis Chapman, and when will he arrive?

And the biggest question: Can the Reds be surprise contenders in the NL Central? If they get positive results to even half of their questions, the answer is yes.

Joey Votto has power, but can he stay healthy?
Joey Votto has power, but can he stay healthy?

Three questions

1. What happened in the offseason?
General manager Walt Jocketty didn’t make a lot of moves, but the ones he made bode well for the future. For the long term: The Reds pulled off the surprise of the offseason by outbidding the big-money clubs for 22-year-old Aroldis Chapman. The Reds could feature a rotation of Chapman, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez as soon as next season. For the short-term: Jocketty dumped Willy Taveras and his contract on the A’s, which allowed the Reds to sign shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal. Cincinnati also brought back Johnny Gomes — an underrated move because of his power.

As a result, the Reds are better. They will replace Taveras, who disappointed in his only season in Cincinnati, with Drew Stubbs. And Cabrera provides an upgrade over Paul Janish at shortstop. The rest of the lineup returns intact.

2. Where’s the offense?
The Reds play in a hitter-friendly park and have a potentially strong middle of the lineup. However, health is a concern. Votto, Rolen and Jay Bruce all have the power to hit 25 homers, but they need to stay in the lineup for more than 131 games. None of the three did so last season. Neither did Ramon Hernandez, another player capable of reaching double figures in homers.

The Reds need their thumpers to thump because they don’t have a lot of speed. Their cleanup hitter, Brandon Phillips, tied Taveras for the team lead in steals with 25 last season.

Will Aroldis Chapman earn a spot on the Reds' opening day roster?
Will Aroldis Chapman earn a spot on the Reds’ opening day roster?

3. Is Chapman ready?
Most scouts seem to favor Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg over the Reds’ Chapman. But Chapman signed the bigger contract and could reach the majors first. He has done little but impress all who have watched him since he began working out with pitching coach Bryan Price in January. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Royals in his debut Monday, which didn’t hurt his chances of leaving spring training as part of the Reds’ rotation. Those chances seem to be improving almost daily.

Manager Dusty Baker said Chapman throws his fastball with such ease that it is difficult to tell how fast it is (it has touched triple digits). "He’s a tremendous athlete with a great arm, great pitching body and great aptitude for baseball," Baker said. If he proves as capable at adapting to a new country, Chapman could be starting in the majors next month.

Projected lineup
CF Drew Stubbs: Team-best 8 HRs after Aug. 19 call-up.
SS Orlando Cabrera: Led AL SSs with 77 RBIs in ’09 with A’s/Twins.
1B Joey Votto: .981 OPS was third in NL last season.
2B Brandon Phillips: Only NL 2B projected to hit cleanup.
3B Scott Rolen: .305 AVG, .368 OBP in 128 games in ’09.
RF Jay Bruce: Lowest AVG (.223) among 20-plus-HR hitters in NL.
C Ramon Hernandez: Knee limited him to 81 games in ’09.
LF Chris Dickerson: .383 OBP in 2 seasons could make him leadoff option.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Aaron Harang: 12-31, 4.52 ERA over past 2 seasons.
2. RHP Bronson Arroyo: Team-best 30 W’s and 420 1/3 IP over past 2 seasons.
3. RHP Homer Bailey: 7.53 ERA first 11 starts; 1.70 in final 9.
4. RHP Johnny Cueto: 61 career starts; has lasted 8 IP only once.
5. RHP Justin Lehr: One of the candidates to hold the spot for Chapman.

Projected closer
RHP Francisco Cordero: 2.16 ERA was third-best among NL closers.

Grades

Offense: C. For the team’s power production to improve, Votto and Bruce must stay on the field. The Reds play in one of the NL’s most hitter-friendly parks, but they finished eighth in the NL in homers and 15th in average (.247).

Pitching: C. The continued development of Bailey and Cueto, plus the expected arrival of Chapman, bodes well for the future. For the present, however, the Reds need Harang to return to his 2007 form. They will be without Volquez (elbow) for most, if not all, of the season.

Bench: C. Gomes brings power and depth to an outfield that needs both. Rookie Chris Heisey should help, too, but he could start the season in the minors. Janish is a plus defender at shortstop but isn’t a proven hitter. Aaron Miles brings a veteran presence to infield but hit only .185 last season with the Cubs.

Manager: B. In his third season with the Reds, Baker has yet to reach the postseason — something he did with the Giants and Cubs in his pervious managerial stops. He is in the final season of his three-year contract and still is looking for his first winning season in Cincinnati.

Sporting News prediction: The Reds have the makings to surprise in the mediocre NL Central if some of their under-25 core — Bruce, Bailey, Cueto — step up. But their lack of power should keep them in the lower half of the division.

Coming Friday: Astros preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

Cincinnati’s 27-13 finish in 2009 provided some hope. But will Joey Votto have his breakout season? Can Scott Rolen stay healthy? Will Aaron Harang bounce back in a contract year? Will Homer Bailey’s strong second half carry over? How good is Aroldis Chapman, and when will he arrive?

