No news is good news for the Cincinnati Reds as they begin spring training.
No one on the roster suffered an injury during their offseason workouts (knock on wood), there have been no ailments that have popped up the first few days of spring training (keep knocking) and there have been no visa problems with players from the Dominican Republic and other foreign nations.
Every pitcher and catcher reported on time, and there hasn’t been one word about anyone being out of shape. In fact, pitcher Homer Bailey added 10-15 pounds of muscle this offseason after hitting the weights hard. (Get those HGH jokes ready.)
Also, projected starting shortstop Zack Cozart spent nearly the entire winter in Goodyear, Ariz., rehabbing the elbow injury that ended his promising 2011 season early. The 26-year-old Cozart will still be considered a rookie this year since he only amassed 37 at-bats for the Reds last season. However, he was impressive during his short 11-game stint as he batted .324 with two home runs and three RBIs. Cozart spent most of the 2011 campaign at Triple-A Louisville where he batted .310 with seven homers, 32 RBIs and nine stolen bases (OPS of .825). He is expected to be fully ready for Opening Day.
Cozart is a huge key to the Reds’ 2012 season. He doesn’t need to do anything special, just be steady. He won’t be a Gold Glove candidate at short, but he’s solid defensively. Offensively, he’ll likely begin the season batting in the two hole, and if he can keep his OPS over .750, he will do just fine.
Another key is the health of 36-year-old third baseman Scott Rolen, who was limited to 65 games and 252 at-bats last season due to injuries. All reports indicate Rolen is in excellent shape entering spring training. However, we all know he’s near the end of his career and that he’s very injury-prone due to the gritty brand of baseball he’s played since 1996 at the MLB level. If the Reds can get 100-plus games out of Rolen (he played 133 in 2010 when he was an All-Star for Cincinnati) that will be considered a victory.
The Reds also enter the season with what I consider seven legitimate starting pitchers. Obviously, only five will make the rotation, but these things have a way of working themselves out through injuries, or players just flat-out not performing.
I love the top-three of the rotation with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos (who are interchangeable as the Reds’ No. 1 starter, although Cueto will get the Opening Day nod) and Mike Leake. Bailey is a solid No. 4 when healthy, but injuries and inconsistency have always been problems for him. Bronson Arroyo will also be in the rotation and I expect him to bounce back with a decent year following by far his worst season in a Reds uniform. Arroyo began the 2011 season battling a case of mono and was never quite right.
Left-handed flamethrower Aroldis Chapman will likely begin the season at Louisville, but it sure as hell will be interesting to see how he looks during spring training. I like that the Reds are committed to making him a starter. Make no mistake about it: Even if he doesn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training, he will be needed at some point this season. Is this the year when the 24-year-old Chapman breaks out? Or is he merely an entertaining sideshow?
The final “legit” starting pitcher on the roster is lefty Jeff Francis, who is only 31. Francis was 17-9 with a 4.22 ERA for the Colorado Rockies in 2007, so he’s proven he can be more-than a capable pitcher on this level. And after battling injuries the last two years, Francis is finally healthy. If he doesn’t make the rotation out of spring training, the Reds could decide to use him out of the pen. He could be like the left-handed version of Sam LeCure: A guy that could start if needed, but can also be an effective long-reliever.
One final thing: Rookie catcher Devin Mesoraco is drawing rave reviews for his physical conditioning during the offseason, and general manager Walt Jocketty referred to the rookie as a “Man’s man.” Mesoraco – ranked as the 16th-best prospect in the game by Baseball America and the second-best catcher (behind Jesus Montero of the Mariners, which is highly debatable if you ask me) – will platoon with Ryan Hanigan this season, but Mesoraco is believed to be a future star. It’s going to be fun to watch him in his first full season of action at the Big League level. The 23-year-old Mesoraco batted .289 with 15 HRs and 71 RBIs in Triple-A last year (OPS of .855). He got called up in September and had a cup of coffee with the Reds, batting .180 with two homers and six RBIs in 18 games.