With pitchers and catchers reporting for the Reds this weekend, here is what MLB beat writer Mark Sheldon had to say about the upcoming season in his Spring Training preview.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Reds vs. Indians, March 3, 3:05 p.m. ET
Reds vs. Marlins, April 5, 4:10 p.m. ET
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who will comprise the back of the rotation?
The Reds have seven starters vying for five spots, but realistically have three guys battling to be the fifth man. Cueto, Latos and Bronson Arroyo are locks for the top three spots and Homer Bailey is a good bet to take the fourth spot. That leaves Mike Leake, Aroldis Chapman and free-agent signee Jeff Francis to compete. Leake led the Reds in wins and strikeouts last season and seems to have the inside track. Chapman is trying to make the transition from late-inning reliever to starter and might need more time in Triple-A to sharpen up. Francis is the long shot, but provides depth in case of injuries.
2. Is Devin Mesoraco ready?
Mesoraco, the Reds’ No. 1 prospect, batted .180 as a September callup last season but earned high marks for his catching skills and working with the pitchers. The club showed its commitment to him by letting quality veteran Ramon Hernandez move on as a free agent. Mesoraco will likely split catching duties with veteran Ryan Hanigan in some sort of hybrid-platoon.
3. Will Brandon Phillips get his contract extension?
This type of question is normally of the Hot Stove variety, but has spilled into become a plotline at camp. Phillips, who is playing out the $12 million option year of his current deal, has been trying to get a long-term contract with the Reds since last season. He can become a first-time free agent after the 2012 season. For whatever the reason, the two sides have yet to reach an accord.
“I think this could go on for a while,” Jocketty said on Tuesday.
79-83, third place in the NL Central
Projected batting order
1. 2B Brandon Phillips:
.300 BA, .353 OBP, .457 SLG, 18 HR, 82 RBI in 2011
2. SS Zack Cozart:
.324 BA, .324 OBP, .486 SLG, 2 HR, 3 RBI in 2011
3. 1B Joey Votto:
.309 BA, .416 OBP, .531 SLG, 29 HR, 103 RBI in 2011
4. 3B Scott Rolen:
.242 BA, .279 OBP, .397 SLG, 5 HR, 36 RBI in 2011
5. RF Jay Bruce:
.256 BA, .341 OBP, .474 SLG, 32 HR, 97 RBI in 2011
6. CF Drew Stubbs:
.243 BA, .321 OBP, .364 SLG, 15 HR, 44 RBI in 2011
7. LF Chris Heisey:
.254 BA, .309 OBP, .487 SLG, 18 HR, 50 RBI in 2011
8. C Devin Mesoraco:
.180 BA, .226 OBP, .360 SLG, 2 HR, 6 RBI in 2011
1. Johnny Cueto, 9-5, 2.31 ERA in 2011
2. Mat Latos, 9-14, 3.47 ERA in 2011 (with Padres)
3. Bronson Arroyo, 9-12, 5.07 ERA in 2011
4. Homer Bailey, 9-7, 4.43 ERA in 2011
5. Mike Leake, 12-9, 3.86 ERA in 2011
The new guys
RHP Mat Latos: Badly wanting an improved top end of the rotation, the Reds paid a big price to acquire Latos from the Padres. They gave up elite prospects Yonder Alonso, Brad Boxberger and Yasmani Grandal along with 2011 Opening Day starter Edinson Volquez. Latos is only 24 with plenty of upside and a great array of stuff, but he didn’t have a great 2011. He will also have to make the transition from a pitcher’s park like Petco to a hitter’s one in Great American Ball Park.
RHP Ryan Madson: One of the best closers on the free-agent market was still round until mid-January and essentially landed in the Reds’ lap on a bargain one-year contract that pays him $6 million for 2012 with some money deferred. Madson was strong in his first full year as a closer for the Phillies and is used to pitching in a small stadium after calling Citizens Bank Park home.
LHP Sean Marshall: The Reds also gave up a lot to get Marshall as they sent Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Minor Leaguer Ronald Torreyes to the Cubs to acquire the lefty. Marshall, 29, has been one of baseball’s best relievers lately, with a 2.45 ERA in 158 appearances over 2010-2011.
OF Ryan Ludwick: The Reds are hoping Ludwick finds his power stroke again after some rough times with the Padres and Pirates. In 160 games spread over the parts of two seasons with the Padres, he batted .228 with 17 homers and 90 RBIs. Of course, it’s not easy for hitters to go deep at Petco. With St. Louis in 2008, he had 37 homers and 113 RBIs.
