The defending NL Central champs return pretty much their entire team from last season. That team includes the NL MVP, Joey Votto, a solid pitching staff and a live-armed rookie reliever named Aroldis Chapman.
Cincinnati’s roster is littered with talented young players like Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez, Chapman, Travis Wood, and Johnny Cueto to name a few. They also feature 3 of MLB.com’s Top 50 propsects (Chapman, Devin Mesoraco, and Yonder Alonso). The future is bright for this franchise.
Best case scenario: The Reds solidify themselves as the team to beat in the NL Central. Jay Bruce finds some consistency and teams with Votto as a powerful duo in Cincinnati’s line up. Scott Rolen returns to his pre-All Star break 2010 form and Paul Janish locks down the shortstop position. In this ideal scenario, Cincinnati would win the NL Central again and make some noise in the playoffs.
Most valuable player: Joey Votto, the reigning NL MVP, is the obvious choice here. His exploits from last season include; the highest on-base percentage (.424) by a Reds first baseman in history, he was the first Reds player since George Foster in 1977 to lead the NL in OPS, and had the ninth-highest OPS+ in NL history for a first baseman age-26 or younger. Another player who should at least be mentioned here is Brandon Phillips, he has model of consistency since coming over from Cleveland. Phillips has averaged 21 homers, 80 RBI, 24 steals and a .275 batting average per season.
Potential breakout players: Aroldis Chapman boasts a 100+ mph heater and a nasty slider. He will open 2011 as the Reds primary set-up man and could have a monster strikeout season. He gave fans a glimpse of what he could do during a 15-game stint last year when he posted a 2.03 ERA 1.05 WHIP and 12.83 strikeouts per 9 innings. Other players to keep an eye on include Mike Leake, Travis Wood, Devin Mesoraco, and Yonder Alonso.
Worst case scenario: Another NL Central team is going to make a run at the Reds. If Cincinnati does not win the division and return to the playoffs the season will ultimately be viewed as a disappointment. Can the Reds live with the high expectations and a bullseye on their back?
Biggest area of concern: The health of Scott Rolen and the fact that Cincinnati is relying on Dontrelle Willis to provide some stability in their bullpen. I’ll discuss Rolen more in the next section. Willis is a great guy, but has been a train-wreck on the hill since 2007. From 2007-2010 Willis posted a combined ERA of 5.80 and I’m not sure how much he can be relied upon. Willis himself doesn’t seem so sure. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports this exchange with the erratic hurler; Dontrelle Willis laughed heartily upon being asked if he could make the transition from starter to reliever. “Well, I hope so,” Willis said Tuesday, between chuckles and a huge smile.
Player who needs to rebound from a down 2010: Scott Rolen needs to bounce back from a brutal second half last season in which he hit just 3 homers. Watch for Dusty Baker to rest Rolen more often in an attempt to keep him fresh for the entire season. The 8-time Gold Glove winner is a key ingredient on this team and when he is bashing like he did pre-All Star break last year, the Reds are really good.
Be sure to check out our Spring Training Central where we put the “i-ball” on all 30 MLB teams