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Optimism abounds in Reds camp

Optimism abounds in Reds camp

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- While teams around baseball scurried to make additions in the early months of the Hot Stove season, Reds general manager Walt Jocketty held steady and kept waiting.

It quietly started in December, when Scott Rolen's contract was renegotiated and extended for two additional seasons through 2012. It freed up about $6 million to make other moves.

The biggest stunner was signing Cuban pitcher Aroldis Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million deal in January. By February, the Reds added free-agent shortstop Orlando Cabrera, unloaded center fielder Willy Taveras and, on the day before camp, the power-hitting piece of the puzzle returned when Jocketty re-signed free agent Jonny Gomes.

Those transactions, and the existing growth of the younger players in-house, brought some extra buzz to the first Reds camp held in Arizona.

In his 36th season in professional baseball, the 59-year-old Jocketty became GM of the Reds on April 23, 2008. Earlier this week, on the deck overlooking the new Goodyear complex, he discussed his club and his thoughts about the upcoming season.

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MLB.com: With Mike Leake having no professional experience, were you surprised he put himself in position to be a finalist for the fifth spot?

Jocketty: Nope. I'll tell you why. When we drafted him last year, we drafted him with the idea that he'll come fast -- not necessarily this fast. He pitched well enough in the [Arizona] Fall League. He's pitched at a very high level in college competition. He's done a lot of things. Would we like to see him out pitching in a five-man rotation for a while? Sure. We could probably control that at the Major League level, too.

MLB.com: How has Aroldis Chapman handled himself in camp with all the attention, the questions and the learning curve?

Jocketty: I think he's done well. Like Dusty [Baker] said early on, the fact he doesn't understand English has probably helped somewhat with not realizing all the hype that's been going on. He's done extremely well. I'm very happy. He's progressing some with his English. You can say a few things to him.

MLB.com: How much do you take into consideration where Chapman starts the season with all of the external stuff besides baseball?

Jocketty: A lot. I think that's something we're still going to meet on, depending on where we send him and where is the best place to send him to get started.

MLB.com: Are you happy in general with the level of competition you've had in this camp? It seems to be one of the deeper camps here in years.

Jocketty: I have been. The toughest thing we've faced in the past week -- I've met several times with Dusty and his staff and my staff -- is trying to figure out the final pieces of the puzzle. There's so much competition, so much talent that there are plusses and minuses for each person we're considering, whether it's the bullpen, rotation or the bench.

MLB.com: Is there a point where you wonder where the runs come from? It hasn't been a good spring for hitting.

Jocketty: We've had a few guys that we'll rely on during the season that haven't had great camps. I don't think Brandon [Phillips] will hit under .200 this year. I don't think Rolen will hit like he has. I'm not that concerned right now. If we get a week or two into the season and it's like that, then I will be concerned.

MLB.com: If the Reds are competitive into the summer, do you have the ability and clearance to make additional moves and add players if needed? Or does everything you have for the whole season already have to be here in camp?

Jocketty: I think if we're in position to do something during the year, we'll find a way to do it. We've been pretty creative so far. As long as I can keep Bob [Castellini] happy.

MLB.com: After the year Jay Bruce had last season, how important is it for him to be a more complete hitter this season?

Jocketty: I think that's one of the guys I think will be a big part of our offense this year. If he continues to grow like he did at the end of the year and improve, he should have a very good year. I think he played at the end of the year like we thought he's capable of doing. I think with these young guys, the more they play, the more experience they get, the better they're going to get. He's certainly one that falls into that category.

SHAPING UP THE SCHEDULE
Early schedule
The Reds have a pretty tough schedule right out of the gate. In the first month, they play the defending NL Central champion Cardinals twice and also play the Cubs, Marlins and Dodgers.

A fast start could be a confidence boost as the Reds seek their first winning season since 2000.

Interleague Play
at Indians (May 21-23); vs. Royals (June 11-13); at Mariners (June 18-20); at A's (June 21-24); vs. Indians (June 25-27)

Key home dates:
May 14-16 . vs. Cardinals, (Civil Rights Game on May 15)
June 28-30 . vs. Phillies
Aug. 27-29 . vs. Cubs

MLB.com: Is this a team built to win right away or down the line? Is it both?

Jocketty: We're trying to build a team that will be competitive for a long period of time. Part of that is building with young players from the organization. But you have to supplement that with veteran, experienced players that will help lead the way, so to speak. The guys we've added are all strong character guys and quality players that have been through the championship wars and know what it's like. To answer the question, it's a club built to contend this year, and hopefully in the years to come.

MLB.com: What do you consider, for this year, to be an acceptable outcome to the season? Is it focused solely on the playoffs, or is a winning season where it starts?

Jocketty: I don't want to make predictions. I don't want to say "If we don't get into the playoffs, it's disappointing." I want to say "If we play the way we're capable of playing, and stay competitive, I think we'll have a very good year, a successful year." When we get towards the end, we'll see what happens. The idea is to keep the team in contention going into September. It's a big month where you can break loose and take the finish line. Obviously, we'd like to have a winning season. That is first and foremost. It's been a long time.

MLB.com: Do you sense the frustration from fans, especially talking to them on caravans and Redsfest, over how long it's been?

Jocketty: Yeah, but I also sense they are very excited about this team and the direction this organization is going. I think they're probably impatient because they haven't won in a while. As long as they see some progress and a chance to keep getting better, I think they will be happy. That's what it's going to take to get our fan base back. We're going to have to be competitive for a long period of time, not just one year. You have to prove to them you are going in the right direction.

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

{"content":["opening_day" ] }
{"content":["opening_day" ] }