MLB Team-By-Team Previews: The Reds Have Gotten Younger, And Now Look Like A Sleeper
Key Losses: Ryan Freel, Corey Patterson, Jeremy Affleldt
Key Additions: Ramon Hernandez, Willy Tavares, Arthur Rhodes
CF Willy Tavares
LF Jerry Hairston, Jr.
1B Joey Votto
2B Brandon Phillips
RF Jay Bruce
3B Edwin Encarnacion
C Ramon Hernandez
SS Alex Gonzalez
Closer: Francisco Cordero
Strengths: Joey Votto broke out in the second half of 2008, and this year the Reds hope Jay Bruce breaks out with him. Bruce started out hot, but struggled most of the season, especially against lefties (.190/.263/.299). His minor league numbers don’t suggest such putridity as a whole. If Bruce adjusts as expected, he joins Votto, Phillips, and Encarnacion as a solid offense core.
Aaron Harang is an ace in name only now after Edinson Volquez’s 3.21 ERA break out year. Given the dimensions of Great American Ballpark, that might be unsustainable, but even a small drop off results in a good pitcher. To use an analogy, what Joey Votto is to Volquez, Jay Bruce is to Johnny Cueto. Cueto’s issue in his propensity to give up the long ball, a problem at GABP. Otherwise, the two young Dominicans could team up with veterans Harang and Arroyo to provide a fine starting four.
Just about every member of the bullpen, from closer Cordero to Jared Burton to Bill Bray to even Arthur Rhodes, can throw strikes and whiff people. This is a plus when you play in a bandbox.
Weaknesses: Dusty Baker doesn’t really learn. One year after the disaster that was Corey Patterson: Leadoff Man (.238 OBP in almost 400 PAs), Baker has decided to go with Willy Tavares. Tavares can run and steal bases, but you can’t steal first and last year Tavares hit .251/.308/.296. In Coors Field. #2 hitter Jerry Hairston, Jr. is not known for his on base prowess either. Translation: Don’t expect many ducks on the pond for Votto.
Harang is supposed to be the veteran anchor of the rotation, but last year his ERA went up over a full point. The turning point of his season was a rare relief appearance May 25th. After that came “forearm stiffness” and a trip to the DL. If Harang’s not healthy, the Reds might have to turn to Owings, who’s still better than hitting than pitching, or hope that Homer Bailey can finally figure out the majors.
Players to Watch: Bruce. The Reds have the park to score runs, but with the black holes at the top, they’ll need Bruce to find his power stroke in the bigs and join Votto as a 1-2 punch.
Projection: There’s a lot to like here, but for whatever reason, I’m hesitant to predict a top of the line finish for the Reds. I am comfortable saying that they are not at the Cubs level yet, but will be better than the Pirates and Astros. I’ll split the difference and say 80-82 and 4th in the NL Central, but if things break right it could easily be better than that.
What are your thoughts on the 2009 Cincinnati Reds?