Cincinnati Reds pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training on Feb. 18 in Goodyear, Ariz. and I couldn’t be happier.
February is a tough month for sports fans. Sure, we have the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game, but not much else. Thankfully, Major League Baseball gets started in April.
The Reds have a few battles playing out in Spring Training that will impact the 2010 season. The biggest question marks include left field and the fifth starter. Can Cincinnati climb over the barrier that has held the franchise out of the postseason for the last 15 years?
The Reds are set in the outfield with young, promising players like Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce. The two should be mainstays in Cincinnati’s outfield for years to come, but who fills the gap in left?
Candidates include Chris Dickerson, Wladmir Balentien, Laynce Nix, Todd Frazier and Chris Heisey. Only Nix has recorded more than 350 at-bats in a season, so reliability is out of the window with this group. Frazier and Heisey have yet to appear in the Majors, though I expect the two to debut sooner than later.
Cincinnati left fielders hit a combined .240 in 2009, tied for the lowest average in the National League. Reds left fielders also owned the worst on-base percentage in the NL with a .302 mark.
I’m giving the edge to Dickerson because of his athleticism and ability to get on base (career .383 OBP in 128 games). Nix strikes out a ton and goes through stretches where he can’t get on base (.291 OBP in ’09).
The Reds have always dealt with a lack of talent in the fifth starter role. Cincinnati thought they found a great No. 5 when the Reds traded for Micah Owings in 2008. The only thing Owings brought to the club was his ability to pinch-hit, not pitching.
The Reds are pretty set with their top four spots, but No. 5 remains a question mark. Candidates include Owings, Justin Lehr, Travis Wood, Mike Leake, Matt Maloney and Aroldis Chapman.
Owings has the most experience after going 7-12 with a 5.37 ERA in ’09. Lehr started the season strong but faded due to injury and a tiring arm. Wood and Leake are intriguing because of their youth and amount of talent. Chapman is the obvious wildcard due to his raw talent and 100-mph fastball.
I see Lehr taking the job and Owings moving to the bullpen.
It’s been a long time since the Reds had such few holes. But how they fill them will determine their 2010 season.