Starter - Jay Bruce (.254/.314/.453. OPS+ of 96)
He turns 22 around opening day and will be at this position for years to come. Hailed as one of the best prospects in the game going into last season, he did not disappoint. His scorching start cooled as teams saw him a second and third time but he adjusted. After tearing up May and June with a .297/.348/.426, his July and August numbers went down to .239/.277/.421. After Griffey left and gave him RF as his permanent spot in September, he hit .256/.351/.573 which is amazing for a 21 year old rookie. I think his struggle in the middle months was inevitable because teams were adjusting to him but the way he came back in September was encouraging. He learned what it was like to be a major leaguer and having to change your approach to be successful. I expect a breakout year for him now that he has an everyday job and everyday position. He should go .275/.335/.470 with 25 HR's and 95 RBI's while joining Votto and Phillips as the young leaders of the team.
Starter - Willy Taveras (.251/.308/.296, OPS+ of 56)
Backup - Jerry Hairston Jr.
Last season was rough for Willy. He regressed in every hitting category from his '07 .320/.367/.382 but managed to steal more bases. He went 68 for 75 on the basepaths for an amazing 91%. Dusty plans on using him as the leadoff hitter, which is based purely on his SBs and discounts the fact that he doesn't get on base. He is moving from Coors to Great American which isn't much of a change and if he can just get on base, things could be good. His defense is average so there is not a loss there and he is still fairly young having just turned 27 on Christmas so improvment is not out of the question. I think he will benefit from the change of scenery and put up numbers closer to '07. If not there is always a replacement waiting.
Starter - ?
Backup - ?
This is the biggest crapshoot on the team. The Reds spent the entire offseason looking for an everyday right-handed power bat to go here. I had an idea. The team looked into Jermaine Dye. In the end, nothing happened. Now the Reds have a bunch of guys, none of which is a everyday power hitting right-hander. Most see the front runner as Chris Dickerson. He did great in his late season call up going .304/.413/.608, OPS+ of 160. Of course that was in only 102 AB's and they were the best 102 AB's he has had at any professional level ever, so I am guessing he is not the second coming of Albert Pujols. He is left handed and his OPS fell by 200 points against left handers so he is not exactly what the Reds had in mind. He is still a 26 year old rookie who can improve and deserves a chance to play everyday sometime just so the Reds can see what they have. I think he will make the team and platoon with Hairston until he gets his feet wet or Hairston gets injured. The other players up for this spot are Jaque Jones, Johnny Gomes, Lance Nix, and Norris Hopper. The first 3 are non-roster invites and there is a reason. Hopper looked to be an up and comer until he missed almost all of last season with an injury. He hit .329/.379/.388 in his only extended major league appearance which was 307 AB's in 2007. Those numbers would be great at the top of the order if he is healthy and Taveras and/or Dickerson struggle or get hurt. I think Dickerson and Hopper make the club along with Hariston because of his versatility. That leaves one extra spot between the non-roster invites. I think it goes to Gomes because he is a right handed power bat. He doesn't hit for average or get on base so he is not an everyday player but he is a strong bat on the bench. I want him to make it for personal reasons. He brings a certain fire to the team. Also, he did something I think we all want to do, beat the crap out of the Red Sox:
The outfield should be Bruce, Taveras, and a platoon of Hairston/Hopper and Dickerson. Bruce is the only bat that would scare most teams but if the other two positions can improve and play at their best, the outfield will at least be adequate. Any struggles or injuries and the outfield will turn into Bruce and 2 automatic outs. The defense should be improved without Griffey and Dunn, but that is pretty much a given.
This concludes out look at the Reds by positions. Games begin tomorrow with the Reds taking on the Devil Rays. The run to the 2009 pennant begins then. For the Devil Rays, of course.