Friday, February 14, 2014

Five things to keep an eye on as a Reds fan this spring

The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

The long wait is over, folks. The Cincinnati Reds have resumed official baseball-related activities today as pitchers and catchers flocked to the team's spring training complex in Goodyear, Ariz.

It goes without saying, but this preseason has a much different feel than in year's past. The coaching staff has experienced a complete makeover and there are several questions surrounding the roster. Gone is longtime fixtures Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Hanigan. The steady Shin-Soo Choo is absent as well after signing a lucrative free agent deal with Texas on the heels of one terrific season in Cincinnati.

There have been some additions to help offset those losses. Namely, Brayan Pena and Skip Schumaker, but the offseason was generally void of any major acquisitions. That's not to say that the current makeup of the roster won't suffice. But there are uncertainties abound with this particular club at this specific time.

With that in mind, here are five things to keep an eye on this spring.

1) Bryan Price

Dusty Baker's reign as manager came to an end last October and Price has been pegged as the guy to fill his shoes. Not only is there a change at the very top, but the rest of the coaching staff is new, too. How will the shakeup among the coaching staff affect the players? That remains to be seen, obviously. There may be a learning curve initially from both sides as each tries to get acclimated to the new personnel. Additionally, it's hard to set expectations for Price, who has never managed at any level before 2014. Will his cerebral approach fare better than the laid back mentality of his predecessor? Or will a weakened roster and the challenges of managing prove to be too much for him in year one? We will have to wait and see.

2) Billy Hamilton

Let's be honest, no player enters the spring with more pressure than Hamilton. As a rookie, the speedy center fielder is expected to replace a guy who was among the best hitters in the league a season ago. Sure, we all know he can steal bases, but as the old saying goes, "you can't steal first base," so it will be interesting to see if Hamilton is able to reach base an acceptable number times. The spring may not bring us a complete answer to whether or not Hamilton is going to be able to perform up to expectations. But it's safe to say that we will have a better idea of where he stands by the time late March rolls around.

3) Johnny Cueto

The injury bug can't seem to stay away from Cueto. After succumbing to injury in the 2012 NLDS, the right-hander's struggle to stay healthy continued into 2013. Despite posting a 2.82 ERA, he made just 11 starts last year and could very well be traumatized after getting lit up by the Pirates in the Wild Card game. However, 2014 is a new year and I know Reds fans are hoping Cueto can return to the form he boasted in 2012, a season in which he went 19-9 with a 2.78 ERA, finishing fourth in Cy Young voting. Again, spring won't paint the whole picture for what's to come, but a solid exhibition season from Cueto could really improve the prospects of competing against the Cardinals for the division title.

4) Ryan Ludwick

Like Cueto, Ludwick was also bitten by the pesky injury bug in 2013. It didn't take any time at all for the veteran to end up on the disabled list. A freak sliding injury on Opening Day shredded his shoulder and relegated him to rehab for most of the campaign. When he returned, he was nowhere close to being where the club needed him to be, batting just .240 with 2 home runs in 129 at-bats. Due to the club's inability to bring in outfield help this winter, the starting left field job is once again Ludwick's to lose. If he can produce anywhere near his 2012 totals (.275/26/80), the Reds offense will be in good shape. If not, and Chris Heisey can't fill the void either, Cincinnati's ability to score runs could be putrid.

5) Todd Frazier/Zack Cozart/Devin Mesoraco

With Choo gone, this trio will be relied upon to elevate their individual performances. With little money to spend on free agents, general manager Walt Jocketty is hoping the team's core group of young players can take the next step to being productive big leaguers. Mesoraco will certainly have more duties this year with the loss of Hanigan. Meanwhile, Cozart and Frazier will have to prove their worthy of keeping their starting spots beyond 2014 as well. At this point, each have been below average to average players, and as we know, being average means you're on the edge of being easily dispensable in the majors. Here's to hoping that these players can rise to the occasion in 2014.

Photo Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

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