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Hamilton eager to prove himself in leadoff spot

Speedster focused on improving on-base percentage
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first Cactus League game of the year on Friday vs. the Indians, Reds manager Bryan Price wrote out a lineup that could closely resemble the one he'll use on Opening Day. It features center fielder Billy Hamilton at the top.

Hamilton's speed, stolen-base ability and offensive potential should make him a prototypical leadoff man. But the career results -- so far -- have often shown otherwise. Is Hamilton going to remain at the top of Price's order in 2018?

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For the first Cactus League game of the year on Friday vs. the Indians, Reds manager Bryan Price wrote out a lineup that could closely resemble the one he'll use on Opening Day. It features center fielder Billy Hamilton at the top.

Hamilton's speed, stolen-base ability and offensive potential should make him a prototypical leadoff man. But the career results -- so far -- have often shown otherwise. Is Hamilton going to remain at the top of Price's order in 2018?

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"He is right now," Price replied Friday. "I think that there's a lot of room for Billy to get better at what he does as an offensive player, but the decisions will be made based on what he provides us at the top of the order."

Although he has stolen 56 or more bases each of the past four seasons -- including a career high of 59 steals in 2017 -- Hamilton has a career on-base percentage of .298. Of the 105 hitters with 2,000 plate appearances since 2014, he has the fifth-lowest OBP and is one of three hitters in MLB during that span with at least three seasons of 450-plus plate appearances and a sub-.300 OBP.

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Hamilton, 27, batted .247 with a .299 on-base percentage and 85 runs in his 139 games last season.

According to Statcast™, Hamilton had the lowest average exit velocity (79.1 mph) among the 182 hitters with 300-plus batted balls last season. His expected batting average (xBA) was .212, which is based on the quality of his contact.

When he started, Hamilton batted exclusively leadoff in 2017.

"That's where I've been my whole career. That's where I want to be," Hamilton said. "I know this is baseball and Bryan has given me plenty of chances to hit there. That's where I feel like I need to be. I have to do what I have to do to be up there. He's not going to just give me a spot."

Price noted that Hamilton won't always be there. In past seasons, especially when Hamilton was struggling, the manager has used him in the eighth and ninth spots.

"I'm still looking to see the evolution of Billy as a leadoff man, I'd love him to hold down that spot. If we're a better team with someone else hitting up a little higher, that's the way we'll go," Price said. "I imagine you'll see him moving around a little bit."

Besides performance-based reasons, there will be times that Hamilton doesn't lead off because he is not in the starting lineup at all. With the plan to rotate four outfielders among three spots -- with Hamilton, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker -- one of them will be coming off of the bench on a given day.

Price didn't rule out using Winker in the leadoff spot. He batted .298/.375/.529 in 47 games last season as a rookie, and had a .398 career OBP in the Minor Leagues. He made eight starts from the top of the big league order.

Price would not say if he would definitely bat Winker first when Hamilton is also starting.

"We'll have to see. Again, it's best lineup and best matchup," Price said. "That's yet to be seen. It's possible."

Hamilton has worked to reach his hitting potential with coaches and even teammate Joey Votto. On Friday near the batting cage, he was getting tips from former manager and senior advisor Lou Piniella.

"I don't want to hit anywhere but leadoff," Hamilton said. "That's the type of player I am and have always been."

It will be up to Hamilton to prove it during the regular season.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Billy Hamilton

Reds' progress hinges on starting rotation

MLB.com @m_sheldon

MLB Network's Spring Training series, 30 Clubs in 30 Days, begins on Thursday with the focus being on the Reds.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's been said throughout the offseason at Redsfest and Caravan and it's been repeated in the early days of Spring Training: The Reds are tired of writing off seasons for the good of rebuilding.

MLB Network's Spring Training series, 30 Clubs in 30 Days, begins on Thursday with the focus being on the Reds.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It's been said throughout the offseason at Redsfest and Caravan and it's been repeated in the early days of Spring Training: The Reds are tired of writing off seasons for the good of rebuilding.

It's time to make progress. And for progress to happen, it will all come down to the starting rotation being improved, consistent and durable. That hasn't been seen over the past four seasons since Cincinnati last reached the postseason in 2013.

