Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Cincinnati Reds 2008 Preview: Building a New Machine?

2007...the year that sucked/was groovy (pick one)

While the 2007 season was not exactly groovy for the Cincinnati Reds and their fans (the Reds finished 72-90, 13 games out), it was at least an interesting one. There was the ongoing story of Josh Hamilton's recovery and comeback, the insane accusation by a loudmouthed local radio host that their best player played like he was drunk on the field, Ken Griffey Jr. playing his most complete schedule since 2000, one of the scariest on-field collisions in recent memory, the midseason replacement of the manager, and more. Amidst all of the drama there were some real steps forward taken as some outstanding young talent debuted or moved very close to the major league level.

They can put it on the board, yes! no! maybe!

They play their home games in a bandbox, so the Reds looked a bit better at the plate in 2007 than they actually were. They finished fourth in runs scored at home but only seventh in road games and seventh overall. Adam Dunn takes a lot of crap for what he's not (a graceful outfielder who hits .300) while what he does do (hit 40 homers and draws 100 walks) gets ignored. Griffey and second baseman Brandon Phillips each reached the 30 homer mark. Third baseman Edwin Encarnacion returned from a demotion to triple A to hit .337/.383/.553 in August and September, raising hopes that he's finally turned a corner in his career.

2B Brandon Phillips
1B Joey Votto
RF Ken Griffey Jr.
3B Edwin Encarnacion
LF Adam Dunn
CF Jay Bruce
SS Alex Gonzalez
C David Ross/Javier Valentine

An impressive group. Phillips isn't really a leadoff hitter but neither is anyone else in the lineup, so he goes there by default. He did score 107 runs in 2007 with his combination of speed and power. Votto is an outstanding prospect who hit .321/.360/.548 in September. Bruce is the leading Rookie of the Year candidate in the NL; both Baseball Prospectus and prospect maven John Sickles rate him as the number one prospect in baseball. Given good health this could be an 850+ run team.

Pitchers, or belly itchers?

Despite the continued development of Aaron Harang into one of the NL's best starters, the pitching staff was pretty bad in 2007, allowing the second most runs in the league. Playing in the Great American Ball Park didn't help, but the Reds also allowed 5.11 runs per game on the road.

SP Aaron Harang
SP Bronson Arroyo
SP Matt Beslisle
SP Josh Fogg
SP Jeremy Affelt

CL Francisco Cordero
RP David Weathers
RP Bill Bray

Harang is one of the league's elite starters. Arroyo is a dependable innings eater and a decent number two. Forget the other three listed starters; they're placeholders who may not even make it out of spring training. Homer Bailey, Johnny Cueto, and Edinson Volquez will have those spots by midseason at the latest. All three are outstanding prospects and the odds are that at least one of the three will turn out to be very, very good. Adding Cordero bumps Stormy Weathers back to setup man, improving the bullpen all around. Look for some help in the pen from Jon Coutlangus; he's no closer prospect or anything, I just wanted to type the word "Coutlangus."

Witnesses for the defense

On the one hand, the 2007 Reds made few errors. On the other, they were among the worst in the NL at turning balls in play into outs. It's unclear if any improvement can be expected in 2008. Bruce is capable of handling center but isn't expected to transform into Andruw Jones. Dunn really is a bad left fielder. A full season from Gonzalez at short would help. Encarnacion has made a few strides at third at might at least battle the position to a draw.

Farm aid

A bumper crop. Votto and Bruce should be in the Opening Day lineup. At least one of the group of Bailey, Cueto, and Volquez will probably break camp in the rotation with the rest following promptly. None of these guys are middle of the road prospects; each has the ability to be real stars at the major league level. That's all there is at the moment, the rest of the best prospects are still at the lower levels.

Watch out for that tree!

Call this spot the annual Griffey Jr. watch. As much as we love him, we have to realize that he's 38, hasn't played a full season without injuries since Monica Lewinsky was a tawdry news item, and can't and shouldn't play center field any more. I'd write that Mike Stanton might break down any moment at age 41 except that he already has. Scott Hatteberg is 38; Votto's arrival makes Hatteberg's new position "pinch hitter."

I can make a hat, or a broach...

The Reds are one of the most interesting teams I've written about this spring. They look at least solid at every position, and five members of the lineup have the ability to be all stars. They have a strong number one starter and a good closer. If the young pitchers break through quickly this is the team in the NL most likely to take a huge leap forward. The Brewers and Cubs are good clubs but neither one is anything like the 1998 Yankees. The Reds could spend the year in development, but I can also see them jumping over the rest of the division to capture a surprise title.

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