The final part of our 25-man roster preview is the outfield, at least until we have to do a bunch of updates because of a new signing, etc. or just because I left out guys. As usual, let's start with the easy stuff. Jay Bruce will be the right fielder. A lot of people don't realize this, but Bruce actually had more at bats in '08 than '09. Bruce's '09 was certainly a disappointment, but he's still very young and I haven't seen any expert predict he won't eventually break out even though it didn't happen last year. His .223 average was certainly a concern, but he improved his walks to strike outs ratio a lot over '08, hit for more power, and had a slightly increased OPS. Plus, in 34 post-injury at bats last September, he hit .353 with four home runs. Look for Bruce to have a big year this year.
Center field is a mild question mark. I guess the only issue is whether Dusty's love affair with Willy Taveras is over? In spite of a terrible year (an OPS of .559) Dusty stuck with Taveras right up to his injury. At that point, the Reds went with Drew Stubbs, who had a stunning debut with 8 home runs, 10 stolen bases,and a .762 OPS in 180 at bats. The OPS was just a tick below Bruce's. According to Kevin Goldstein at Baseball Prospectus, the break out does not seem like a fluke. He compared Stubbs to Mike Cameron. We'll take that. Now, if we could be sure that Stubbs will get his chance. I could see Dusty going back to Taveras if he has a good spring. Probably the most egregious part of last year's T-Virus debacle was that Dusty never moved him out of the lead-off spot. I'd show up at the park and see Taveras leading off and Janish batting second. I knew we were doomed. Look for Stubbs to struggle some in the starting role, but end up with a decent season if the Dusty sticks with him. The power will go down some but the steals (and the defense) are for real. I'm sure the Reds would trade Taveras if they could, but look for the Reds to aggressively shop him come trade deadline time.
Now the biggie: left field. There have been a ton of rumors swirling around the Reds this week, mostly because the media are obsessed with the Johnny Damon thing. Best I can tell, Scott Boras tried to get the Reds involved with Damon, not the other way around. Although Jockety did admit to discussing Damon with Boras, but apparently after calling Boras about Nady, who's since signed with the Cubs. Crazy stuff, but it's nice to see the Reds in the rumor mill. I'll wait to write about Damon if we get him. Otherwise, I'll assume the Reds are going to go to camp with what they've got. (I think Gomes, who I love, is trying to cash in on a pretty good season last year and will hold out for more money than the Reds can afford. And besides the Damon issue, I see the Reds trying to fill the short stop hole (or fifth starter hole for that matter) through free agency before they buy a left fielder.)
There are a ton of candidates for the left field spot. One possibility before we get to them all, though, would be to play Taveras everyday in center and let Stubbs take over in left. This might satisfy Dusty, and might showcase Taveras for a possible trade (if he's playing well) without stunting Stubbs. If the Reds don't think they can compete, building up Taveras's trade value might be the way to go. Right now, however, it looks like the Reds have two righties and three lefties in the mix. For righties, there's Wladimir Balentien, a late-last-season pick-up, and Chris Heisey, the Reds' top outfield prospect, but only a three-star one. Heisey really impressed last year, but I see Balentien, a prospect who's been around for a while and who might be down to his last shot, as the front-runner for the "rightie" spot in left. He's got a ton of power, but needs to make better contact. Plus, Heisey and Stubbs in the outfield, with a still not proven Bruce, seems too young to me. Balentien's at least got some MLB at bats.
On the left side for left field, the Reds have Chris Dickerson, who sort of broke out in '08, but had a disappointing year in '09, Laynce Nix, who played a lot (and some times well) for the Reds in '09, and the newly signed Josh Anderson. Both Nix and Anderson are on minor league deals, which makes it harder for them to make the team. Dickerson seems to be the front-runner for the spot, but this could be one of those true spring training battles for a roster spot.
Other options include moving guys out of position. Yonder Alonso had a rough year (albeit an injury-plagued year) and his star has tarnished some. If he's less of a sure thing, maybe he will be the guy to eventually move to left rather than Votto. But that won't happen this spring. Juan Francisco, the power hitting third base prospect who hit .429 in a brief call-up last year, may see time in left, but BP has him rated below Heisey on the prospect list. The Reds' top position-player prospect, Todd Frazier, who by all accounts is ready to hit in the bigs, is another option. But they're actually talking about him playing some shortstop (he's been at second base mostly) this spring to see if they can get him in the line-up that way.
Right now, I see Bruce in right, Stubbs in center, and Taveras as the fourth outfielder. The other two outfield spots (really a platoon in left) will be up for grabs in the spring. They're are enough guys in the mix right now that they don't need to sign anyone, and don't need to move a guy out of position (yet). But stay tuned for possible changes. (And keep your fingers crossed for Johnny Damon.)
Mike Mussina, Hall of Famer
4 weeks ago