What's the goal? Although the Reds want to transition from rebuilding to winning, the club did not make wholesale improvements to the rotation in the offseason after a 2017 season where the starters posted a combined 5.55 ERA. Instead, it's banking heavily on three pitchers returning from injuries -- Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey and Brandon Finnegan. All three missed most of, or all, the 2017 season.

Reds manager Bryan Price would like starters who can pitch at least seven innings per start. These are the guys -- especially DeSclafani and Bailey -- with the experience of doing just that.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: DeSclafani on staying healthy

What's the plan? The key to flipping the switch is not just the veteran starting pitchers. The Reds need one, or more, of their top prospects to emerge. First on that list is budding phenom Luis Castillo, who also has all but locked up a spot in the Opening Day rotation after an eye-opening 2017 debut. The right-hander is an ace in the making with four strong pitches in his repertoire, the ability to throw 100 mph and devastating offspeed stuff. He also brims with confidence. After he skipped Triple-A and had a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts last season in the Majors, the Reds want Castillo to settle in for a full season and continue to develop.

The other rotation spot is open for competition, with Sal Romano or Robert Stephenson being the favorites. Both impressed down the stretch in their final eight starts of 2017. Whoever wins the job will be expected to continue that growth. If not, there is a wealth of talent behind them -- including Tyler Mahle, Amir Garrett and others.

What could go wrong? Plenty. The Reds rotation has been ransacked by injuries the past two seasons, and they used 16 different starters in 2017. It forced them to often use pitchers before they were ready for the Majors and many couldn't get past the fifth inning. With young pitchers comes unpredictability, and there will still be plenty of young pitchers on the staff.

And there is uncertainty with the veterans, too. Bailey is four years removed from his last 30-start season and has had three elbow surgeries since. DeSclafani pitched 184 2/3 innings over 31 starts in 2015, but he had 20 starts in 2016 because of a left oblique strain he sustained near the end of spring that year. Last season, he didn't pitch at all because of a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow. Finnegan had injuries to both arms and had only four starts in '17. Can they hold up for a whole season?

Who might surprise? One rotation contender very determined to win a rotation spot has been a reliever the past two-plus seasons. Michael Lorenzen has the pitches, and now a chance, to step into a starting spot. His high-90s velocity and secondary pitches could make him a tough opponent for hitters, and he has the experience from spending the last two seasons in the bullpen. During his first foray as a starter in 2015, Lorenzen had a 5.45 ERA in 21 starts. He's learned a lot since.

Garrett had an offseason procedure to alleviate discomfort in his right hip and following a rough rookie year, he could be primed for big things. The lefty, who struck out 12 batters in his third big league game last season, has the velocity, size and poise to be a pitching star if he can put it all together.

Video: 30 Clubs in 30 Days: Gennett on learning from Votto

With a lineup anchored by star Joey Votto, the Reds will score runs. Third baseman Eugenio Suarez and outfielders Scott Schebler and Adam Duvall have emerged as power threats, as did second baseman Scooter Gennett, who surprised in 2017 with 27 homers. Prospects Jesse Winker and Nick Senzel have a chance to have an impact in the outfield and infield, respectively. Senzel has been trying his hand at shortstop and hit bat would profile very nicely if he can handle the position defensively.

So the key is the rotation. Will the veterans stay healthy? Will enough pitching prospects emerge? If they get a positive answer to both those questions, this could be the season where the Reds turn the corner toward once again competing for the NL Central.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds

Garrett, Senzel try to break camp with Reds

MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds have precious few spots open on their potential 25-man roster. Barring injury, there appears to be one opening in the starting rotation and two in the bullpen if they go with 12 pitchers and three if there are 13. Plus, the bench must be assembled.

With the Cactus League schedule opening on Friday for the Reds, when they play the Indians at 3:05 p.m. ET at Goodyear Ballpark, players competing for spots will have their first opportunity to impress.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds have precious few spots open on their potential 25-man roster. Barring injury, there appears to be one opening in the starting rotation and two in the bullpen if they go with 12 pitchers and three if there are 13. Plus, the bench must be assembled.

With the Cactus League schedule opening on Friday for the Reds, when they play the Indians at 3:05 p.m. ET at Goodyear Ballpark, players competing for spots will have their first opportunity to impress.

