Reds Spring Training quick hits

Reds Spring Training quick hits

2006 record
80-82, third place, National League Central

Projected batting order
1. RF Ryan Freel:
  .271 BA, 8 HR, 27 RBI in 2006
2. 1B Scott Hatteberg:
  .289 BA, 13 HR, 51 RBI in 2006
3. CF Ken Griffey Jr.:
  .252 BA, 27 HR, 72 RBI in 2006
4. 3B Edwin Encarnacion:
  .276 BA, 15 HR, 72 RBI in 2006
5. LF Adam Dunn:
  .234 BA, 40 HR, 92 RBI in 2006
6. 2B Brandon Phillips:
  .276 BA, 17 HR, 75 RBI in 2006
7. C David Ross:
  .255 BA, 21 HR, 52 RBI in 2006
8. SS Alex Gonzalez:
  .255 BA, 9 HR, 50 RBI in 2006

Projected rotation
1. Aaron Harang, 16-11, 3.76 ERA in 2006
2. Bronson Arroyo, 14-11, 3.29 in 2006
3. Kyle Lohse, 5-10, 5.83 in 2006
4. Eric Milton, 8-8, 5.19 in 2006
5. Kirk Saarloos, 7-7, 4.75 in 2006

Projected bullpen
Closer: David Weathers, 12 saves, 3.54 ERA in 2006
RH setup man: Todd Coffey , 3.58 ERA in 2006
LH setup man: Mike Stanton, 3.99 ERA in 2006

The new guys
SS Alex Gonzalez: Signed to a three-year, $14 million contract as a free agent, Gonzalez should address one of Cincinnati's big shortcomings from 2006 -- defense. The 29-year-old is considered one of the best fielding shortstops in the game and should form a pretty dynamic double-play combo with second baseman Phillips. For a Reds staff that lacks strikeout pitchers, a stronger defense up the middle will be a plus from past seasons.

OF/1B Jeff Conine: Acquired in a December trade with the Phillies, the Reds felt that Conine filled the right-handed-hitter void created when Rich Aurilia left as a free agent. The right-handed Conine can play both corner outfield positions and can spell lefty-hitting Hatteberg at first base. Conine is strong against right-handed pitching, too, which could have manager Jerry Narron mixing and matching him into the lineup in different ways.

LHP Mike Stanton: Signed to a two-year, $5.5 million deal, Stanton will likely join Weathers in sharing some ninth-inning save situations. The left-hander is versatile enough that he can work in the middle innings, do setup work or close. The 39-year-old also has big-game experience with a 2.10 ERA in 53 postseason appearances.

RHP Kirk Saarloos: Acquired in a late January trade from Oakland, Saarloos is a viable fifth-starter candidate but could also come out of the bullpen. A sinkerball pitcher that keeps the ball on the ground, he could mitigate some of the dangers of pitching in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park.

Prospects to watch
RHP Homer Bailey: The clamoring for Bailey to be promoted to the Majors will only intensify at Spring Training. The 2004 first-round pick is the first legitimate Reds premier pitching prospect in years, and fans are drooling. After beginning 2006 in high Class A, he had no adjustment issues in Double-A and often dominated hitters. Cincinnati, which has been slow and deliberate with Bailey's development, will give him an outside chance to make the rotation. He will likely begin 2007 in Triple-A, but the 20-year-old right-hander won't stay long if he continues to impress.

1B Joey Votto: Playing for Double-A Chattanooga last season, Votto led the Southern League with a .319 average and was its Most Valuable Player. The 23-year-old had 22 homers and 77 RBIs and also led the league in hits (162), doubles (46), on-base percentage (.408), slugging percentage (.547), extra-base hits (70), total bases (278), runs scored (85) and walks (78). He's probably another season away from the Majors but could use the camp to turn some more heads.

Returning from injury
Ken Griffey Jr.: A dislocated right toe limited Griffey to just two pinch-hit at-bats over the Reds' final 24 games. Although that is not expected to be an issue, all eyes will now be on the 37-year-old's left hand that was broken during a home accident in late December. The Reds expect the hand to be fully healed by the time camp opens.

