Monday, March 25, 2013

Ten thoughts on the current state of the Reds entering the regular season

One week from today, the Reds will be playing host to the loaded Los Angeles Angels at Great American Ball Park for their season opener. It's going to be a festive occasion full of pageantry, tradition, and dreams of what the new season may hold. Until then, the Reds still have several exhibition games left in Arizona to endure.

Being that we are so close to commencement of the regular season, I thought it would be a good time to share some of my views on the current state of the Redlegs. These views are uncensored and relatively unorganized. I mostly just wanted to put in writing the culmination of what I've been thinking about this spring.

Here goes nothing...

1) The promises made by the Reds have become about as reliable as the local weatherman. For the third season in a row, they were adamant about turning Aroldis Chapman into a starting pitcher. And for the third season in a row, they changed their mind. Ultimately, the club can handle their business in whatever fashion they like, but this wishy-washy plan with Chapman is starting to become quite annoying.

2) Mike Leake has to feel slighted right about now. I feel as though most of the fanbase has turned against Leake over the past year. Additionally, the team put the youngster in a tough spot (again) when they announced their intention to possibly squeeze him out of the rotation, only to give him his spot back just 10 days before the start of the season. I don't know if the Reds are meaning to toy with his mind or not, but maybe this practice will actually turn out to be beneficial for Leake, or maybe, just maybe, it will work against him.

3) Although it's a small sample size to go off of (29 ABs), Devin Mesoraco has been smacking the cover off the ball. He has a team-leading 10 RBIs to go along with two homers and three doubles. Could he finally be ready to take over the full-time catching duties at some point during 2013? If so, it would be perfect timing as Ryan Hanigan's current contract expires at the end of the season.

4) Joey Votto appears to be showing no ill effects from the injured knee that cost him nearly two months of action in 2012. He has shown plenty of power (3 HR, 2 2B) in addition to his careful eye at the plate (.468 OBP) and extremely healthy average (.359). Could a second career MVP be in the works?

5) With Chapman back as the team's closer, the Reds ought to boast the league's most dominating relief core yet again. They essentially will have three proven closers in Chapman, Jonathan Broxton, and Sean Marshall to complement the steady Sam LeCure, Jose Arredondo, and Logan Ondrusek. Additionally, J.J. Hoover figures to be pitching for the big club at some point, and many believe he has all the makings of a future MLB closer, as well. Bottom line: it's lights out for the opposition if the starters can hand a lead over to the 'pen this year.

6) Which starter will wind up having a better individual season: Mat Latos or Johnny Cueto? Cueto has been the team's undisputed ace over the past couple of seasons, but Latos might overtake the Dominican for that title soon. Latos has had a year to grow accustom to his new teammates, new city, and new stadium, and is poised, in my opinion, to make a strong push for Cy Young Award honors in '13, barring injury.

7) Is anyone as excited as I am to finally see a proven leadoff hitter in the lineup? I'm all aboard the Shin-Soo Choo bandwagon train as I honestly believe his presence in the batting order will elevate the offense to great heights. Cincinnati's offense ranked ninth in runs scored (669) last season, but the addition of Choo, coupled with a healthy Votto, should help them produce many more this time around. Don't be surprised if Choo earns his first trip to the All-Star Game this summer. I think he's on the brink of a career year with the Reds.

8) Seriously, is anyone even worried about the other NL Central teams posing a threat to Cincy's bid to repeat as champions? The weakened Cardinals have been absorbing key injuries recently to the likes of Rafael Furcal (out for season), Chris Carpenter (out for season), and Jason Motte (likely to begin season on DL), while the Milwaukee Brewers appear to have a lack of quality pitching (not to mention the dark cloud hovering over Ryan Braun in his connection to the Biogenenis scandal). Meanwhile, the cash-strapped Pirates did virtually nothing to improve a club coming off another losing season, and the Cubs are well, rebuilding shall we say. In conclusion, the division is Cincinnati's to lose.

9) I was looking at the schedule the other day. The Reds have quite the slate coming out of the gate. They open with a three-game series against the Halos to begin the season, a team in which many consider odds-on favorites to win the World Series, followed by a three-game set with the Washington Nationals, who sported MLB's best record a season ago. Then, the Reds hit the road for a trio of games against the Cardinals in St. Louis, before traveling to the Steel City to clash with the Buccos. They get a little break when they host the lowly Marlins and Cubs from April 18-24, but then visit D.C. for a four-game series with the Nats, again. They end the month with a return trip to St. Louis. Whew.

10) Who is going to end up securing the final bench spot on the roster? Will it be Jason Donald, Cesar Izturis, or Emmanuel Burriss? Each has performed fairly well this spring. Donald is sporting a .452 OBP. Izturis is hitting .318 (14-44). Burriss has swiped five bases. But I think it's going to be Donald who comes away with the final roster spot. Why? Well, because the other two are non-roster invitees, and because none of the three has done enough to separate themselves from the other two.

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