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Reds gearing up for postseason success in '13

Reds gearing up for postseason success in '13

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Reds gearing up for postseason success in '13
CINCINNATI -- Now that the calendar is flipping to a new year, the offseason is more than half over and it's just about time to think about Spring Training.

Many can't wait for the Reds to get started, so they can take care of unfinished business.

While there is a lot to like about the Reds heading into 2013, there are 10 key questions that will need to be answered during the season.

1. How smooth will the transition from closer to starter be for Aroldis Chapman?
The Reds haven't figured out an innings or starts limit for Chapman, as they try to put him in the rotation. But they know this much: Having someone like Chapman go from 71 innings to over 150 innings in one season will require both care and creativity to keep him from wearing out or getting injured.

General manager Walt Jocketty, manager Dusty Baker and pitching coach Bryan Price have long felt the Reds could have a dominant No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the Cuban lefty. The only way Cincinnati will truly know is if it tries him out. Just how it goes about achieving that remains one very large unknown.

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2. Is Votto 100 percent?
First baseman Joey Votto, the team's best hitter, returned in September from a left knee injury that required two surgeries and cost him 48 games on the disabled list. Votto wasn't 100 percent when he rejoined the lineup, and had no homers and seven RBIs over his final 25 regular season games. He batted .389 (7-for-18) with no RBIs in the National League Division Series.

Votto has been pleased with his offseason rehab, but as of Redsfest on Dec. 7, had not resumed baseball activity. His run production and power will be needed in the third spot in the lineup for the Reds to be successful.

3. Can Choo play center field?
The Reds satisfied their need for a leadoff hitter by pulling off a three-team trade that brought corner outfielder Shin-Soo Choo over from the Indians on Dec. 11. While Reds leadoff men combined for a .208 average and .254 on-base percentage in 2012, Choo batted .310 with a .389 OBP when he led off for Cleveland last season. With Drew Stubbs going to the Indians in the deal, Choo will become the Reds' new center fielder. He'll be tackling a position he's played 10 times in the Majors, and not at all since 2009.

While Choo's defense isn't expected to be as good as what Stubbs provided, his ability to get on base and potentially get more runs scored could offset that.

4. Will the rotation be as strong, or stronger, than it was in 2012?
A lot of that could depend on Chapman, but it also falls on the other starters to keep building on what they did last season. Johnny Cueto was a 19-game winner and demonstrated he is a worthy ace. Mat Latos overcame early inconsistencies and showed he can be dominant. Latos' immaturity came through, however, in a Game 5 implosion during the NLDS and must be curbed. Bronson Arroyo was healthy and deceptive to hitters, as he bounced back from a subpar 2011, and Homer Bailey seemed to put it all together -- especially when he threw a no-hitter near the end of the season.

While his spot could be jeopardized by Chapman's addition, Mike Leake was told he was still in the team's plans. Leake could figure prominently, at times, if someone gets hurt or if Chapman needs to be dialed back or shut down to preserve his arm.

Having all five starters being healthy and able to make 30 starts -- and four starters with 200 innings, like in 2012 -- will a tough feat to repeat. But the Reds will likely go as far as the rotation's success allows them to in 2013.

5. How will Broxton perform as the closer?
Once the Reds decided to try Chapman as a starter, they needed a new closer. They went with a familiar face in Jonathan Broxton, whom the club acquired from the Royals on July 31 with this offseason transition in mind. Broxton, a free agent, was re-signed to a three-year, $21 million contract.

Over an eight-year career with the Dodgers, Royals and Reds, Broxton has 111 saves. That included 27 last season, including going 4-for-4 for Cincinnati while Chapman was out with shoulder fatigue.

6. Can Ludwick do it again?
Left fielder Ryan Ludwick signed with the Reds last winter as a free agent and revived his career. Ludwick, who made $2.5 million, was a relative bargain, as he batted .275 with 26 home runs and 80 RBIs. While Votto was out, he batted .340 with 12 homers and also added to the clubhouse chemistry with his leadership.

Just after the Winter Meetings, Ludwick was re-signed to a two-year, $15 million contract, with a mutual option for 2015. His swing seemed to fit Great American Ball Park well, and now the Reds are hoping he can back up his comeback season with another solid one.

7. Can Frazier also do it again?
Whether Scott Rolen returns or retires, it appears that the regular third-base job belongs to Todd Frazier after his stellar rookie season in 2012. Frazier batted .273 with 19 home runs and 67 RBIs in 128 games, while playing mostly third base when Rolen was injured or at first base for Votto.

Frazier's defense isn't yet at the Gold Glove standard Rolen set throughout his career, but he didn't hurt the team, either. Regardless, after years at different positions in the Majors and Minors, Frazier now has a spot to call home. It will be up to him to deliver like he did so often last season.

8. Does Bruce keep getting better?
Right fielder Jay Bruce set career bests last season in home runs (34), RBIs (99), slugging percentage (.514) and doubles (35), while winning his first NL Silver Slugger Award. He is also the first player in Major League history to hit 20 homers as a rookie (in 2008) and increase that total in each of the next four seasons. So what's next?

Bruce's No. 1 goal has long been to be more consistent. He was still prone to follow a major hot streak with a profound swoon at the plate. If he can shorten his cold periods, Bruce can become very dangerous for the Reds.

9. Will Billy Hamilton get called up?
It's highly unlikely that Hamilton -- the Reds' top prospect, basestealing savant and newly converted center fielder -- would reach the Majors early in the 2013 season. But could he be summoned to help during a stretch run? That's entirely possible. Hamilton, who stole a pro baseball record 155 bases in 2012, must be protected on the 40-man roster after the season anyway, so jumping the gun by a couple of months with a September callup isn't unreasonable. Plus, he could be useful as a pinch-runner, or step in if something happens to Choo.

10. Can the Reds not only repeat, but go further?
That's on the mind of all Reds -- and Reds fans. Winning two division titles in three years isn't enough after harsh NLDS exits. October's heartbreak, coupled with the upgrades made this offseason, have Cincinnati positioning itself to not just win its division, but do so with designs on going far in the postseason.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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