Where They Stand: Cincinnati Reds | Sharapova's Thigh

Look for second-year player Joey Votto to do this home run trot 30+ times this season.

Since we're all huge baseball fans here at the Thigh, we've decided to examine each MLB team and where they currently stand. We'll look at how the team did last year, changes that happened or could happen with the team this offseason, and how it looks like the team will do in 2009 as of now. We'll even toss in the hottest thigh associated with each team. In this edition, we look at the Cincinnati Reds.

2008 Outcome: 74-88, 5th Place In The NL Central, 23.5 Games Behind The Cubs.

What They've Lost: IF/OF Ryan Freel(Traded To Orioles), P Jeremy Affeldt(Signed With Giants), CF Corey Patterson(Signed With Nationals), C Javier Valentin(Signed With Nationals), C Paul Bako(Signed With Cubs), P Josh Fogg(Signed With Rockies), P Matt Belisle(Signed With Rockies), RP Gary Majewski(Signed With Phillies), IF/OF Andy Phillips(Signed With Pirates), IF/OF Jolbert Cabrera(Signed With Orioles).

What They've Added: Acquired C Ramon Hernandez(From Orioles), Signed CF Willy Taveras(2 Years, $6.25 Million), Signed RP Arthur Rhodes(2 Years, $4 Million), Signed OF Jonny Gomes(Minor League Deal), Signed 1B/OF Daryle Ward(Minor League Deal), Signed OF Jacque Jones(Minor League Deal), Signed RP Aaron Fultz(Minor League Deal), Signed C Humberto Cota(Minor League Deal), Signed OF Laynce Nix(Minor League Deal).

Needs: The starting positions settled for left field and shortstop settled, as well as the #5 starter. Don't expect them to go outside the organization to fill those needs though.

The Talk: The Reds have some tremendous young talent, but they wanted to get some veterans on the team. And of course, manager Dusty Baker's gotta have his vets, dudes.

General manager Walt Jocketty upgraded the catcher position by getting a solid, proven veteran at the position in Ramon Hernandez from the Baltimore Orioles. To get Hernandez, the Reds had to give up utility man Ryan Freel and a couple of average prospects. I really like this deal for the Reds and it's a nice upgrade for them at catcher over the Paul Bako/David Ross/Ryan Hanigan/Javier Valentin foursome last year. The 32-year-old Hernandez could hit 20+ homers playing half of his games at Great American Ballpark.

Dusty loves his speed so he surely loves the signing of blazing-fast center fielder Willy Taveras. He's named Taveras the leadoff hitter because of that speed, but doesn't believe in on-base percentage which is more important to me than speed out of the leadoff spot, and Taveras struggles there. Taveras had just a .308 on-base percentage in 2008 for the Rockies, where of course your numbers should be very good with home games at Coors Field. Still, he'll make things happen on the basepaths and turn a lot of his singles and few walks into doubles. He was an incredible 68 of 75 on stolen base attempts in 2008. He also will cover a ton of ground in center field and might have the best arm of any center fielder in the National League.

Right when free agency began, they lost a valuable bullpen arm in Jeremy Affeldt. The left-hander was the first free agent to sign, taking a 2-year deal for $8 million with the Giants. To replace him, the Reds signed veteran left-hander Arthur Rhodes. The 39-year-old Rhodes was outstanding for the Mariners and Marlins in 2008 with a 2.04 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 35.1 innings pitched. However, he's been known to follow a great season like that with a season where he has an ERA over 5, so it's hard to predict how well he'll do. Still, it's a good gamble at half the price of what Affeldt got.

While those moves could make a nice difference, it's really all about the young talent with this team. First baseman Joey Votto finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2008, after hitting .297, with 27 homers, 84 RBI, and an .878 OPS. The left-handed has incredible power to all fields, and the ball will fly out in any direction at Great American Ballpark. I think the 25-year-old hits over 30 homers this year and drives in 100 runs this year, and has the ability to become a 40+ home run hitter in the future.

Another young and powerful left-handed hitter the Reds have is Jay Bruce. He came into 2008 as the most hyped prospect in baseball, and showed why right away when he was called up by the Reds in May. After eight games, Bruce was batting .552, with 3 homers, 7 RBI, and had a 1.615 OPS. The rest of the season would be a bit of a struggle for Bruce though, as he batted .254, with a .314 on-base percentage, and 110 strikeouts in 413 at bats. He did show us a glimpse of his tremendous power potential with 21 home runs. I think a fair projection for him this year would be about a .270+ batting average and 30 home runs, and he could absolutely develop into a superstar in the near future. He's just turning 22 in April, so it's likely he's not anywhere near as good he can be yet.

Then there's the young guns on the pitching staff in Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. The Reds acquired the 25-year-old Volquez from the Rangers for outfielder Josh Hamilton before the 2008 season. Hamilton of course went on to have a sensational season in Texas, but Volquez didn't do too bad himself. He established himself as the clear ace of the staff and was selected to the All-Star Game. He put together a 17-6 record, with a 3.21 ERA, and 206 strikeouts in 196 innings pitched. He has as a mid 90s fastball witih plenty of movement, a terrific change up, and a solid slider. I don't know if he'll put up last year's numbers, but I don't think it was a fluke either.

