Just as quickly as the MLB season ended last year it is ready to kick back up again in 2013. Spring Training has been going on for some time now and as you look at the calendar you realize that opening day is this Sunday and you are ready for months of baseball every day.
Last year I was lucky enough to be able to do a NL Central preview podcast with a blogger from each of the division rivals and while I couldn't do a podcast this year (I dropped the ball and didn't realize the season was so close) but I was able to get together with a blogger from each NL Central team to answer 15 questions about their teams and how they think they will do in 2013.
The series is going to go in the order that the teams finished in 2012 and we will go with one preview a day ending with a pretty extensive Pittsburgh Pirates preview that I am working on.
The first of the preview series is going to be the Cincinnati Reds and today I will be talking with Brandon from Red Reporter, the Reds blog on SB Nation. If you are not doing so already give the dude a follow. They do great work and were nice enough to come back from last season.
Anyways, hit the jump for the preview questions for the 2013 Cincinnati Reds.
1) Coming off a division championship last year where the Reds ran away with it with 97 wins what is the feel you get from the team about the expectations from this season?
RR: I think the team thinks they're better, and are already looking to do some damage in the postseason. The way last season ended left a bad taste in their mouths, and it's evident that the moves they made has the optimism at an all-time high in the clubhouse.
2) It was a tough exit to the playoffs last season. Up 2-0 on the Giants and then to lose the next three must be tough. Obviously making the playoffs is the first goal (along with winning the division) but would just making the playoffs be good enough?
RR: I don't think making the playoffs is going to be good enough for this group. This is kind of a make-or-break season for a lot of this team. It's the last year for Shin-Shoo Choo and Bronson Arroyo, and after the way last season ended, every single guy returning from last year remembers what happened. This is a franchise which hasn't made it out of the first round of the playoffs since 1995, and every guy in that clubhouse knows it. It's second round or bust for this group.
3) One of the big questions that I have noticed from loosely following the Reds is what is going on with Aroldis Chapman. At one point he was a reliever then he was supposed to possibly move to the rotation now I saw a quote where he wants to be the closer and might be back in that role. Where would he best serve the club this year and going forward?
RR: It seems like if you ask anyone in Cincinnati, whether it's a fan, a beat writer, or someone affiliated with the team, you'll get a different answer to the Chapman question. At the time of this writing, it still hasn't been decided, but I personally think he'd best serve the team as a starter. The kind of money he's making to close out games is tough to ignore, as is the enormous impact he could have in the rotation. That being said, he has a proven track record as a lights-out closer and after doing it last year, prefers to close. It's a unique case because there hasn't been a Chapman before, but it makes the most sense going forward for him to be in the rotation.
4) A big (and underrated) move that happened a while ago was getting Shin-Soo Choo as part of a three team trade. Choo is a big OBP guy that was something the Reds seemed to need at the top of the order. What kind of impact do you expect from him. On the flip side the Reds lost a pretty good defender in the deal in Drew Stubbs but with his strikeouts is that seen as a win?
RR: The leadoff spot was their biggest weakness in 2012, and they did a great job in finding the perfect guy for that role. Despite winning 97 games, the Reds got a .254 OBP out of the leadoff spot last year, using a committee of Drew Stubbs, Brandon Phillips, and Zack Cozart. Setting the table for the big run producers should allow guys like Joey Votto and Jay Bruce to have big years, and it's hard to find a top-5 in the lineup as formidable as Choo-Phillips-Votto-Ludwick-Bruce.
As for Stubbs, I think a change of scenery will do him a lot of good. His defense will be missed for sure, but the majority of the fan base was tired of the strikeouts and there reached a point where he wasn't improving with the coaching staff in Cincinnati.
5) Can Joey Votto possibly get any better?
RR: It's hard to see him getting better than he was in 2011, but he'll definitely be better than his injury-shortened 2012 year. It looks like his power is finally back (he hit no homers after his injury last season), and his approach and work ethic is unmatched.
6) Ryan Ludwick is back after a monster year last season. He had a huge uptick in home runs and doubles (just to name a few) to really be a cog in the middle of the lineup. Is that something you expect to see this year or do you think there will be some regression?
RR: I think it'll be hard for Ludwick to replicate his year from 2012 (just based on his previous seasons), but there are certainly some aspects in his favor. He's in the middle of a Votto and Bruce sandwich. and he's still got the tiny Great American Ball Park to hit in (opposed to Petco, where he was awful). I can see some regression, but there's still a lot to like.