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Although many people have an idea who the favorites are to make the team, here are three dark-horse candidates who will seek to break camp and play in Cincinnati.

Left-hander Amir Garrett

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What has to happen to make it: As camp opened, Reds manager Bryan Price signaled Garrett is on the periphery of the rotation battle when he said the lefty might get a couple of starts. That likely means someone would have to underperform or get injured for Garrett to move up. But that's exactly how the impressive left-hander made the Opening Day rotation last spring.

What it would mean: Garrett would provide a second left-handed starter to the Reds' rotation along with Brandon Finnegan, but he could also potentially be a piece for the bullpen, where the club is contemplating using pitchers who don't make the Opening Day rotation. One thing to keep in mind: The Reds successfully requested and received a fourth option for Garrett, which means he could go to Triple-A Louisville and provide potential depth in the rotation down the line -- if needed.

Video: Garrett gets to camp early, looking to improve

Shortstop Nick Senzel

What has to happen to make it: Note that it said "shortstop," because it's the position Senzel has worked at the most in the early days of Spring Training. For the team's top prospect to make it, his camp would have to be so exceptional that he forced his way on to the roster. It would also mean something drastic happened to current starting shortstop Jose Peraza. However, Senzel could also find a home at third base if Eugenio Suarez was injured.

Video: Senzel on taking reps at short during Spring Training

What it would mean: For Senzel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft, it would be an accelerated, but anticipated, Major League debut. It would give Reds fans something to buzz about, as well. But the club would probably prefer to have Senzel begin 2018 with Louisville. His making the team would mean it's not concerned with starting his service time clock toward arbitration and free agency, which may not be prudent in the big picture down the road.

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds

Right-hander Jimmy Herget

What has to happen to make it: Herget has not pitched in the big leagues yet, but the sidearm reliever has impressed people all the way up the Reds' system -- including Price. The organization's No. 18 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, would have to leapfrog other pitchers with more big league experience.

What it would mean: Competition for relief roles tightened when free agents Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were signed in the offseason. Herget is also a non-roster invitee, so he's got an extra hurdle to get on the 40-man roster before he can be on the 25-man. Cincinnati's bullpen would be righty-heavy with one -- or perhaps two -- left-handers, but Herget's deceptive delivery and hard velocity would provide a nice boost for the 'pen. He could be a potential closer in the making.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Amir Garrett, Nick Senzel

Clooney once tried out for Reds

George Clooney was the most recent guest on David Letterman's new Netflix show "My Next Guest Needs No Introduction." Along with talking about his movies, his ever-enduring (YOU MAKE US LOOK SO BAD, GEORGE) good looks and his amazing wife Amal -- the Oscar winner, of course, talked about baseball. Weirdly enough, Clooney once tried out for the Reds in 1977. Yes, the Big Red Machine Reds.

Reed's new approach helping him stand out

Reds acquire 20-year-old right-hander Medrano from Rangers
Special to MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cody Reed has already impressed manager Bryan Price with what he's shown on the mound in early bullpen session and the way he's bounced back from what Reed called a "bitter" 2017 season.

"He was really sharp," Price said of Reed's Tuesday bullpen session. "Fastball, slider, changeup were all good, were all spot on. Just like they've been in the first two bullpens."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Cody Reed has already impressed manager Bryan Price with what he's shown on the mound in early bullpen session and the way he's bounced back from what Reed called a "bitter" 2017 season.

"He was really sharp," Price said of Reed's Tuesday bullpen session. "Fastball, slider, changeup were all good, were all spot on. Just like they've been in the first two bullpens."

Perhaps even more importantly, Price has taken note of Reed's renewed focus on getting back to the big leagues in any capacity.

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"The first challenge is getting to the big leagues, but the second and probably even larger issue is how you handle when you get sent back down," Price said. "Because it doesn't matter what we say as an organization, as a staff, as a manager. A lot of these guys feel like the demotion is the organization telling them, 'We don't believe in you, we don't trust you, we don't want you.' There's nothing further from the truth.

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"Cody completely refocused and recommitted to having a positive attitude and being opportunistic instead of the alternative. He's been very impressive in everything he's done."

