Reds out to prove they have staying power - NBC Sports

Reds out to prove they have staying power
If young players continue to improve, Cincinnati can repeat atop NL Central
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Aroldis Chapman pitched only 13.1 regular season innings for the Reds last season. A full dose of the flame-throwing Cuban in 2011 will only make Cincinnati better, writes columnist Tony DeMarco.
March 24, 2011, 7:03 pm

The Cincinnati Reds general manager wasn't trying to incite the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals - his team's two major rivals in the National League Central. He wasn't even taking a shot at the national media.

Jocketty simply was stating the fact that even after winning a division title last season, the Reds remain something of an under-the-radar proposition when it comes to the game's elite teams. And as for that perception? "Doesn't matter,'' Jocketty said.

Sparked by a collection of young talent that leaves major-league evaluators envious, the Reds broke through after a decade of losing seasons to win 91 games in 2010. The Reds' counter to the feeling that they won't be able to repeat goes right back to all that young talent:

"I think we can get better,'' Jocketty said.

Added manager Dusty Baker: "Much better.''

Here's what they're talking about:

We'll grant that it will be tough for Joey Votto, 27, to improve much after his National League MVP season. But:

Ace Edinson Volquez, 27, made only 12 starts totaling 62.2 innings in a 2010 comeback from Tommy John surgery. He's ready to go as the Opening Day starter.

Jay Bruce, who won't turn 24 until April 3rd, hit .285 with 25 homers, 70 RBI and an .846 OPS in 2010, improving his walk rate and production against left-handed pitching, and finishing with a big second half.

While Johnny Cueto has been slowed by shoulder and forearm discomfort, and Mike Leake has had a poor spring, 24-year-olds Homer Bailey and Travis Wood seem poised for successful first full seasons as middle-of-the-rotation starters.

Wood, a slightly built left-hander, held opponents to a .222 batting average (85 hits in 102.2 innings) and 3.51 ERA in 17 starts. It seems like Bailey has been around forever after being a No. 1 pick out of high school in 2004, but the development of a split-finger fastball helped spur his strong 2010 finish.

Say what you want about 26-year-old Drew Stubbs' alarming strikeout total - especially for a leadoff hitter - but only he and Hanley Ramirez topped 20 homers, 30 steals and 90 runs last season.

And we haven't even mentioned the $30 million kid throwing over 100 mph who will begin the season as closer Francisco Cordero's main setup man. Aroldis Chapman, 23, threw only 13.1 regular-season innings for the Reds last season. It's a safe bet he'll be throwing many more than that in 2011.

"He's been around 95 to 102 (mph) - not much higher than that, yet,'' Jocketty said. "(The setup role) is where he needs to be now. We'll bring him along. He's still learning things (read: a changeup), getting better at different things. Eventually, he'll probably be a starter. That's what we signed him for.''

Funny thing about the Reds' talent collection; it has been accumulated under three different general managers: Jocketty since April of 2008, Wayne Krivsky (2006-08), and Dan O'Brien (2003-2006), the latter of whom began repairing the damage done by his predecessor, Jim Bowden.

O'Brien's draft picks and signings include:

  • Bailey - 2004, 1st round
  • New starting shortstop Paul Janish - 2004, 4th round
  • Cueto - 2004, undrafted free agent.
  • Bruce - 2005, 1st round
  • Wood - 2005, 2nd round

Krivsky stole Brandon Phillips from Cleveland (for Jeff Stevens), and Bronson Arroyo from Boston (for Wily Mo Pena) in 2006, engineered the Josh Hamilton-for-Volquez deal in 2007, acquired setup man Nick Masset from the White Sox in 2008, signed Cordero as a free agent, and also drafted Stubbs in the first round, plus reliever Logan Andrusek and young backups Chris Heisey and Chris Valaika.

The rest is Jocketty's handiwork, including Chapman, Leake as a first-rounder who hasn't spent a day in the minors, and three top prospects on the verge: first baseman Yonder Alonso and catchers Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal.

But for all the young talent, the Reds are trying to win now (again). The task of managing the balancing act falls on Baker.

"Sometimes, you have to live with the ups and downs that come with young talent,'' Baker said. "You have to know when to push it, and when to just let it grow by itself. That's where the challenge comes in.

"I have a pretty good idea on each guy. I let them be themselves; I observe a lot. Then when it comes time to do or say something, then I do. My coaches have carte blanche to do the same.

The good news for the Reds' repeat hopes is that the Cardinals, who finished five games back in 2010, have their issues, too - namely the loss of Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols' pending free agency.

And keep in mind that the Reds finished 14 games ahead of the Brewers, with a +155 run differential over them. That's a lot of ground in both areas for the Brewers to make up, even with the acquisitions of Zack Greinke and Shawn Marcum.

"We've proven we can win,'' Jocketty said. "Now we're trying to maintain that, but get better, too. Our division got a lot better, so we need to get better.''

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