Votto Plans to Play for Canada in WBC
The long baseball season has already started for the players as every team prepares for opening day. Cincinnati doesn’t expect a lot of turnover from their 97-win season last year but they will spend the next few weeks making final decisions for the opening day roster. Everyone enters the spring with a few questions and here are the answers the Reds have gotten thus far.
A poor spring training record is not necessarily alarming. The Reds, Nationals, and Braves all had losing pre-seasons last year and came back with the three best regular season records in the NL. Conversely the Padres and Mariners came into last season with winning exhibition seasons and both lost more than 90. Toronto had a pristine spring training record one year ago before losing 89. The purpose of Cactus League games isn’t as much about winning as preparation. All teams have long rosters and make frequent substitutions as players vie for the last remaining opening day spots.
Since the Reds return the bulk of their personnel there doesn’t figure to be many jobs up for grabs. There are some questions on the final spots in the infield and bullpen with multiple candidates working to make the trip northward. As far as the performance of regulars is concerned, come opening day, spring training stats can be forgotten regardless of how good or bad they were.
Cincinnati fans will hope that this year’s spring is not a harbinger of things to come as the Reds currently have the worst record of all NL clubs at 4-11. Right now they are sharing the bottom of the Cactus League standings with their opening day opponent, the Angels. They had the day off on Monday before hosting the Dodgers on Tuesday.
There are almost seventy Reds players at camp right now and many of them do not figure into their MLB plans in the upcoming year. Below are a dozen questions they were looking to answer as they prepare for the season:
1. How is Joey Votto’s knee? He has one home run in spring training, his first dinger since he injured it last June. He won the NL MVP in 2010 and was atop the candidate list for another one last season before going on the DL. This spring he’s once again getting on base, going 7-18 with five walks. He also feels healthy enough to play for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.
2. How is Aroldis Chapman adjusting to the rotation? He has only two appearances and one start thus far, giving him four innings pitched. Opponents have gotten one run and three hits during that time while he’s struck out two. With his strikeout rate last season there probably weren’t many stretches where he had only two K’s over four innings, but key to his transition is learning to tone down the power a bit and pace himself. Command is more important for any starter, which he had plenty of last year; the previous year, well, not so much. He’s walked only one thus far.
3. How is Shin-Soo Choo adjusting to center field? The former Indian went 4-4 on Sunday to raise his preseason average to .421. Based on past history there aren’t many doubts on his ability to provide be a legitimate leadoff hitter. In the field he hasn’t made an error yet and though PO/game are misleading because players rarely play full games, his six putouts give him a rate over two per nine innings.
4. Is Jonathan Broxton still an effective closer at this stage of his career? The big right-hander has allowed only one hit, a walk and no runs in three appearances.
5. Is 2013 the year that Devin Mesoraco takes the next step toward MLB performance that was expected before his rookie season last year? Mesoraco has started strong, going 6-15 (.400) with a couple of homers. Some felt that Miguel Olivo might challenge for the backup catching job to begin the season, but the veteran is 2-17 with one home run.
6. Who’s gaining an advantage for the final infield spot? If spring training performance will be influential on this decision it’s still a highly competitive race. Cesar Izturis is hitting .320 with a homer and is tied for the team lead with six RBI. Jason Donald and Emmanuel Burris are hitting .300 and .320 respectively. Donald may have the inside track since all the spots on the Reds 40-man roster are full and he has one of them. However, veteran Nick Masset has one too and he’s expected to return to the DL to begin the season which could make another one available. Kristopher Negron is currently 5-10. Rookie Henry Rodriguez has gone 8-20.
7. Who gets the final bullpen spot? They are likely some preferences for veteran Manny Parra to provide another southpaw as a lefty specialist. He’s given up seven hits and three earned runs over six plus innings. He’s also struck out five without a walk. J.J. Hoover wouldn’t have a problem landing a job on another team that wasn’t so deep in the bullpen. He’s allowed one run in four appearances and would be making plans to begin in Cincinnati this year if more than one of the other returning relievers threw left-handed. Southpaw Tony Cingrani has allowed four runs in four innings. Clay Hensley might be heading to Louisville, but it doesn’t appear the veteran has given up while tossing seven innings with only one run and a 0.57 WHIP.
8. How is 2014 CF/leadoff heir apparent Billy Hamilton developing? Hamilton has perhaps been the biggest disappointment thus far, going 2-18 with eight strikeouts. He was expected to head down the road to Louisville anyway and will work on his contact in the International League. In the field he’s made no errors with ten putouts in 38 innings (2.37 PO per nine) at his new position.
9. Is Johnny Cueto ready for opening day? Cueto’s injury to end last season wasn’t considered serious, but it sure changed the complexion of the team’s post season run. He’s allowed five earned runs in nine innings thus far and after his most recent outing he commented that he was rushing his delivery. It will be more important for him to use the next three weeks to tweak it instead of worrying about his ERA. In 2011 he was hit hard in a minor league rehab after opening the season on the DL and came back to post a 2.31 ernie over the remainder of the season.
10. What about Mike Leake? He has two starts, giving up only one run in five innings.
11. Will Xavier Paul hold onto the final outfield spot? Derrick Robinson and Paul are hitting about the same (.278/.261). Paul is already on the 40-man and his performance after making it to Cincinnati last season and it will probably earn a spot on the active roster come opening day.
12. Which Logan Ondrusek is at spring training? The big right-hander was a dominant reliever last year until late July. He finished with an unexpected trip to Louisville and a near-five ERA over his last fourteen appearances and missed out on the post season roster. He’s allowed only one run in four innings, but he’s also walked three and given up five hits.
Another top priority is to finish with everyone healthy to begin the season. Jay Bruce and Choo have reported some minor leg injuries but both have since returned to action. Pending the final decision on Chapman, the rotation is set and Cueto is the only member of it to throw more than five innings thus far.
Every team will have at least a few questions entering spring training. The Reds are coming off a 97-win campaign and entered it with all key roles set. They will want the regulars to get enough action to be sharp come opening day. After that it’s all hand on deck as Cincinnati goes for their third division crown in four years and a deep postseason run in 2013.