Reed certainly enters Spring Training with a competitive approach, ready to fight for a spot on the Major League roster. He hopes it's in the starting rotation, although Price has already told him he's competing for a spot in relief this spring.

"Maybe I'll have a start or two and prove myself, and who knows?" Reed said. "Who says that I can't start? Who says that I'm only going for the bullpen? Who says that I can't pitch 30 games in the Major Leagues? I just need the opportunity. Give me one start, and I'm going to take advantage of it. If I do help the team in the bullpen, that's perfect. I had some pretty good stints out of the bullpen last year. I never came out of the 'pen until last year. Now I know I can do both, so whatever works and whatever helps the team."

Reed pointed to Chris Sale, who spent his first two seasons in the Majors coming out of the bullpen before establishing himself as a starter.

"Hopefully it doesn't take me two years, but we'll see," Reed said. "He's had a pretty good career so far."

Reed's aggressive attitude is a turnaround from the baggage he took to the hill in 2017.

"Last year, I was pretty bitter," Reed said. "I started all spring, and they told me I was in the 'pen, and it was kind of a shockwave. I'd never done it before."

Video: CHC@CIN: Reed fans Russell in the 1st inning

Last season, the 24-year-old struggled with control, walking 61 in 106 1/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville and 19 in 17 2/3 frames for the Reds. He still managed a 3.55 ERA for Louisville, but it was 5.09 in the Majors. While he was with Louisville, he reframed his mental approach.

"It took me all season," Reed said of dealing with his move to the bullpen. "I was in Triple-A and thinking I shouldn't be there, thinking I'd already proved myself in Triple-A. I should be able to go. I had 20 starts there [last season], and I didn't do really well. Every time out, I was just so mad at the world. I probably had about 10 good games in Louisville over the 20 or so starts. Most of the time the bad ones were because I felt the way I felt. I'd go in to a game feeling like, 'Why me? Why am I here?'

"Now I know that I am a Major League pitcher and I can get guys out and I can strike guys out. I can go long in the games. I know I can. So this year, I think, is going to be really good."

Reds acquire right-hander Medrano

The Reds acquired right-handed pitcher Miguel Medrano from the Rangers on Wednesday in exchange for $350,000 in international bonus pool money.

Medrano, 20, has spent two seasons in the Dominican Summer League. He's pitched 15 games for Texas there, including 12 in 2017, 10 of which were starts. Medrano went 5-1 with a 2.59 ERA last year, striking out 61 and walking seven in 59 innings.

The $350,000 represents the remainder of the Reds' allocation for international signings.

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.

Cincinnati Reds

Romano looks to build on strong finish in 2018

Right-hander pitched well as rookie and is competing for spot in rotation
Special to MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Only three pitchers made more starts for the Reds than Sal Romano did as a rookie in 2017, and only one of them -- Homer Bailey -- is still with the team. The Reds' rotation will have a new look in 2018, but Romano hopes he can be a familiar face and return to the form he ended last season with.

After rejoining the Reds in late July, Romano pitched 79 innings, which led the club in the second half of the season. He and Bailey each started a club-high 14 games after the All-Star break, with Romano going 4-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Only three pitchers made more starts for the Reds than Sal Romano did as a rookie in 2017, and only one of them -- Homer Bailey -- is still with the team. The Reds' rotation will have a new look in 2018, but Romano hopes he can be a familiar face and return to the form he ended last season with.

After rejoining the Reds in late July, Romano pitched 79 innings, which led the club in the second half of the season. He and Bailey each started a club-high 14 games after the All-Star break, with Romano going 4-7 with a 4.44 ERA.

It was how Romano, 24, ended the season that caught the Reds' attention, though. He registered four quality starts and a 3.17 ERA over his last eight outings.

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"It was huge," Romano said. "Getting the experience and having the lows and the highs up there. Finishing strong was really important to me, going into the offseason, knowing I'd proved to myself, and hopefully to the Reds, that I can pitch up there and be successful."

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Romano's first big league start did not go as well. He allowed three runs on three hits -- two home runs -- and four walks over three innings in a loss to the Brewers on April 16.

"I was really excited, overthrew a little bit," Romano recalled.

