Originally written on Three-Way Chili  |  Last updated 3/9/12

With nearly a full week of spring training games behind the Cincinnati Reds, a few notable items have come to the forefront:

Starting lineup set: Manager Dusty Baker appears set on his lineup, and it goes a little something like this:

  1. Brandon Phillips – 2B
  2. Zack Cozart – SS
  3. Joey Votto – 1B
  4. Ryan Ludwick/Chris Heisey – LF
  5. Jay Bruce – RF
  6. Scott Rolen – 3B
  7. Drew Stubbs – CF
  8. Ryan Hanigan/Devin Mesoraco – C

This is very-similar to the lineup we projected before spring training began. The two exceptions are Ludwick/Heisey and Rolen being flipped (we had Rolen in the cleanup spot and Ludwick/Heisey sixth … and we still think it will end up turning out that way) and Stubbs not batting eighth.

And on second thought, that’s probably the best way to go with Stubbs: bat him seventh and then have either Ryan Hanigan or Devin Mesoraco bat eighth. Yes, it feels odd agreeing with Dusty (for the most part) when it comes to lineup construction. Certainly not his strong suit. (See: Batting Paul Janish, one of the worst hitters in MLB, in the No. 2 spot many times over the last two seasons.)

By the way, the Reds are going to have a solid catching tandem once again and it could be a huge bonus to have a possible future star like Mesoraco batting so far down in the order. What if he breaks out and hits 15-20 home runs? That’s very-reasonable, especially playing in Great American SmallPark. And that many long balls from the No. 8 hitter in the lineup would be an enormous asset. Of course, if Mesoraco does that well, he likely won’t be hitting eighth for long.

I also like Hanigan just because of how he gives a professional at-bat every time up there. His strength will always be defense, but he’s effective offensively because he makes the opposing pitcher work and always has a high on-base percentage.

As for the lineup in general, the key to the entire deal could be Cozart. If he can hold down the two-hole and just be decent, that’s exactly what the team needs. We know he’s not going to be a star – especially at this stage of his career – but he can’t stink up the joint for the Reds to be successful this season. I personally think Cozart will do well and has a bright future, but there will be a fair amount of weight on the rookie’s shoulders batting so high in the order.

So far so good for SP’s: All five of the pitchers slated to make the starting rotation have made starts so far this spring. Only Homer Bailey’s had a rough outing (2 IP, 3 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 2 K) but he’ll get a chance to redeem himself in a split-squad game on Friday.

The Reds’ rotation is set with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo and Bailey. However, if one of them should falter or get hurt, Cincinnati has two intriguing left-handed options waiting in the wings: Veteran Jeff Francis (once a 17-game winner with the Rockies) and Cuban flamethrower Aroldis Chapman.

Chapman will likely begin the season at Triple-A Louisville as he transitions into a starting role. However, there’s also a chance he’ll break camp with the Reds as a reliever depending on the health of left-handed reliever Bill Bray. No, it’s not Bray’s arm giving him problems this time, it’s a groin strain. He should be fine for the start of the season (and likely well before that) but Chapman did pitch out of the bullpen his only appearance thus far this spring (2 IP, 1 ER, 2 H, 1 BB, 3 K).

This is a make-or-break year for Chapman if you ask me. The Reds need him to help them win games; not just be an interesting sideshow that wows fans by throwing 104 MPH.

Phipps not pfailing: Yes, it’s early – extremely early – but 26-year-old rookie outfielder Denis Phipps is off to a strong start this spring. If you’re looking for a sleeper for the Reds this year, it’s Phipps, who had his breakout season last year and was named the organization’s minor league player of the year. (Which is saying a lot considering first baseman Neftali Soto had a 30-home-run season despite missing time with an injury.)

In 511 at-bats split between Double-A Carolina and Triple-A Louisville in 2011 (338 with Carolina, 173 with Louisville), Phipps raked to the tune of .346 with an OPS of .924. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound native of the Dominican Republic had 12 homers, 64 RBIs, 34 doubles, seven triples and 14 steals.

This spring in 11 at-bats (which ties for the team lead), Phipps is batting .364 with a home run and three RBIs.

Early record: After six games, the Reds are off to a 3-2-1 start in Cactus League action.

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