SARASOTA, Fla. --- Often during Spring Training and the regular season, Reds manager Dusty Baker has his 10-year-old son, Darren, near his side. Baker also has a daughter under 30. He often says he believes that youthful presence in his personal life serves him well at work while relating to today's players. It will definitely be a good test for how in tune Baker is with younger generations. The Reds are loaded with a bevy of 20-somethings and rely more on its Minor League development than the club has in many years. The 59-year-old Baker is in his second season in Cincinnati after the club finished 74-88 during his first year. During a lunch break in his office recently, Baker talked with MLB.com about Spring Training and the season ahead.
MLB.com: When you got here, you told the players you wanted to be the most fundamental, most mistake-free team and work on the little things. How's that going so far? Dusty Baker: We're on the way. We've got some young players here, some young Minor League players, too, that we're trying to get this throughout the system, not just here. We've been pretty good. We stress it every day -- get the signs, hit the cutoff man, stay alert and be in the game and expect the unexpected. So far the guys have been doing it and we're going to have to do it to win. We stress defense... the really good teams I've been on, you don't give away outs. It will help our pitching. The defense will prevent our pitchers from having to face extra guys and instead of taking them into the seventh, I'd have to get him in the sixth. MLB.com: It probably drove you nuts then last season with all the extra outs that were given away? Baker: Yeah, we gave away some outs. And it transferred to the pitchers where they think they had to strike out everybody. Now, I can see the difference in the mindset and attitude where they can throw strikes and if they keep it in the ballpark, we're going to get outs. MLB.com: Would you take your rotation's top four against anyone in the National League? Are you satisfied with that crew? Baker: I haven't seen everybody in the National League, No. 1, to see what they have. But they're coming. Volquez, you hope he'll repeat or get better than he was last year. You know Aaron Harang is definitely going to get better. There's a good chance Arroyo will be consistent and get 14-15 wins and 200 innings every year. Cueto, you hope he gets better and learns from last year. He's still very young. I wouldn't put us up against everybody yet but we're coming. That's the talk around when we talk to other people. They give you an opinion and almost everybody said they liked our pitching. If we throw quality strikes and pitch more effectively, then we have a chance to be one of the best. You have to do it before you can say it. Then you have to do it again.
MLB.com: With the fifth starter battle, are you happy with the depth of competition?
Baker: Big time. I see Homer Bailey's progress. I see Micah Owings coming back from where he was. Nick Masset, we'd like to see him calm down. He definitely has the stuff. Then you look at the other guys coming behind them rather quickly -- Ramon Ramirez, Matt Maloney, Ben Jukich, Daryl Thompson, Jordan Smith -- we've got some guys up there that can potentially be very good.
MLB.com: With Homer Bailey, have you noticed the personality change others have noticed?
Baker: Yeah. There's a calmness, a confidence and a maturity level. You hope a young man matures. That's what you want from guys. Nobody hardly stays the same from year to year. Every year makes a big difference in a person. Plus, success breeds confidence and confidence breeds, most of the time, not a different personality but how your personality really is. Sometimes when you're not doing well, you tend to be defensive and protect yourself and your feelings. Sometimes, you tend to be offensive as a protective mechanism against hurt or pain.
MLB.com: With Joey Votto and Jay Bruce going into sophomore seasons, what would like to see in terms of their progress?
Baker: To me, it's more of a sophomore season for Votto than it is for Jay. Jay is still in his rookie season, kind of. You want Joey to stay on the path that he's on. Joey is probably more advanced right now than Jay because he's older and has more Minor League at-bats. His stroke is shorter. You want Jay, he'll be in the fifth spot of the lineup and hopefully I can leave him there. You want him to cut down on his strikeouts and at this point, they can trick Jay a little easier than Joey. Joey doesn't go out of the zone a lot. Jay, being young, expands his strike zone more. As soon as he stops expanding and gets most of the pitches in the zone, there's no telling what he can do.
MLB.com: Is there a lot of pressure on them to carry the burden of the run production?
Baker: I don't think there is more pressure on them. I don't put pressure on them. I just want them to be themselves. Everybody wants a finished product right away but it doesn't happen like that. There will still be ups and downs. But they can rely on the experience they had last year. There is no substitute for experience and they're both very confident. Joey has more of a quiet confidence because he's a quiet person. The fact that they're both friends, they play catch together every day and hang together. You like to see that closeness and hope they push each other similar to Cueto and Volquez. Friendly competition, there's nothing wrong with it as long as there is no envy or jealousy involved. I don't see that at all with those guys and hopefully we'll have them both for a long time.
MLB.com: What do you envision for left field -- one guy, two-person platoon, or a three-person platoon? What do you need to see from the candidates?
Baker: I've got interchangeable parts -- a lot of guys I can play out there. Some guys bring speed. Some guys bring power. Some guys bring defense. Some guys bring all of the above. You can never have too many good players. Jerry Hairston can platoon out there, can also pick up at shortstop or second base or right field. Jonny Gomes has tremendous power. Jacque Jones can play all three positions. Laynce Nix can play all three out there. Whoever does make it will be on call when we need them. It's perhaps the fleetest, most athletic outfield I've had in a long time. There isn't much that will drop out there. Chris Dickerson can play center field, Hairston can play center, Hopper can play center, Bruce can play there [and] so can Jones, Darnell McDonald and Nix. If I have to give Willy (Taveras) a day off, I have someone else I can insert or late in the game if I have to double switch.
MLB.com: What is your biggest concern heading into the season? Anything at all that worries you?
Baker: I'm not worried too much. Just health (knocking on wood) and probably the health of Alex Gonzalez as much as anything. We feel Eddie (Encarnacion) is going to have a breakout year. Brandon had a fair year last year and he wants to have a great year. I don't have as many concerns as a lot of people have.
MLB.com: What do you consider a successful season? Is it a World Series or nothing when you measure success today?
Baker: No, most of the time you don't go from eight losing seasons in a row to the playoffs. It can be done but first you have to win. No. 1, you've got to have a winning season and then once you're winning in September, depending on where you are in the standings and have a chance for the Wild Card or winning the division, but we have to win first.
MLB.com: You said earlier this spring that you wanted to manage to your personnel and this year you've got more speed. Do you feel good about what you have in place to do what you want to do?
Baker: I feel really good about it. We've got some budgetary constraints like everybody. But I think Walt did a good job giving us the best bang for our buck. We need a surprise guy or two. We need to have some good years and stay healthy. We're building this thing. It's not built yet but we're in the process. If anyone has ever built anything -- a home or a car or whatever -- it's exciting to build something and then see the results of your effort and work. You're also seeing guys that want to come to the Reds. Guys on other teams are saying 'Man, I wish I was there because you guys are having fun, working hard and look like a team. Then it gets easier to sign guys. Then it gets easier to re-sign guys.
An up-close look at the club as we approach Opening Day
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.