Tuesday, April 30, 2013

An Author on "Red Alert" - Where Can You Find Me Now?

I used to publish to this blog far more frequently than any of my others, primarily for one major reason: my passion for the Cincinnati Reds runs very deep.

I didn't stop caring about the Reds since the last time I wrote hear (which is astounding to me to be three years ago this month).  However, two things came into my consciousness in that time: Twitter (first and foremost) and a "professional" blog site where I could be more relevant and on a staff of writers to "fill in the gaps" when I didn't write as frequently.

Micro-blogging (in whatever capacity you see it) was revolutionized with Twitter, and my own evolution to the platform only began modestly in 2009.  I didn't truly see the value in it until over a year later (started using it more by late 2010), and now I cannot imagine a day without at least checking it for current information.  News breaks faster, information flows more freely ... the platform doesn't constrain, it's easy to use, and the character limits FORCE conciseness.  If you need to say more, you link to somewhere (like this) where it makes more sense.

Where will you most likely find me (as of the end of April 2013, as the calendar is about to flip to May)?  Probably here: http://twitter.com/JDRentz
And also here (I do continue to write longer pieces and specifically Reds-focused as well): http://BlogRedMachine.com/author/JDRentz

Otherwise, the updates I make, if sparingly, to this blog will be few and irregularly.  I appreciate you finding your way here, nonetheless.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Cincinnati Reds Preview: More of the Same in 2010?

A lot of speculation has surrounded this year’s version of the Cincinnati Reds, most notably for the surprising, almost out-of-nowhere signing of Aroldis Chapman to solidify the starting rotation potentially immediately. After last year’s team had some expectation of achieving better things but failed to deliver, this year’s squad comes in with low expectations … which might just mean a surprise is in order.

First and foremost, what doomed the Reds in 2009 is what likely will be the biggest hurdle in 2010: having offensive firepower. The individual cogs of the machine that make up the lineup are not bad, but put them all together and they couldn’t generate runs last season. The late-season addition of Scott Rolen took many by surprise, and having the third baseman return for another season as a very good team leader might be what changes things finally. The infield finally has taken some shape, with Rolen at third, new addition Orlando Cabrera at short, stalwart Brandon Phillips at second, and eventual (hopefully) steady captain-in-waiting Joey Votto at first. Behind the plate, the Reds still have some concern, although Ramon Hernandez was retained for cheaper than expected and Ryan Hanigan is a more-than-capable platoon choice defensively. The backups around the diamond hold some interesting potential as well, from Juan Francisco (backing up Rolen at third) to Paul Janish (who we already have seen be a utility infielder but can pick-it like a Gold Glover at short) as well as off-season acquisition Aaron Miles (who can provide some relief behind Phillips at second). As a positive, to provide some relief for Votto in the field, Ramon Hernandez already provided some of that help at first last season when he subbed in the starting lineup as well as later in the game.

The situation in the outfield is still a bit murky, only because the talent pool has some depth but equally provides some complexity. The starting three from left to right looks like Jonny Gomes (who has gone homer crazy in Spring Training so far) in left, Drew Stubbs in center, and star-in-waiting Jay Bruce in right. The backups for these three are equally intriguing from Chris Dickerson (who can play left or center in a platoon scenario and has some speed defensively as well as on the basepaths), Laynce Nix (re-signed to a minor league deal but may or may not make the club depending on roster spots remaining; he has some nice offensive pop that the lineup could use), and Wladimir Balentien (a spot starter last season and could play where needed in any outfield slot).

When the subject of the Cincinnati club turns to pitching, the starting rotation seems like a bright spot; however, if the spring results so far are an indicator, the team might be riding a roller coaster depending on the right (or wrong) combo of starters. Aaron Harang and Bronson Arroyo should be stalwarts on the starting staff (and still the default 1-2 punch), but Harang hasn’t been Harang since 2007 (even though he was among the best in both 2006 and 2007), and Arroyo is a steady innings-eater but doesn’t always deliver big wins totals by season’s end. Both guys are in the final years of their contracts … which should mean they want to prove the doubters wrong (I hope). I won’t be surprised to see either or both traded by the trading deadline unless they start pitching lights-out like both are capable of doing. The rest of the rotation is where the real potential lies, from Homer Bailey (also with the “star-in-waiting” logo firmly affixed and who looks to have a great season ahead based on late 2009 results) to Johnny Cueto (whose fastball and slider combo still can burn many major leaguers) to Micah Owings (who still gets as much notoriety for his offensive ability in addition to his pitching skills). Bailey and Cueto are almost assuredly the third and fourth starters, and the success (or failure) of these two might determine exactly where this club finishes. Other pitchers vying for a rotation spot include the aforementioned Owings (most likely headed to the long relief role again as well as spot pinch hitter), Travis Wood (who might become a long reliever or sneak into the fifth starter spot), Mike Leake (who has had a decent if unspectacular spring), and the wild card of Aroldis Chapman (who fought some back spasms earlier this spring but continues to look sharp in his outings). If either Wood or Chapman makes the team and fills out the starting rotation with some high-velocity capability, this team just moved up in a notch in its prospects for 2010.