And the biggest question: Can the Reds be surprise contenders in the NL Central? If they get positive results to even half of their questions, the answer is yes.

Joey Votto has power, but can he stay healthy?
Joey Votto has power, but can he stay healthy?

Three questions

1. What happened in the offseason?
General manager Walt Jocketty didn’t make a lot of moves, but the ones he made bode well for the future. For the long term: The Reds pulled off the surprise of the offseason by outbidding the big-money clubs for 22-year-old Aroldis Chapman. The Reds could feature a rotation of Chapman, Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez as soon as next season. For the short-term: Jocketty dumped Willy Taveras and his contract on the A’s, which allowed the Reds to sign shortstop Orlando Cabrera to a one-year deal. Cincinnati also brought back Johnny Gomes — an underrated move because of his power.

As a result, the Reds are better. They will replace Taveras, who disappointed in his only season in Cincinnati, with Drew Stubbs. And Cabrera provides an upgrade over Paul Janish at shortstop. The rest of the lineup returns intact.

2. Where’s the offense?
The Reds play in a hitter-friendly park and have a potentially strong middle of the lineup. However, health is a concern. Votto, Rolen and Jay Bruce all have the power to hit 25 homers, but they need to stay in the lineup for more than 131 games. None of the three did so last season. Neither did Ramon Hernandez, another player capable of reaching double figures in homers.

The Reds need their thumpers to thump because they don’t have a lot of speed. Their cleanup hitter, Brandon Phillips, tied Taveras for the team lead in steals with 25 last season.

Will Aroldis Chapman earn a spot on the Reds' opening day roster?
Will Aroldis Chapman earn a spot on the Reds’ opening day roster?

3. Is Chapman ready?
Most scouts seem to favor Nationals phenom Stephen Strasburg over the Reds’ Chapman. But Chapman signed the bigger contract and could reach the majors first. He has done little but impress all who have watched him since he began working out with pitching coach Bryan Price in January. He pitched two scoreless innings against the Royals in his debut Monday, which didn’t hurt his chances of leaving spring training as part of the Reds’ rotation. Those chances seem to be improving almost daily.

Manager Dusty Baker said Chapman throws his fastball with such ease that it is difficult to tell how fast it is (it has touched triple digits). "He’s a tremendous athlete with a great arm, great pitching body and great aptitude for baseball," Baker said. If he proves as capable at adapting to a new country, Chapman could be starting in the majors next month.

Projected lineup
CF Drew Stubbs: Team-best 8 HRs after Aug. 19 call-up.
SS Orlando Cabrera: Led AL SSs with 77 RBIs in ’09 with A’s/Twins.
1B Joey Votto: .981 OPS was third in NL last season.
2B Brandon Phillips: Only NL 2B projected to hit cleanup.
3B Scott Rolen: .305 AVG, .368 OBP in 128 games in ’09.
RF Jay Bruce: Lowest AVG (.223) among 20-plus-HR hitters in NL.
C Ramon Hernandez: Knee limited him to 81 games in ’09.
LF Chris Dickerson: .383 OBP in 2 seasons could make him leadoff option.

Projected rotation
1. RHP Aaron Harang: 12-31, 4.52 ERA over past 2 seasons.
2. RHP Bronson Arroyo: Team-best 30 W’s and 420 1/3 IP over past 2 seasons.
3. RHP Homer Bailey: 7.53 ERA first 11 starts; 1.70 in final 9.
4. RHP Johnny Cueto: 61 career starts; has lasted 8 IP only once.
5. RHP Justin Lehr: One of the candidates to hold the spot for Chapman.

Projected closer
RHP Francisco Cordero: 2.16 ERA was third-best among NL closers.

Grades

Offense: C. For the team’s power production to improve, Votto and Bruce must stay on the field. The Reds play in one of the NL’s most hitter-friendly parks, but they finished eighth in the NL in homers and 15th in average (.247).

Pitching: C. The continued development of Bailey and Cueto, plus the expected arrival of Chapman, bodes well for the future. For the present, however, the Reds need Harang to return to his 2007 form. They will be without Volquez (elbow) for most, if not all, of the season.

Bench: C. Gomes brings power and depth to an outfield that needs both. Rookie Chris Heisey should help, too, but he could start the season in the minors. Janish is a plus defender at shortstop but isn’t a proven hitter. Aaron Miles brings a veteran presence to infield but hit only .185 last season with the Cubs.

Manager: B. In his third season with the Reds, Baker has yet to reach the postseason — something he did with the Giants and Cubs in his pervious managerial stops. He is in the final season of his three-year contract and still is looking for his first winning season in Cincinnati.

Sporting News prediction: The Reds have the makings to surprise in the mediocre NL Central if some of their under-25 core — Bruce, Bailey, Cueto — step up. But their lack of power should keep them in the lower half of the division.

Coming Friday: Astros preview

Stan McNeal is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at smcneal@sportingnews.com.

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