Cueto caught the attention of the baseball world with a fabulous 2008 spring training, like Tim Lincecum did in 2007. Cueto, just 22 last season, then had a dazzling performnce in his first career start: 7 innings pitched, 1 hit, 1 earned run, 0 walks, 10 strikeouts. Everybody thought he, not Volquez, was going to be the one to have an incredible season. However, it was an up and down season for the pitcher as he went 9-14 with a 4.81 ERA. Still he showed us electric stuff headlined by a fastball that reaches the upper 90s. He could be a very good one and I expect him to have a solid second season.

There's a few positional battles to keep an eye on. The fifth starter spot figures to go to Micah Owings, who might just be a better hitter than pitcher, and that's not a knock on his pitching ability, but more of a compliment on his ability to absolutely rake at the plate(, .319 batting average, .907 OPS in 126 plate appearances). He put together a solid 2007 rookie season for the Diamondbacks, going 8-8 with a 4.30 ERA and 2 complete games in 27 starts. He had shoulder issues in 2008 though, and struggled mightily. He was then traded to the Reds for outfielder Adam Dunn. Owings has a mid 90s fastball and the potential to be a solid starter.

The starting shortstop job will be Alex Gonzalez's if he can show he's healthy after missing the entire 2008 season with a knee injury. The 32-year-old is good for double-digit homers and solid play at shortstop, something the Reds would be thrilled to have after being the worst defense in the National League in 2008. If it's not Gonzalez, veteran utility man Jeff Keppinger will likely be playing there. Keppinger's a contact-hitting freak, as he only struck out 24 times in 459 at bats in 2008.

Left field will likely be filled by Chris Dickerson(who I'll talk more about below), or as a platoon with Dickerson and newly acquired Jonny Gomes. The right-handed Gomes would play against lefties if there is a platoon, and he has a career .879 OPS against southpaws. He has great power and would hit 25+ homers in a full season with home games at Great American Ballpark.

The Reds really need a bounceback year from veteran starting pitcher Aaron Harang. He went 6-17 in 2008 with a 4.79 ERA. The previous three seasons he had an ERA under 4, winning 16 games twice3. He's trained hard this offseason, losing 25 pounds. If he can put together another sub-4 ERA season with double-digit wins, this can be a very good rotation.

The bullpen is led by a two-time All-Star in closer Francisco Cordero and also has a reliable veteran setup man in David Weathers. Last season, 25-year-old lefty Bill Bray had a 2.87 ERA and struck out 54 batters in 47 innings pitched. 6'5" right-hander Jared Burton also impressed last season with a 3.22 ERA. This should be one of the better bullpens in the National League.

Free Agent Signing/Trade Prediction: I don't see any major moves coming for awhile with this team. They want to give their youth a chance to play and there's no notable holes that they can't fill with guys already in the organization.

Young Player To Make 2009 Impact: Chris Dickerson.

I really see something in this guy. Ask Justin, I talked Dickerson up a lot last year, so much so that Dickerson is "my boy" apparently. The 26-year-old(27 on April 10th) didn't do anything special in his minor league career and hasn't been considered much of a prospect, but he was sensational in 122 plate appearances for the Reds last season. He batted .304, with 6 home runs, 15 RBI, and had a 1.023 OPS. Very small sample size indeed, but not a bad first stint in the big leagues. I think he can develop more power with his 6'3", 230 pound frame.

He's continued to play well this spring, and from what Dusty Baker is saying, it looks like Dickerson could be the starting left fielder on opening day. If not starting, he'll likely be the primary backup there and in center field.

Aside from Dickerson, there's plenty of rookies that could see some playing time this year, such as pitcher Daryl Thompson possibly by mid-season. First baseman Yonder Alonso is their top prospect and he impressed me more than any hitter in college baseball last season as he was at Miami. He's blocked by Votto though, so you'd think he'll be spending at least this season in the minors, and there's talk the Reds will move Votto to a corner outfield spot eventually to get Alonso's outstanding bat in the lineup. If nothing else, Alonso will be terrific trade bait especially to an American League team where he can play first base and designated hitter.

2009 Outlook: This is the most difficult team to predict in the NL Central. I think if there's a team that could really give the Cubs a run in the division, it's the Reds. At the same time, I think third or fourth place and 78-81 wins is a more realistic prediction. They have the potential to have a Rays-like breakout season, but so many things have to go right, and you can't predict all of these young players put it together so quickly.

To me the key to this team is Aaron Harang. Does he pitch like the 16-game winner of 2006 and 2007, or the 6-game winner of 2008? That's going to be a MAJOR factor in deciding their 2009 outcome.

This is a very exciting time to be a Reds fan with all of this outstanding young talent, and it appears there's more to come from the farm system. Be patient though, they're probably still a year or two away, but there's no doubt whatsoever that they're headed in the right direction. There's some organizations out there that might finish with a better record in 2009, but they'd rather be in the Reds' position. This looks like a team that could be competitive for a very long time.

Hottest Thigh Association: Jennifer Pena.

Thanks to Slyde at Red Reporter for the tip. Apparently Jennifer's dating/engaged/hooking up with/something... with Reds' third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. She's a model that was part of the 2008 Miss Dominican Republic pageant from what I've gathered. Yeah, I've got nothing. If you find any good pictures of her or have another Reds' thigh association, e-mail me(sharapovasthigh@gmail.com) and I'll update this.

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