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It happened so quickly for the Reds. After nine straight years of losing records and near last-place finishes, their steady accumulation of talent culminated in a first-place finish and a trip to the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
But just because they went from non-contenders to contenders seemingly overnight doesn't mean they were a one-hit wonder. They have the pieces in place to remain at or near the top of the standings for years to come.
No doubt, it all begins with Joey Votto, whose sudden rise to greatness is an obvious microcosm of the team as a whole. The reigning NL MVP has emerged as arguably the best left-handed hitter in the game and a clear first-round pick in Fantasy, ranking right up there with Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera. Outfielders Jay Bruce and Drew Stubbs could follow in his footsteps shortly and, along with Brandon Phillips, give the Reds a middle of the order that ranks right up there with anyone in the National League.
But their starting rotation is really what got them over the hump last season, emerging as one of the deepest in baseball with the return of Edinson Volquez from injury and the unexpected breakout of Travis Wood. It's so deep that Aroldis Chapman, who may have the best arm of anyone on the planet, will have to remain in the bullpen for now, and he's not the only high-end talent getting the boot. Mike Leake, who the Reds liked so much after taking him eighth overall in the 2009 draft that they promoted him straight to the big leagues, may have to pitch in the minors after all if Homer Bailey, another former first-rounder, can hold him off in spring training.
The Reds didn't do much this offseason other than add Edgar Renteria to push Paul Janish at shortstop, but the bottom line is they didn't have to. They're going to be good, and Fantasy owners are going to benefit.
Breakout ... Jay Bruce, OF
Heading into 2008, Bruce ranked ahead of Evan Longoria as the best prospect in the game, but he didn't take off the way Longoria did, stalling due to a high strikeout rate and an abundance of injuries. That changed about midway through August last year. Maybe the 23-year-old just needed a little more time to develop. Maybe the wrist he broke in 2009 finally got back to 100 percent. Maybe he benefited from the tutelage of late-season acquisition Jim Edmonds, who, in his prime, was much like the player Bruce can be. Whatever the reason, Bruce took off, batting .385 with 14 homers and a 1.335 OPS over the final six weeks -- and that was with him missing two of those weeks with a strained oblique. Anyone who saw him play then would have a hard time believing he won't hit 40 homers now, but enough Fantasy owners had tuned out by then that he should still slide to the middle rounds.
Bust ... Francisco Cordero, RP
Cordero got his usual 40 saves last season and now has 265 since 2004, the third-most of anybody during that span. That's the sort of track record that would lead Fantasy owners to believe he's automatic. But at age 35, he's showing signs of the wheels coming off. He's never had the best control, but his WHIP was an unsightly 1.43 last season, mostly because of his increasingly hittable stuff. His strikeout rate, which used to be over 10 per nine innings every year, dipped to 7.3 last year, showing he's not fooling hitters the way he used to. Worse yet, the Reds don't have to give him an especially long leash with Aroldis Chapman and his 100-mph stuff in the bullpen. Cordero isn't a bad pick in the middle rounds since the Reds figure to give him plenty of save opportunities, but he's not as safe as some people would have you believe.
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Sleeper ... Edinson Volquez, SP
Volquez has been out of the minds of Fantasy owners for the better part of two seasons, and it's not like he had a chance to firmly entrench himself before then, putting together only one Fantasy-relevant season before hurting his elbow in 2009. But now that he has recovered from Tommy John surgery, the hard-throwing right-hander is ready to pick up where he left off as an emerging ace and strikeout artist. What helps him from a value standpoint, other than the obvious lack of innings over the last two years, is the fact he didn't set the world on fire in his initial return last July. But after spending a couple more weeks in the minors, he came back in September to strike out more than a batter per inning with improved control and a 1.95 ERA in four starts. He wasn't a finished product before the injury, so you can't assume he'll perform like an ace this season, but he's one of the few late-rounders with a chance of doing so.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Drew Stubbs||CF||1||Bronson Arroyo||RH|
|2||Brandon Phillips||2B||2||Johnny Cueto||RH|
|3||Joey Votto||1B||3||Edinson Volquez||RH|
|4||Scott Rolen||3B||4||Travis Wood||LH|
|5||Jay Bruce||RF||5||Homer Bailey||RH|
|6||Jonny Gomes||LF||Alt||Mike Leake||RH|
|7||Edgar Renteria||SS|| |
|8||Ramon Hernandez||C||CL||Francisco Cordero||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Aroldis Chapman||LH|
|R||Fred Lewis||OF||RP||Nick Masset||RH|
|R||Chris Heisey||OF||RP||Logan Ondrusek||RH|
|R||Paul Janish||SS||RP||Bill Bray||LH|
|Lived up to legend with 100-mph heat. Too valuable to remove from 'pen now, but future is in rotation.|
|First-rounder in '07 finally met offensive potential last year. Only aging Hernandez stands in his way.|
|Top pick in 2008 could still become an offensive force, but not with Votto blocking him in Cincinnati.|
|Long considered a top prospect, but lack of plate discipline catching up to him. Still offers some pop.|
|Power-speed threat could end up replacing Renteria and Janish at SS if he hits for high enough average.|
|Best of the rest: Juan Francisco, 3B; Billy Hamilton, SS; Yasmani Grandal, C; Sam LeCure, SP; Donnie Joseph, RP; Yorman Rodriguez, OF; Kyle Lotzkar, SP; Dave Sappelt, OF; Chris Valaika, 2B; and Danny Dorn, OF.|
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