The Reds never really had a chance to compete in 2008, which made their decision to trade cornerstone player Adam Dunn, not to mention Ken Griffey, late in the season that much easier. In return for Dunn, they continued their unending goal of stockpiling young pitching, acquiring Micah Owings, who began last season as the Diamondbacks' fourth starter.
Owings demonstrates just how far the Reds pitching staff has come over the last few years. After opening last season as such a critical member of a strong rotation, he'll have to compete for the fifth spot in the Reds rotation this spring. Of course, he tarnished his value a bit last year by going 2-9 with a 6.96 ERA after a hot April, but the upside remains. While he might not have the long-term potential of Homer Bailey, he has the most short-term potential of Bailey, Ramon A. Ramirez, Matt Maloney and Daryl Thompson. He'll have to fend off those four to secure a rotation spot this spring. We give him the nod without much of a battle.
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The top four spots in the Reds starting rotation are set, though each pitcher has some obstacles to overcome. Ace Aaron Harang needs to get back to pitching like an ace after missing some time with a sore right forearm. Second-year man Edinson Volquez needs to prove his first-half breakout was legitimate and not relive the pitfalls of his second half. Innings eater Bronson Arroyo needs to show more consistency, dominating in the second half each of the last two years after miserable first halves. Long-term project Johnny Cueto needs to harness his electric stuff, learning he can't just blow everyone away.
True, some of those pitchers -- Harang and Volquez -- seem more likely to overcome their obstacles than others, but the Reds can make up for any shortcomings with a deep bullpen headlined by setup men David Weathers and Jared Burton and veteran closer Francisco Cordero, who managed 34 saves last year even on a non-contender.
If this team goes anywhere in 2008, the pitching staff will take it there. It has a ballpark built for hitting, though, and its starting lineup has some up-and-coming talent in its own right. Jay Bruce and Joey Votto give the Reds two left-handed boppers to lead them for the next decade or so, with Votto a little more advanced than Bruce right now. Brandon Phillips, a former 30-30 second baseman, joins them in the middle of the lineup. He might have gone 30-30 again last year if a broken finger in early September hadn't ended his season prematurely. In the offseason, the Reds added speedster Willy Taveras, who offers stolen bases but little more in Fantasy, and Ramon Hernandez, a catcher with a bit of pop. Jerry Hairston returns to compete for a job either in left field or at shortstop, but he'll have to fend off rookie Chris Dickerson at the former and veterans Alex Gonzalez and Jeff Keppinger at the latter, with prospects Chris Valaika and Todd Frazier each expected to make an impact before season's end.
|There's no doubting the ability of Edinson Volquez, but be realistic in 2009. (Getty Images)|
Potential Breakout: Joey Votto, 1B
Not often does a player hit .300 though his first 610 major-league at-bats, but not often does one arrive as well-equipped for that final ascension as Votto, who improved by such leaps and bounds in the second half last year that predicting him as a "breakout" this year almost seems too easy. One look at his .958 OPS after the All-Star break should tell you the whole story, but when you consider he also cut down on his strikeouts and hit .321 with 11 home runs, you know the Reds have a star in the making. Early drafts have him going at about the level of Carlos Delgado and Garrett Atkins, but don't be surprised if he ends up performing more at the level of Justin Morneau.
Potential Bust: Edinson Volquez, SP
At times last year, Volquez looked like the best pitcher in baseball, which should give you reason enough to approach him with caution this year. A supreme talent he is. The best pitcher he is not, and he showed it last year with his 4.60 ERA in the second half. He has overpowering stuff, but his walk rate makes him comparable to a young A.J. Burnett, who still has a tendency to disappoint Fantasy owners even 10 years into his major-league career. Most likely, Volquez will need a year or two more to refine his supreme talents, making a regression this year probable. Still, many Fantasy owners will remember his 12-3 record and 2.29 ERA before the All-Star break last year and select him among the top starting pitchers on Draft Day.
Potential Sleeper: Aaron Harang, SP
The Reds' success this season perhaps hinges on no one player more than Harang, who had finally convinced Fantasy owners of his worth before hitting a snag last year. Coming off two straight seasons with 16 wins, 230 innings and 215 strikeouts, he labored through a miserable summer, posting a 7.27 ERA from June through August and missing nearly all of July with a stiff right forearm. But through it all, he maintained respectable strikeout and walk ratios, showing he hadn't completely fallen off the map, and by September, he had gotten back on track, posting a 3.07 ERA and allowing a .247 batting average in 41 innings. Some Fantasy owners might look at his final line and wait until the middle-to-late rounds to draft him, but those September numbers should give you a better idea of his value going forward.
|Cincinnati Reds Outlook|
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Willy Taveras||CF||1||Aaron Harang||RH|
|2||Chris Dickerson||LF||2||Edinson Volquez||RH|
|3||Joey Votto||1B||3||Bronson Arroyo||RH|
|4||Brandon Phillips||2B||4||Johnny Cueto||RH|
|5||Jay Bruce||RF||5||Micah Owings||RH|
|6||Edwin Encarnacion||3B||Alt||Homer Bailey||RH|
|7||Ramon Hernandez||C||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Alex Gonzalez||SS||CL||Francisco Cordero||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||David Weathers||RH|
|R||Jerry Hairston||UTL||RP||Jared Burton||RH|
|R||Jeff Keppinger||SS||RP||Bill Bray||LH|
|R||Norris Hopper||OF||RP||Mike Lincoln||RH|
|Closer of the two power-hitting shorstops in Reds system.|
|2||Todd Frazier||23||SS||Class A||Double-A|
|Might end up moving to outfield to accomodate Valaika.|
|3||Yonder Alonso||21||1B||Class A||Double-A|
|First rounder in '08 on fast track to majors, but blocked by Votto.|
|Power-speed combo strikes out too much, but already in majors.|
|5||Daryl Thompson||23||RH SP||Triple-A||Triple-A|
|Never the scouts' favorite, but gets numbers wherever he goes.|
|Best of the rest: 3B Juan Francisco, OF Drew Stubbs, 3B Neftali Soto, SP Ramon A. Ramirez, SP Matt Maloney, SP Dallas Buck, SP Jordan Smith, SP Clayton Shunick, SP Zach Stewart, SP Kyle Lotzkar, SS Paul Janish, C Ryan Hanigan, C Wilkin Castillo, RP Danny Herrera, RP Josh Roenicke, RP Pedro Viola, C Craig Tatum, SP Tyler Pelland and RP Sergio Valenzuela.|
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