The 2010 baseball season is upon us and that means it's prediction time.
The consensus on the Cincinnati Reds is sleeper status. They have the potential to make a run with their abundance of young talent. On the other hand, a injury here or there and the Reds will be lucky to break the horrid streak of nine straight years finishing below .500.
The problem is there are too many questions.
What if Aroldis Chapman and his 100 mph fastball are called up in June and he takes the National League by storm?
What if Jay Bruce lives up to the sky-high expectations set for him as a 20-year-old rookie?
What if Aaron Harang bounces back from a disgusting 12-31 mark over the past two years?
What if Mike Leake makes fans forget about Chapman as he shows his critics why he's the first pitcher since the '80s to skip the minor leagues completely?
Veteran skipper and ex-big league player Dusty Baker leads the Reds. Plenty of fans in Cincinnati can't wait for the toothpick-toting, armband-wearing manger to be fired. He still carries the "kills young pitching" rep that unjustly followed him from the Chicago Cubs.
He does tinker with the lineup a bit much in regards to always trying to match righties and lefties, but other than that, he has not been the issue in his two years at the helm for the Reds. He hasn't killed any young arms and has done a magnificent job juggling the innings of the No. 3 ranked bullpen.
Francisco Cordero has been the key cog in allowing fans to relax with a one-run lead. He had 39 saves in 43 chances last year, was the only All-Star for the team, and he is the vocal Latino leader in the clubhouse. He is the veteran presence that keeps the likes of young guns Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez grounded and focused.
Combine Cordero with Nick Masset and Arthur Rhodes, and the seventh, eighth, and ninth are in good hands with a lead.
When talking about starting pitching, the biggest question is Harang. I detailed the possibilities here. Long story short, he is possible of anywhere from five to 15 wins—same goes for the amount of losses.
We all know what Bronson Arroyo brings: about a .500 record with a few gems and a few atomic bomb outings. He has never missed a start since high school and will more than likely continue the trend.
The 24-year-old Johnny Cueto was on fire in '09 till the Civil Rights game against the White Sox in mid-June.
He was sporting a 2.17 ERA up until that point. Then the wheels slowly fell off, culminating in allowing nine runs in 2/3 of an inning against the Phillies. Just like that, his ERA jumped to 3.45.
This is the year to see if he can maintain success over the grind of 162 games. He didn't pitch in winter ball and should be able to finally reach the 200-inning plateau after falling about 30 innings short the past two campaigns.
Homer Bailey is also 24. He is also badly needed for the Reds to be successful. Everyone knows about his dominating 6-1 finish to the season—but let's not forget that four of those were against the lowly Pirates.
So, he is still a wild card in my mind. Adding the split-fingered fastball is what most media credit his late season success to. In reality, he only threw the pitch an average of three or four times a game. The jury is still out.
And then there is the new college grad Mike Leake. Boy, oh boy, did he steal Chapman's thunder or what? The Reds No. 1 pick in last year's draft has been flawless to this point.
But I can't say he will be anything better than mediocre considering all the adjustments he will have to make. I know he dominated in the spring, but that's a whole different ballgame. No more minor league hitters getting their reps. No more star Major Leaguers caught off guard by the lack of tape viewed on a new pitcher.
I can see Chapman taking his spot right around June 1. Chapman will blaze through the National League and finish strong. Leake will be back late in the season after a few months of fine-tuning his pitching approach.
The lineup looks good on paper, but that doesn't mean a thing especially when there isn't a sure leadoff hitter.
OF Drew Stubbs and OF Chris Dickerson will swap all year in the leadoff role. Baker is hoping that one of them will emerge as the clear-cut choice. My money is on Stubbs due to his power, but don't count out the superb defense that Dickerson contributes on a nightly basis.
Newly acquired SS Orlando Cabrera quietly hit .171 in the Spring.
Cause for concern, or just another "ehh, it's only Spring training?"
We do know he has a superior glove but it remains to be seen if he can hit in that .275 range required by a good No. 2 guy. I have a bad feeling he won’t. The 35-year-old's bat speed has looked very slow.
1B Joey Votto, 2B Brandon Phillips, and 3B Scott Rolen are the three locks on the squad. You know what to expect by looking at the back of their baseball cards.
They will not be the reason the Reds continue their losing ways in 2010.
If anything, this is the year Votto becomes a household name with a 35 HR, 100-plus RBI, and .320 batting average season. Watch out for the aging Rolen on the injury front.
The other big question mark in '10 is OF Jay Bruce, as documented here. No way can the Reds survive with Bruce hitting in the .220s, but a .260 average with about 35 HR and a decent OPS will do wonders for this lineup. Remember the guy is only 22.
The bottom of the order will be filled with OF Johnny Gomes and OF Laynce Nix. Both have decent power, but need to cut down on the strikeouts. For a team tight on payroll like the Reds, this option will have to do.
Last but not least C Ramon Hernandez will bat eighth. He is a guy that will provide support for all the young pitchers while probably batting .265 in the process. For the Reds, that is all you can ask for from a catcher.
So what does it all mean? The overwhelming trend is that this team is young at key positions. Bruce, Bailey, Cueto, Stubbs, and Leake are all under the age of 24. This means the future is very bright in the Queen City. But this year? Not so much.
As the Reds continue their push to finally have a winning record, they ultimately will fall just a bit short. The depth on the bench is great in the pitching department and awful in the batting lineup. When journeyman Miguel Cairo makes the team after he had all but written himself off? Not a good sign. Paul Janish and Ryan Hannigan? Meh.
I am very intrigued with 3B/OF Juan Francisco. While he has an awful career K/BB rate, his raw power is exciting to watch. He hit .429 in 21 AB after a late September call-up so he has the potential to consistently get base knocks. Watch for him to force his way into the starting lineup by August.
Ultimately, the Reds record will be 79-83 and they will just fall short of breaking the nine-year losing streak.
G.M. Walt Jocketty is laying the bricks, but the concrete is still drying.
The weak bench will hurt when a key offensive injury occurs. Harang will be trade bait as the Reds look to unload the overpaid ($12.5M), one-time ace.
Hate to say it Reds fans, but "wait 'til next year."