|Given his significant role on the team, Scott Rolen will need to stay healthy for the Reds to succeed. (AP)|
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- What I like, and don't like, about the Cincinnati Reds:
• Anytime you start with Joey Votto, you're ahead of most everybody else. He's a perennial favorite to win an MVP award, something he did in 2010 before falling to sixth in the NL voting last year. Nonetheless, his .416 on-base percentage led the NL for a second consecutive season. He also led the NL in walks (110) and doubles (40). Baseball Prospectus also points out this amazing fact: When it comes time for matchups late in the game, Votto's .946 OPS actually increases to .988 in a first at-bat against relief pitchers. The Reds think he's a little more relaxed this spring without having to produce an encore to an MVP award, as was the case last year. But Votto never completely relaxes. It's why he remains as lethal a hitter as there is in the game.
What Cincy? Solid. What it landed? Very good. Best of all? The NL Central's ripe for Reds' taking. Camp report >>
• The rotation is deep, well-balanced and, as we sit here in early March, healthy. That wasn't the case a year ago, and it wasn't the case when the season started, either. Bronson Arroyo was weakened by mononucleosis during spring camp last year, and it led to the first season since 2004 that he didn't work 200 or more innings. Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey started 2011 on the disabled list. And things went south from there. All three are full speed right now. Newcomer Mat Latos gives the Reds a top-of-the-rotation-type starter. The Reds intend to stretch out Aroldis Chapman as a starter this spring. Veteran Jeff Francis is in camp and could add to the depth.
• Closer Ryan Madson and lefty setup man Sean Marshall at the end of games. These two new additions should turn the Reds bullpen from decent to very, very good. Nick Masset has been very good in a setup role, Bill Bray, Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure had a very nice year as long-man, and let's see what happens with Aroldis Chapman, whom the Reds are stretching out to start. The arms are here to win, from the first inning through the ninth.
• I think Ryan Ludwick was one of the more underrated pickups of the winter. He disappeared and disappointed in San Diego and was lost in Pittsburgh after the Padres shipped him there last summer. Neither park -- San Diego's nor Pittsburgh's -- is built for right-handed hitters. Ludwick, who slammed 37 homers for St. Louis in 2007, should fit nicely in Great American Ballpark. He's ticketed to platoon in left with Chris Heisey, and he turns 34 in July. "I'm in a good place right now," he says. And though he just as well could have been referring to the Reds' hitter-friendly park, he tapped his head and the message was clear: He's cleared away the fog of the past two years and is ready to embrace this new start.
• Scott Rolen is 36. And he turns 37 on April 4. That is magnified by the fact that he is a very big part of this team. His Gold Glove at third base, his leadership ... and the fact that he played in only 65 games last year because of injuries to both shoulders helped sink the 2011 Reds. Todd Frazier, Juan Francisco and Miguel Cairo all are in camp, and someone will be mixed into a rotation at third that will attempt to keep Rolen rested and healthy. "His swing looks better than it has in years," Jocketty says. "He's got more range of motion, more strength. And he's pain-free." Jocketty says he and manager Dusty Baker will develop a formula this spring that they will employ during the season to rest Rolen. Giving him a day off before or after a scheduled off day so he can get two for the price of one, resting him against certain pitchers ... figure all of that will be factored into the equation.
• The flip side of the above argument in favor of the rotation is: Will Latos mature and become dependable? Will Cueto and Leake achieve consistency? And what about Chapman? The Reds signed him with the idea of being a starter. Though they intend to make him one this spring, he didn't pitch in the Arizona Fall League or in the Puerto Rican Winter League because of shoulder weakness. The rest helped rebuild his strength, the Reds say. But in his third professional season, it's time for Chapman to step up.
• Good as shortstop Zack Cozart and catcher Devin Mesoraco are supposed to be -- and going to be -- there will be a learning curve as the Dynamic Duo gets a foothold in the majors. The two have played in a grand total of 29 games in the majors (Mesoraco 18, Cozart 11). There simply is no way to predict how quickly each will begin playing like veterans. The upside is great for each, and in catcher Ryan Hanigan and in shortstop Paul Janish or Wilson Valdez, the Reds have capable backups. But the quicker Cozart and Mesoraco launch, the better chance the Reds have to regain the NL Central title they won in 2010.