Eddie Guardado: The lefty closer was eight out of 10 in save chances with a 1.29 ERA in 15 appearances after his July 6 trade from Seattle. Then he blew out his elbow on Aug. 19 and underwent Tommy John surgery in September. Not expected to be ready until June at the earliest, Guardado will be continuing his rehabilitation and working out with the club as a non-roster player under a Minor League contract.

Paul Wilson: The right-handed starter will also be in camp as a non-roster player and trying to work his way back from shoulder surgery. Wilson has not pitched in the Majors since June 2005, and endured several setbacks during the rehabilitation process last season.

On the rebound
Adam Dunn: Considering that he hit 40 home runs for the third consecutive year in 2006, it sounds funny to say Dunn had a disappointing season. But he had a .234 average and 92 RBIs with a Major League-high 194 strikeouts last season. He hit no homers after Sept. 8, and drove in no runs after Sept. 19. The club hopes that working with new hitting coach Brook Jacoby will benefit Dunn.

Long gone
Rich Aurilia: The jack-of-all-trades infielder and the Reds' best hitter last season found an everyday job and a two-year contract with his original team, the Giants. The offense could miss Aurilia's contributions and will hope that Conine can pick up the slack. If non-roster player Mark Bellhorn can make the club, the Reds will have another veteran that can play every infield position.

Brandon Claussen: The left-handed starter did not pitch after June 16 because of a throwing shoulder injury that required surgery in August. The Reds designated Claussen for assignment and did not tender him a contract. He signed a Minor League deal with the Nationals.

2006 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Aurilia, .300
OBP: Hatteberg, .389
SLG: Ross, .579
Runs: Dunn, 99
RBIs: Dunn, 92
Hits: Phillips, 148
2B: Encarnacion, 33
3B: Freel, 2
HR: Dunn, 40
SB: Freel, 37
2006 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Arroyo, 240 2/3
W: Harang, 16
L: Harang/Arroyo, 11
Win %: Matt Belisle, 1.000
S: Weathers, 12
ERA: Rheal Cormier, 2.44
K: Harang, 216
K/9: Harang, 8.30
WHIP: Arroyo, 1.19

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

Who will be the closer, or will it be the dreaded "by committee" system again?
With Guardado not expected to be available until mid-season, the Reds have several candidates for the ninth inning but no overwhelming favorites. Heading into camp, Weathers and Stanton appear to be the guys most likely to share closer duties. Bill Bray, Coffey and possibly Cormier could also be in the mix. POLL
Which position should Ken Griffey Jr. play this season?
Center field
Right field

Will Griffey remain the Reds' center fielder, or make the move to right field?
The Reds have asked Griffey, a center fielder his entire career, to be open-minded over the winter about switching spots, and he appears to be willing to consider it. The club's belief is that playing right field would preserve Griffey's oft-injured legs and keep him healthier and in the lineup more. Griffey maintains the wear-and-tear is the same wherever he plays. The follow-up to this question is who would play center field if Griffey moved? Freel and Chris Denorfia would be the leading in-house candidates. But Freel's constant all-out style of play takes a toll on his body, too, and Denorfia has yet to break through and show he can play every day in the Majors.

Who will be the Reds' fifth starter?
There appears to be no shortage of candidates. Saarloos could be the leading contender but is versatile enough to work out of the bullpen, too. Belisle, who posted strong numbers starting in Puerto Rico during winter ball, likely had the inside track until Saarloos arrived. Elizardo Ramirez will be in the mix along with non-roster invite Victor Santos and left-handers Bobby Livingston and Phil Dumatrait. One wild card will be Bailey if he has a dominant spring. But heading into camp, the Reds seem to be leaning towards starting Bailey in Triple-A.

The bottom line
A surprising playoff chase late into last season brought hope to Cincinnati for the first time in years. Some of the fan optimism faded over the winter when National League Central rivals spent big and added big names. The Reds avoided adding big names but continued their ongoing efforts of trying to shore up the pitching and defense.

This spring, the Reds front office and coaching staff will continue to drive home its core philosophy of fundamental team play and doing the little things to win. It was an inability to execute on the finer points of the game that undid Cincinnati, especially down the stretch last season.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.