Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 3/1/12

The Cincinnati Reds finished the 2011 season with a disappointing 79-83 record and 17 games behind first place Milwaukee. They went into the off-season knowing that they had to shore up their pitching staff. Mission accomplished, but at a hefty price. The Reds traded away 4 of their top prospects to acquire Mat Latos from the Padres and Sean Marshall from the Cubs.

Joey Votto

Latos gives them a top tier starting pitcher to go with free agent signee Jeff Francis. That duo will certainly bolster what was a solid, but unspectacular staff. In addition to the Marshall trade, the Reds signed Ryan Madson to be their closer and with those two moves solidified the back end of their bullpen.

[2012 MLB Preview Central]

Cincinnati is aiming for the NL Central crown and have all the pieces in place to achieve that goal. MVP candidate Joey Votto anchors the infield and the batting order for Dusty Baker. Jay Bruce smashed 32 homers last year and is an ideal compliment to Votto. Brandon Phillips has been a model of consistency for the Reds and is one of the best second basemen in all of baseball.

3 Up

Best case scenario for 2012: There is no reason the Reds can’t win the NL Central and make a run in the playoffs. If that scenario plays out, Joey Votto could be your NL MVP. An ideal season for Cincinnati certainly includes a healthy Scott Rolen and a CyY Young caliber campaign from Mat Latos. Devin Mesoraco has the skills to be the NL’s Rookie of the Year. Maybe they can even get some production from $3o million dollar man Aroldis Chapman.

Most important Reds: Joey Votto is the main component on this Reds team and Jay Bruce is a sweet-swinging lefty, but Scott Rolen might hold the key to Cincinnati’s success. He started the 2011 season on a roll and was driving in runs at a steady clip and playing his trademark stalwart defense at the hot corner. Unfortunately he was undone by a season ending injury and it left a gaping hole in the Reds line up. If the 16 year vet can stay healthy it will go a long way towards helping the Reds claim the NL Central.

Potential breakout players in 2012: As I mentioned earlier, Devin Mesoraco is a Rookie of the Year candidate. He will share the catching duties with Ryan Hanigan, but he could become the lead guy if things click for the rookie backstop. He can hit for average and power. Zack Cozart looked good when he took over at shortstop last season. Unfortunately his season was cut short by an elbow injury. In 11 games he hit .324 with 2 homers and 6 steals. There is a lot to like about his potential and he could have a breakout campaign.

3 Down

Worst case scenario for 2012: If Scott Rolen can’t stay healthy it could stall the Reds quest for a division title. If Homer Bailey’s shoulder woes linger on it will create a hole in the starting rotation. Perhaps Devin Mesoraco isn’t quite ready for the grueling challenge of being a big league catcher. A worst case scenario would find the Reds finishing in the middle of the pack again and missing out on the playoffs.

Areas of concern: Counting on a 16 year veteran with a shaky injury history is dicey, but that is what the Reds are doing with Scott Rolen. He is very important to them both offensively and defensively. So cross your fingers Cincinnati and hope the big fella can enjoy a renaissance season that is free of injury.

Who needs to bounce back from a down 2011: With 15 homers and 40 steals last year Drew Stubbs was a fantasy gem, but Reds fans were frustrated with his free-swinging ways that resulted in 205 punch outs. If Stubbs can cut down on the Ks he should be able to raise his batting average from where he finished in 2011 with a .243 mark. After two straight seasons with a sub 4.00 ERA, Bronson Arroyo saw his 2011 ERA bloat to 5.07 which caused his record to dip below .500 at 9-12. If he can bounce back to 2009-2010 form, it would give the pitching staff a significant boost.

This article first appeared on isportsweb.com and was syndicated with permission.

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