The Cincinnati Reds won 97 games en route to the NL Central crown in 2012. They followed that up by taking a 2 games to none lead over the Giants in the NLDS. However, they wound up on the wrong side of history as San Francisco won 3 straight at the Great American Ballpark and eliminated the Reds.
Cincinnati has all the pieces in place to make another run at the NL Central and perhaps a deeper run in the postseason this year. A lot of that may hinge on the decision the Reds have made to move Aroldis Chapman out of the closers role, where he was dominant last year, and into the starting rotation. It’s a bold move for the Reds to make and if it works they’ll look brilliant for making it. If it doesn’t work, we’ll be left to wonder why did they try to fix something that wasn’t broken? Cincinnati’s bullpen led the majors with a 2.65 ERA last season and ranked third with a .219 batting average against. The biggest reason for that was Chapman’s dominance – 38 saves, 1.51 ERA with a staggering 122 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.
The Reds made a sneaky good move when they traded for Shin Soo Choo, who will do more than hold the fort until top prospect Billy Hamilton is ready to take over in centerfield. Choo is a career .289 hitter with 20 homer, 90 RBI, 20 steal potential. He should flourish in Cincinnati’s stacked line up. Choo with his .386 on base percentage last year, will be a major upgrade over the revolving door of players who hit lead off for the Reds last year and put together a MLB worst .254 OBP and a .581 OPS at the top of the order. Plugging Choo into the lead off spot also allows Dusty Baker to settle Brandon Phillips into the 2 hole where he is best suited.
Best case scenario for 2013: Aroldis Chapman makes a seamless transition to the rotation and the bullpen holds up fine without him. That would elevate the Reds pitching staff, which is already very good, to another level and nobody is going to want to face Chapman as a starter in a playoff series. Any best case scenario for Cincinnati involves a healthy campaign for Joey Votto which translates to an MVP type season. Ideally Ryan Ludwick will build upon his impressive 2012 season and Todd Frazier will develop into a 30 homer guy.
This team is built to win a championship and if things fall into place, they could be playing for one in October.
Most important Reds: Joey Votto is the heart and soul of the Cincinnati Reds. He was the 2010 NL MVP and is a threat to win that award every year. The trick will be keeping the three-time all-star healthy for a full season. His presence in the line up and on the field is vital to the Reds championship quest
Aroldis Chapman was one of the most feared pitchers in all of baseball last season. Chapman threw 100+ mph pitches like they were going out of style and racked up strikeouts at a dizzying pace, 15.32 per nine innings. The Reds have decided that he can have an even bigger impact as a starting pitcher. “I think this kid has untapped potential, but it won’t come out until we give him an opportunity to mature as a pitcher,” Cincinnati’s pitching coach Bryan Price said. “Does he have a chance to be one of the better starters of his generation? The longer we wait, the less chance we have of ever finding out.”
Potential breakout players: Todd Frazier showed promise last season as he posted a .273 batting average with 19 homers while playing both 1st and 3rd base for the Reds. Now the keys to the third base position are being handed to the sophomore slugger and he could develop into one of the breakout players in 2013. Frazier has 30 homer potential and hitting in this line up will afford him many RBI opportunities.
In his first season with Cincinnati, Mat Latos Latos was 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 64 walks and 185 strikeouts. He was a real workhorse for Dusty Baker as he logged his first career 200+ inning season and he tied for the NL Lead with 33 starts. The scary part is Latos can be even better. He has Cy Young caliber stuff and the next step for the lanky right hander is to become one of the elite pitchers in the National League.
Worst case scenario: If Chapman struggles in his conversion to a starting pitcher it will have a two-pronged effect by weakening not only the rotation, but also the bullpen, where Chapman thrived last season. Other worse case scenarios involve Shin Soo Choo struggling in his transition to centerfield and Joey Votto not being fully recovered from the knee injury that troubled him last year. Any combination of these things could push the Reds out off contention.
Shin Soo Choo
Areas of concern: The biggest area of concern is easily the transition Aroldis Chapman makes from closer to starter. He has one of the most electric arms in all of baseball and it would be a shame to waste it in a failed experiment. If he flounders as a starter and they move him back to the bullpen it will take some time for him to find a rhythm with all that flip-flopping back and forth.
Shin Soo Choo was not known for his defensive prowess while manning right field for the Indians. It remains to be seen how well he can adjust to life as an everyday centerfielder. They know he can hit, but he must at least be adequate defensively.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2012: For Joey Votto it’s not so much about bouncing back from a bad 2012, it’s about bouncing back from an injury plaqued 2012. Before having surgery on his left knee in July, Votto was rolling. He was batting .342 with 14 homers and 49 RBIs. He led the NL in doubles, walks, on-base percentage and extra-base hits. Then he missed 48 games while recovering from surgery. He came back, but was sapped of his power and did not homer in any of Cincinnati’s final 30 games. When healthy, he is one of the best hitters on the planet and the Reds have one of the best line ups in baseball.
Devin Mesoraco was one of the rookies to keep an eye on last year and he started the season with a solid April. However, he tailed off quickly and ended up posting a .212 batting average with 5 home runs and 14 RBIs. Behind the plate, he only cut down 17 percent of would be base stealers. He dropped 15 pounds in the offseason and could be primed for a bounce back season.