Catching up with the Cincinnati Reds: Red Reporter

Throughout the duration of the long off-season The Nats Blog conducted a series of interviews with blogs from teams around the league. As the 2011 baseball season gets into the “swing” of things, we continue to wrap up our “Around The Majors” series with a Q&A with the Red Reporter, one of the top Cincinnati Reds blogs on the net, where I spoke with Jeremy Harrison and Geoff Taylor about the expectations for the defending NL Central division champions.

TNB: Tell us why the Reds were not a fluke last season and why they should be the NL Central favorites for the next several years.

Red Reporter: The Reds weren’t a fluke last year, just a year early. The organization has a ton of young, cheap talent while being sprinkled with “guys who’ve been there” to set an example. The big difference between the Reds and the rest of the NL Central right now is depth, especially when it comes to pitching. We’ve already seen Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey go down with injuries but the Reds were able to plug Sam LeCure and Mike Leake into the rotation and not skip a beat. The other major contenders in the division (St. Louis, Milwaukee, possibly the Cubs) simply can’t absorb an injury with the same ease the Reds can. Another reason to be optimistic is that the core of the team is locked up for the next three years at reasonable rates. Fransisco Cordero’s salary comes off the books after this season which will soften the blow of arbitration as well as giving the front office the financial flexibility to go out and find a piece they feel is missing.

TNB: Where do you see Aroldis Chapman settling in? As a starter or closer?

Red Reporter: The company line is still that they are going to give him a chance to start, but I honestly think he’ll end up as a closer.  He still hasn’t shown consistent command and he also hasn’t shown an ability to maintain his ridiculous velocity over a large number of pitches.  Add to that the fact that Francisco Cordero is likely gone after this season, and I think its just too easy to plug him into the closer role in 2012.  I think he could still be a dominant starter, but I’m not sure a team that is ready to contend now will have the patience to wait for that to happen.

TNB: Dusty Baker plans to have Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan split time at catcher. Do you agree with this approach?

Red Reporter: Absolutely.  Both catchers have shown themselves to be very productive both at the plate and behind it, but they have also proved to be somewhat injury prone. Having them split time is a great way to keep them both fresh and productive the entire season.  I think a catching tandem is preferable in most cases to having one guy start 130+ games, and the Reds are lucky enough to have two very good catchers, plus a top prospect waiting in AAA.

TNB: What can we expect from defending NL MVP Joey Votto in 2011? Is it fair to raise the bar even higher?

Red Reporter: I’m to the point where I’m done doubting Joey Votto.  Before 2010 many fans were predicting a regression.  After all, how could anyone maintain a .372 average on balls in play?  Yet even though his BABIP dropped in 2010 (slightly, to .361) he hit 12 extra home runs, leading to an MVP caliber season.  This year, so far, he’s walking more and striking out less than he ever has.  It really seems like Joey is systematically eliminating his weaknesses, and he’s just now entering his offensive prime.  Can he keep it up?  I don’t know, but I’m not betting against him.

TNB: Do you think this team will be able to compete with NL powers such as the Phillies and Giants?

Red Reporter: Some might call me crazy but I think they can. In order for that to happen though, a true ace needs to emerge. Edinson Volquez has ace-type stuff, it’s just a matter of him putting it together. Bronson is Bronson, a guy who will give you 200+ innings of above average pitching but nothing spectacular. Cueto has the ability but I really think we may be seeing his ceiling. Aroldis Chapman may eventually be that guy if given the chance, and Travis Wood definitely has potential and the advantage of throwing with the wrong hand. The most intriguing scenario would be that a big name becomes available at the deadline and the Reds make a move considering they have a lot of ML-ready/close talent lying around.