INF Wilson Valdez: A lifetime .243 hitter, the 33-year-old Valdez is known more for his glove than his bat. But he will provide some veteran insurance at shortstop and can play around the infield.
INF/OF Willie Harris: Another utility player that can play all three outfield spots, second base and third base. A left-handed hitter on a Minor League deal seeking a roster spot, Harris is a lifetime .240 hitter with a .330 on-base percentage but also has defensive credentials.
LHP Jeff Francis: Added for extra rotation depth, just in case, the 30-year-old Francis was 6-16 with a 4.82 ERA in 31 starts last season with the Royals. From 2004-10, he was with the Rockies and was a 17-game winner in 2007.
Prospects to watch
SS Zack Cozart: The first impression in the big leagues was a strong one, but way too brief. Cozart batted .324 in 11 games during his first callup before a left elbow injury from a collision required Tommy John surgery and ended his season prematurely. Considered ready to go after rehabilitation, the 26-year-old Cozart has the inside track to start at shortstop.
3B Juan Francisco: No one questions the left-handed power that Francisco has but this could be an important spring. Francisco is out of options and trying to land a spot on the bench behind Scott Rolen. Injuries prevented Francisco from stepping up for an also injured Rolen last season. He showed some improvement defensively after his return late last season.
INF/OF Todd Frazier: Although he batted .232 in 41 games in the big leagues, Frazier can play around the infield and outfield. He came on stronger as a hitter in September and will be in a dogfight to land one of the final roster spots.
1B Neftali Soto: With Alonso traded, Soto becomes the first baseman in wait behind Joey Votto. Soto isn’t quite Major League ready, however. He spent most of the 2011 season at Double-A Carolina and finished at Triple-A Louisville. The 22-year-old led all Reds Minor Leaguers with 31 homers while batting .278 with 80 RBIs and a .333 on-base percentage.
OF Denis Phipps: Added to the 40-man roster after last season, Phipps was the organization’s the Minor League hitter of the year in 2011. He batted a combined .346/.397/.527 at Double-A and Triple-A with 12 homers and 64 RBIs.
On the rebound
3B Scott Rolen: Rolen, who turns 37 on April 4, missed most of the second half last season after he had left shoulder surgery and batted only .242 for 2011. His presence was greatly missed and will be needed to help the Reds contend. This is the final year of Rolen’s contract as well.
CF Drew Stubbs: It was a very trying 2011 for Stubbs, who struck out a club record 205 times while becoming only the second Major Leaguer to ever cross the 200-strikeout plateau. The club is hoping Stubbs can avoid the prolonged slumps that dogged him and forced a move down from the leadoff spot in the batting order.
RHP Bronson Arroyo: After coming down with mononucleosis in Spring Training last year, Arroyo often wasn’t his usual self, especially early on, and lacked velocity. He gave up a club record 46 home runs and with 199 innings pitched, just missed extending a 200-inning season streak that started in 2005.
INF Chris Valaika It was an offseason of rehabilitation for Valaika, who needed surgery after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a game vs. the Rockies on Sept. 11. He is expected to be 100 percent for camp and will also compete for a roster spot.
RHP Francisco Cordero: After he amassed 150 saves over four seasons in Cincinnati, a new contract could not be worked out with the free-agent closer. Cordero, who sought a multi-year deal that could possibly finish his career with the Reds, settled for a one-year, $4.5 million contract to be a setup man for the Blue Jays.
C Ramon Hernandez: Following three productive seasons behind the plate, the Reds moved on from the veteran Hernandez to make room for Mesoraco. Hernandez signed a two-year, $6.4 million contract with the Rockies.
1B/OF Yonder Alonso: Part of the trade that brought Latos to the Reds, Alonso is now the Padres’ new first baseman.
RHP Edinson Volquez: Also joining Alonso in San Diego, Volquez was the biggest disappointment for the Reds in 2011. He was inconsistent and needed two stints at Triple-A. He will try to find himself again out west and try to become the 17-game winner he was for Cincinnati in 2008.
LHP Travis Wood: Like Volquez, was unexpectedly disappointing in 2011 and did not step up after a strong rookie season in 2010. Wood was traded to the Cubs as part of the Marshall deal.
SS Edgar Renteria: Still a free agent, Renteria did not provide a strong return in general on the one-year, $3 million contract he signed last winter.
LHP Dontrelle Willis: Signed one year, $850,000 contract with the Phillies.
LHP Matt Maloney: Claimed off waivers by the Twins.