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.

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