All in all, the Reds will be a team that can compete in the NL Central (as has been the broken record for the past few seasons), but, unlike past years, the competition is not markedly better than the Reds are this season. Offense is still the biggest question mark, but pitching should not be the issue. The bullpen is equally solid and up to the task as the starting rotation should be. Francisco Cordero (the Reds’ lone All-Star choice) should continue to be solid if not for the possibility of being trade bait by mid-season or earlier. Nick Masset, Jared Burton (potential closer in waiting), Arthur Rhodes (former closer with some capability), and Daniel Ray Herrera are all assured spots based on past performance. Justin Lehr (spot starter last season) may or may not start in the big leagues this year, but Mike Lincoln along with Owings should also get spots. Other familiar names (Kip Wells, Carlos Fisher, and Matt Maloney) are probably not quite ready to start the season in the majors.

The optimist in me wants to peg this club as an NL Central contender, but, realistically, the Chicago Cubs are still better and will likely win the division again. The NL Wild Card is not out of the question, though, as being second place in this division just might make the playoffs anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Latest Rumblings from Reds' Camp (St. Patrick's Day Edition - March 17)

I don't have a lot of "new" information to share except what I have seen coming from Spring Training Camp in Sarasota, Florida. Of course, we all know that this is the last season for Sarasota, as the Reds head west next Spring to sunny Goodyear, Arizona. While some aspects of Florida spring training will be missed (notably, Florida itself), the likelihood of more sunny days and far less rain probabilities make Arizona the better long-term home for the team (or at least it seems that way).

As far as the product on the field, the pitching staff continues to impress. Aaron Harang looks like the pitcher we all remember, Volquez is doing what we expect (so far), Cueto looks improved (with limited data, since he's logged innings for his WBC team recently), and Arroyo looks as "normal" as ever (as a compliment, he shows no mechanical or physical issues to date). The biggest and best surprises have clearly been Micah Owings (whom I expected to show us big things) and Homer Bailey (could this be HIS year at last?). Owings, known more for his hitting than his pitching, is showing some pretty solid stuff so far this spring, and, if I were to guess, he'll get the fifth starter spot to start the season. However, Homer has staked a claim that the role is his, too ... but I see him headed to long relief to start the season (as my personal best guess).

Who hasn't looked good? Francisco Cordero looks shaky at best ... is age a factor? Have the Reds got an "alternative" if he falls apart during the season? My fast answers are Jared Burton (who could close very soon) and David Weathers (thankfully, he came back ... even if he seems unreliable to us). Weathers has been about as steady as they come over the past few seasons, so an unreliable Cordero is concerning but not as difficult to overcome if the "closer by committee" rears its ugly head at some point.

Offensively, there have been a few bright spots. Johnny Gomes has all but locked up a roster spot with a great spring training, and he is positioned to platoon in left field with Chris Dickerson. Dickerson still shows "immaturity" in his game ... but still shows great potential as an everyday player down the road. Jacque Jones has been a bust so far ... and may be released outright or possibly signed to a minor league deal if he agrees. Most of the minor leaguers who were invited to camp have been sent back down, including #1 pick Yonder Alonso, hot hitter Todd Frazier, and Minor League Player of the Year Chris Valaika.

The projected lineup for Opening Day is looking pretty clear (dependent upon whom we see pitching for our opponents, the New York Mets).

1 - Willy Taveras (speed to burn)
2 - Jeff Keppinger (likely) / Jerry Hairston (possible, depends on platoon) / Chris Dickerson (if platooning) / Edwin Encarnacion (doubtful)
3 - Joey Votto (no-brainer)
4 - Brandon Phillips (ditto)
5 - Jay Bruce (definite)
6 - Edwin Encarnacion (likely) / Dickerson (maybe) / Hairston / Keppinger
7 - Ramon Hernandez (likely, although I can see him hitting higher if the power is there)
8 - Alex Gonzalez (depends on his recovery) / Keppinger (maybe)
9 - Pitcher's spot (although, if Owings is in the rotation, this might change)

Your rotation seems very likely to be: Harang, Volquez, Arroyo, Cueto, and Owings (in that order). Bailey might contend for that five spot (or, if Cueto falters, both Owings and Bailey are in). Long relief - Nick Masset (although he has had an awful spring so far), the "leftovers" from the fifth-spot competition.

I am looking forward (still) to a great season, where this team will actually gel, win over 82 games (better than .500), and (hopefully) make a playoff run. Division title? Maybe not. Wild Card? Definitely possible.