7) The staff is pretty solid the whole way through with Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Bronson Arroyo so where is the weakness in the staff?
RR: Good question, because I'm not sure there is one. Right now, I'd say the uncertainty regarding the closer role is the biggest weakness, and when that gets resolved it'll be interesting to see if Jonathan Broxton can live up to the contract the Reds gave him. The bullpen may have more bumps than last year with Chapman not in the picture (assuming he's not in the picture), but there are still plenty of solid arms there.
8) What is your biggest question mark for the team in 2013?
RR: Durability is the biggest thing for me. Excluding the team's best player in Votto, the rest of the team stayed remarkably healthy. Todd Frazier made a stellar debut in his rookie season, and the original 5 starters from Opening Day started 161 of the 162 games (the only one they missed was game 2 of a day-night doubleheader). It's unrealistic to think that they'll be that lucky in 2013, and it'll be interesting to see how they react to adversity. If a position player goes down, they'll be relying on guys like Jack Hannahan and Chris Heisey for big innings, and I'm not sure that's something they're prepared for. They have some rotation depth with 6 healthy starters, but they need to hope that they don't need to go any deeper than that.
9) Dusty Baker is back managing the team. Baker has been known for his use of pitcher and odd beliefs and old school baseball mindset. How do you feel about Baker as a whole and with some of his criticism do you see him helping or hurt the team more during the season?
RR: There are definitely ups and downs to following a Dusty Baker led team. We're subjected to mind-numbing in-game moves, no justification for these moves, and personnel decision that can be categorized as.... interesting. That said, the team responds to him. He's as good of a "clubhouse guy" as I've seen since Sweet Lou, probably, and the guys play their asses off for him. Most of these guys have played for him since they've been in the big leagues, and it's hard to imagine another manager coming in and getting the same response. It took me a couple of years to come around on this, but he's good for the Reds for the time being.
10) Who is the diamond in the ruff that most non Reds fans should keep their eye on during the season?
RR: Todd Frazier. He had a rookie campaign in 2012 that would have him some hardware in previous years, and was largely under the radar. He did a lot of it in a utility role, which makes it even more impressive to me. I'm excited to see what he'll be able to do with a set position at 3B and a set lineup spot after Jay Bruce.
11) Will we be seeing Billy Hamilton at all this season? Does he bring enough to be a consistent contributor if he is up on the big club?
RR: I think it's possible, but it won't happen until September if it happens. He really needs a full year in AAA, and there isn't a place for him to play everyday anyway. Really, the only way if it happens is if something happens to Choo, and even though he can steal bases like nobody in baseball, it normally takes him a bit of time to adjust when he moves up levels.
12) In terms of the minor league system what is your quick overview of what the Reds have right now?
RR: On the whole, the Reds system skews pretty young. There's a handful of blue-chip guys (Hamilton, Corcino, Cingrani, Stephenson), and after that, almost all of the rest of the talent is in the low minors. Early returns from recently out of college guys like Jesse Winker and Seth Mejias-Brean are promising, but a lot of the talent is a few years away.
13) What are your predictions for the Reds in 2013?
RR: I think the 97 wins from a year ago will be hard to emulate, but the team is just as good on paper as it was in 2012, so I'm going to go with 95 wins. And I think they'll finish at the top of the NL Central.
14) As an outsider what are your thoughts on our Pittsburgh Pirates?
RR: I think the Pirates look like an organization that will be really scary in a couple of years. I know that's been said about the Pirates a lot in the last 20 years or so, but I think you can say it and mean it this time. McCutchen and Alvarez are already awesome, and as a fan of a team in the NLC, I'm not looking forward to seeing Cole and Taillon in our division. And you're definitely not the worst team in the division now, which is good to see.
15) Anything else you would like to leave the Pirates faithful with as we head into the 2013 season?
RR: You have one of the nicest ballparks in the big leagues. Please trade us Andrew McCutchen?
Before we leave for the day I just wanted to give a big thanks to Brandon. Always good stuff when I get together with the guys from Red Reporter and make sure that you give them a follow and read their blog. They certainly do a better job than I could ever do, but then again that doesn't really say too much.
Tune back in tomorrow when we get a preview for the Cincinnati Cardinals from Aaron of Cards Diaspora.