June 25, 2011; Baltimore, MD, USA; Rolen hits a two-run home run in the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Reds defeated the Orioles 10-5. (Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE)

The Margins

Spring fever is upon us despite the mangy rodent from Punxsutawney, PA and his silly shadow.  The Reds roster is taking shape but who will wind up in town and who is bound for Louisville?  Or at least what is my take on the fielders?

We start with the beginning; barring catastrophe Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Scott Rolen, and Jay Bruce are locks.  Votto does not strike me as stupid so he has read the tea leaves and watched Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder flee the NL Central for incredibly lucrative contracts.  No matter where he winds up in 2014 he will have one as well, barring a disaster of Tony Conigliaro proportions.

Brandon Phillips has likely reached the point in his career where the end of this season is his best, and possibly only chance to lock in a long term deal.  All talking aside, if he does not ink a contract before the season begins he must perform at his very best to get the contract he thinks he deserves.  I do not begrudge him this opportunity, I just hope I don’t have to read about it on Twitter.

Say what you will about Scott Rolen, but the Reds fortunes have hinged on Rolen the past three seasons.  In 2010 he appeared in 23 more wins than losses, while in his injury riddled 2011 campaign the Reds lost three more than they won when Scott played.  Those margins nearly mirrored the teams performance of 20 more wins than losses on 2010 and 4 more losses than wins in 2011.  It underscores his role as the veteran heart of this lineup.  A healthy Scott Rolen will mean a productive and loose team.

Jay Bruce is a superstar in the making.  He has reached the 100 HR plateau in near franchise record time given his tender 24 years.  He is a solid defender and when he hits his groove he is the best hitter in baseball.  His challenge is to find that groove on a more consistent basis and if he does, the league is in for a fireworks display.

Next we look at two players who are surrounded by questions but for whom the job appears to belong in Drew Stubbs and Zack Cozart.  Stubbs may be the biggest underachiever on a team that fell short of its goals in 2011.  He has such a vast pool of talent but he needs a fire in his belly and a willingness to dig a little deeper to fight for every at bat and to keep himself focused on the task at hand.  How he approaches two strike counts even in Spring Training will indicate where he is and if he is ready to live up to his potential.

Zack Cozart seemed for a brief two weeks to have found his home in the Cincinnati infield till a freak accident ended his season.  Eleven games are balancing the hopes of a franchise in 2012.  He played well but can he now translate that into a season of consistent success at 25?

The two platoons of Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick in Left Field and Ryan Hanigan and rookie Devin Mesoraco behind the platecould also define this season.  Can Heisey ever be the player fans think he is?  Can Ludwick return to the form he displayed in St. Louis in 2008 or was that just a flash in the pan?  Can the Reds maintain the competitive advantage they have had over every team in the division excepting St. Louis and Yadier Molina with a rookie replacing Ramon Hernandez?

That brings me to the end of this tale.  If the Reds have 13 position players as expected on the roster and excepting injury the ten above are already accounted for who remains?  New acquisition Wilson Valdez, formerly of the Phillies, is already in camp as is Paul Janish.  To my mind only one of these two will make the team and it is exciting to hear that both of them are fighting for the spot early.  Valdez broke Reds fans hearts in the 19 inning epic last year somehow managing to come in as a relief pitcher and win the game.  I will not hold that against him as that drive is now in our corner and I am happy for the chance to have him perform heroics for our side.

Janish is a solid defender but it is imperative he find a way to get on base more often, .211 is not a batting average a championship team can sustain.

Reports from Dusty Baker indicate Juan Fransisco still has a tender calf muscle, his status in this roster competition may depend on him returning to full health soon.  Todd Frazier is also in camp making his bid for a place in the sun along with Chris Valaika.  There is an outside chance even Denis Phipps or slugger Neftali Soto could get a spot but they seem like incredible long shots to me.  I think Frazier has a good chance to make the team but I think Francisco and Valaika will be left in AAA along with Phipps and Soto.  That leaves one last spot for Miguel Cairo and I think the wily veteran will again rise to the occasion and offer his versatility and heart to this team filling the final margin.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnHeitz

Tags: Brandon Phillips Chris Heisey Chris Valaika Denis Phipps Devin Mesoraco Drew Stubbs Jay Bruce Joey Votto Juan Francisco Miguel Cairo Neftali Soto Ryan Hanigan Ryan Ludwick Scott Rolen Spring Training Todd Frazier Wilson Valdez Zack Cozart

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