Reds camp report: Likes, dislikes

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Cincinnati Reds:

Things I like

It was no fluke that the Reds won 97 games in 2012. This is a solid team all around, from the lineup to the rotation to the bullpen. If anything, the Reds are more talented this year than last, after the trade for Shin-Soo Choo.

With the trade for Choo, the Reds finally addressed their need for a leadoff man. It's almost unimaginable that the Reds won so many games last year while getting just a .254 on-base percentage from the top spot in the lineup (no other team was below .280). Choo could affect the entire lineup, so much that Eric Davis is predicting it will help Brandon Phillips raise his batting average from .280 to .330.

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How can you not like the possibility that the Reds eventually have Billy Hamilton in the big leagues? It's not going to be right away, despite the incredible 155 stolen bases in the minor leagues last year. Hamilton showed in the early days of spring training that he's not ready to hit big-league pitching. That's not a problem now, but with Choo a year away from free agency, the Reds sure wouldn't mind it if Hamilton proves he'll be ready by a year from now.

The Reds still need to decide whether Aroldis Chapman is going to pitch the first inning or the ninth, but either way, he's one of the most interesting pitchers in baseball to watch. "Honestly, he's the greatest specimen that ever walked into a clubhouse, except for maybe Bo Jackson," teammate Bronson Arroyo said. Arroyo favors Chapman as closer, but admits, "He's obviously capable of going out and throwing a no-hitter."

If the Reds don't win the Central, who does? Yes, the Cardinals are coming off back-to-back years where they first won the World Series and then went to Game 7 of the NLCS, but they also went to spring training with more questions than the Reds did. So did the Brewers and the Pirates. The Cubs, meanwhile, have nothing but questions.

Things I don't like

Can the Reds finally be good two years in a row? They haven't won back-to-back division titles since the mid-1970s days of the Big Red Machine (I'm not counting the strike-shortened 1994 season). The Reds haven't even had back-to-back winning seasons in more than a decade (since 1999-2000). And the NL Central hasn't had a back-to-back champion since the Cubs -- yes, the Cubs! -- did it in 2007-08.

The Reds quickly became convinced that Choo in center field will work, but others will remain skeptical. At the least, it's a gamble to go with someone who hasn't ever played the position regularly in the major leagues (and hasn't even played an official game there since 2009).

You eventually play everyone, but the schedule suggests that it won't be easy for the Reds to get off to a hot start. Their first three series are against the Angels, Nationals and Cardinals, three of the best opponents they'll meet all season.

Some Reds fans celebrated when Scott Rolen turned down an invitation to continue his career with the Reds, because they wanted to see Todd Frazier get a full season's worth of at-bats. It's easy to understand the enthusiasm for Frazier, who was one of the really good Reds stories last season. But those fans should know that some Reds officials are now worried about third base, because they're not convinced Frazier can repeat what he did last year.

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