Sunday, February 19, 2012

Five Reds to watch in spring training

Yes, even the mighty Phillies have their
eyes trained on the Reds this preseason

We're now just days away from the official start of Spring Training in Goodyear, Arizona. And while you can expect to see the likes of Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto there, the real competition will lie within the relatively unknown players. A good spring training performance can land a given player a roster spot on the big league roster, but a bad one can land them in the minors -- or worse, no team at all. It's a chance for top minor league prospects to impress the coaches and a chance for veterans to prove they still have what it takes to play in the majors.

With that said, here are five players to keep a good eye on this spring as they look to turn heads:

Aroldis Chapman RP
-Is he a starter? Is he a setup man? Is he a left-handed specialist? Is he destined to start the year in Triple-A Louisville? These are all legitimate questions looming around Chapman entering the 2012 season. The addition of Mat Latos to the starting rotation squeezed out any room for the Cuban Missile there, while the acquisition of Ryan Madson and Sean Marshall at the backend of the 'pen leaves the southpaw without a place there as well. However, you got to believe Chapman approaches this year with more drive than ever as he looks to solidify an Opening Day roster spot -- whatever that role may be.

Jeff Francis SP
-The team went out and signed Francis at the end of January to add more depth to the starting rotation. The problem for the left-hander is the club looks pretty much set with their starting five already. But that doesn't mean the 31-year old can't win a job coming out of the spring. However, one would have to believe the odds are stacked against him a bit -- which makes Francis one to watch in the coming weeks.

Clay Zavada RP
-Like Francis, this left-hander will enter Reds camp as a non-roster invitee. After not pitching in the majors since the 2009 season - where he posted a 3.35 ERA in 49 relief appearances for Arizona - it will be interesting to see how he shakes the rust this spring. He did however, spend the 2011 season with Diamondbacks' Double-A affiliate Mobile where he hurled a 3.43 ERA in 44 games. Whether or not Zavada sticks on the Reds roster is still to be seen, but a 'stache like that is hard to turn away.

Zack Cozart SS
-Cozart's time in the big show last year was short and sweet due to suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in late-July. But the 26-year old's 11 games that he did appear in made quite an impression on anyone who saw them. So much so that the franchise has all but handed him the starting job at shortstop entering this upcoming season. It's been a long time since Cincinnati boasted an All-Star caliber shortstop and many are hoping that Cozart can eventually be that guy. How he performs in March should shed some light on what's to come for the regular season.

Juan Francisco 3B
-There's no denying that this 24-year old has some serious pop in his bat. However, the jury is still out on whether or not the Dominican native can be an effective everyday third baseman. Luckily for Francisco he may not have to prove himself just yet with veteran Scott Rolen occupying the starting spot, but should the injury-prone Rolen succumb to another trip to the disabled list the Reds will look to Francisco to step right in. Will he be up for the task?

So, there you have it. Five players to watch in spring training. I'd be remissed though if I didn't cast honorable mentions for the following players (who all coincidentally enough are the notable newcomers): Ryan Madson (RP), Sean Marshall (RP), Mat Latos (SP), Ryan Ludwick (LF), Wilson Valdez (SS), Dioner Navarro (C), and Willie Harris (UTL). The fans are undoubtely eager to see these players in Reds unis.

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