2012 MLB Season Preview: Cincinnati Reds

3 of 3

2012 Cincinnati Reds Season Outlook

This is one of the most promising seasons in Cincinnati since the end of the Big Red Machine era. Irritated by how an optimistic 2011 season turned out, the Reds were very aggressive in the off-season, cutting ties with players who let them down, bringing in top talent in trades and free agency. There is no doubt this Reds team is built to win right now, not only the NL Central Division title, but a pennant. General Manager Walt Jocketty is bucking for executive of the year honors. On paper he leads the way.

Cincinnati has been one of the best hitting teams in the National League over the last couple of seasons and with a mostly intact lineup and some players seemingly on the verge of bust-out seasons, the Reds could be again. Joey Votto, with his bat, and Brandon Phillips with his all-around play and vocal demeanor, are the team leaders. Drew Stubbs has the potential to become a star if he can cut down on strikeouts. Jay Bruce is already there.

Younger players Chris Heisey, Zack Cozart, and Devin Mesoraco might emerge as starters, and if not, reliable back-ups. The Reds need Scott Rolen to bounce back from his injuries and play most of the year at third base. Either Ryan Hanigan or Mesoraco will be the everyday catcher. But manager Dusty Baker didn’t have to worry too much about the team he put in the field last season. It was the pitching staff that gave him ulcers.

The changes on the staff are significant and if they all prove out the Reds will definitely have a winning record and will be the favorites to capture the division. The arrival of Mat Latos from San Diego was huge. Latos moves to the front of the rotation and is being counted on as the No. 1 guy. He seems to have the goods to fill the role. At his best Johnny Cueto can be unhittable. Homer Bailey and Mike Leake can do the job.

Aroldis Chapman is the wild card. The Cuban defector with the 100 mph fastball has been babied for his couple of years in the majors, protected from overuse, used sparingly out of the bullpen. The organization has decided now is the time to see if he has the makings of a big-league starter. Chapman would be especially useful because as it stands the Reds have no lefties in the rotation. Throwing Chapman in would mix things up and with his blazing speed he could shake up opposing teams. This experiment is playing out in spring training right now.

Cincinnati also now has a bullpen that will make Baker smile. Closer Ryan Madson didn’t get what he was after on the free agent market after his relationship with the Phillies ruptured. So he signed a one-year deal with the Reds and he will get the ball in late-inning situations. The Reds also picked up Sean Marshall from the Cubs, who has found his niche as an excellent setup man. Better yet, the Reds have Logan Ondrusek, Jose Arredondo, Nick Massett, Sam LeCure and Bill Bray to choose from, as well, when the need arises. Sean Gallagher, who spent all of 2011 in AAA, is a candidate to bounce back to the majors.

This Reds team might benefit because their chief rivals have been weakened by free agent defections. Prince Fielder left the Brewers and Albert Pujols left the Cardinals. Those departures should help alter the balance of power in the division. If the Reds live up to expectations they should win the division and perhaps can drive all of the way to the National League pennant and earn the opportunity to play in the World Series.

2012 Cincinnati Reds Prospects To Watch

One of them is here now. Devin Mesoraco was the team’s top draft pick in 2007 and he is being counted on to at least share the regular catching spot with Ryan Hanigan. The better Mesoraco plays, the more he will play. Mesoraco got into 18 games with the Reds last year, but batted only .180. Clearly he will have to do better to earn the job.

Dominican Denis Phipps is hitting well in spring training and he could make the team as a back-up outfielder. He was hitting .360 in 12 games for Cincinnati in the sunshine league after batting .346 in AAA last year.

Infielder Didi Gregorious, who is from the Netherlands, is a renowned glove man, though he needs work on his hitting.

Way down on the farm in Class A, shortstop Billy Hamilton stole 103 bases for Dayton in the Midwest League at age 20 last year.

Find your team’s 2012 season preview or when it will be published here.

You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.