His next outing for Cincinnati was different. Romano allowed two runs on six hits over five innings against the D-backs on July 6, notching his first big league win. After one more start for Louisville, Romano returned to the Majors for the rest of the season. His first six starts after returning to the bigs were shaky -- 1-4 with a 6.46 ERA -- before he settled in as one of the Reds' most consistent starters.

"This was going to be [my chance] to go there and stay and not have to look over your shoulder and go, 'Am I going to be sent down tomorrow if I have a bad game?'" Romano said. "I was able to really take those bad games and learn from them, take them into my [bullpen sessions] and figure out what I need to do to get better."

Was his performance enough to secure him a spot in the Reds' 2018 rotation?

"I know what happened to me, what I learned last year and what helped me be a successful pitcher, and I know I can take that into this year," Romano said. "I'm going to give my best, go out there and compete and show that I am the guy for the job. Whatever happens after that is out of my control, but hopefully it's in my favor."

Video: NYM@CIN: Romano strikes out five across six innings

When the Reds take the field against the Indians for Friday's Cactus League opener at 3:05 p.m. ET, Romano will be proudly wearing the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps as Major League Baseball honors the students and staff members whose lives were lost in the tragic Valentine's Day shooting.

There's something familiar about the experience for Romano, who grew up in Connecticut and graduated from high school not far from Sandy Hook Elementary School. He and his family spent time in the community after the shooting in 2012, and he remains inspired by the spirit that emerged in the aftermath.

"Everyone came together," Romano said. "It's really nice to see the way the community comes together in a crisis, but it's really unfortunate that those things can happen. Being able to represent that high school and wearing those hats on Friday, it'll really mean a lot to that community."

Romano praised the Stoneman Douglas students for speaking out in the wake of the tragedy and trying to create positive change.

"They care," Romano said. "They care about their future. And I'm sure they care about their kids' kids. Hopefully these kids can make a difference. There definitely needs to be some type of change to make sure kids and parents feel like they're safe when they go to school."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com.

Cincinnati Reds, Sal Romano

GM Williams wants to see 'step forward' in '18

MLB.com @m_sheldon

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Reds first baseman Joey Votto arrived to Spring Training on Sunday underscoring his desire for the team to get better and start winning again, general manager Dick Williams was both paying attention and agreeing.

"Joey came out and said, 'I'm going to do my part to improve.' We all have to look in the mirror," Williams said on Tuesday at the Cactus League media day session for managers and general managers. "If Joey is going to say that about himself, then I know there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse have to want to get better. If Joey feels he does, then the rest of us have to feel like that."

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- When Reds first baseman Joey Votto arrived to Spring Training on Sunday underscoring his desire for the team to get better and start winning again, general manager Dick Williams was both paying attention and agreeing.

"Joey came out and said, 'I'm going to do my part to improve.' We all have to look in the mirror," Williams said on Tuesday at the Cactus League media day session for managers and general managers. "If Joey is going to say that about himself, then I know there are a lot of guys in that clubhouse have to want to get better. If Joey feels he does, then the rest of us have to feel like that."

Cincinnati finished 68-94 in each of the past two seasons, lost 98 games in 2015 and hasn't reached the postseason since 2013.

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The rebuilding program began midway through the '14 season, but Williams and the club is ready to see it turn the corner and be able to chart real progress. How that is measured won't be in just wins and losses.

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"Tying it to the win total, there are too many variables involved there," Williams said. "But we want to see a significant step forward. I want to see individual performance and team performance get better."

Despite the last-place finish in the National League Central, the Reds made smaller moves in the offseason. Relievers Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were the only two players they signed to big league contracts. Williams chose to stay the course with the rotation and is counting on healthy years from veterans like Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani while expecting maturation and improvement from several of the younger pitchers.

In contrast, the division-rival Brewers accelerated their rebuild after a surprise 86-win 2017 season. After it finished one game out of a NL Wild Card spot, Milwaukee went all-in this offseason and upgraded its lineup and outfield with the signing of free agent Lorenzo Cain and trading four prospects to the Marlins for Christian Yelich.

"I absolutely think we will expand our payroll and investment in the team in the coming years," Williams said. "That may be to keep the current team together or maybe to bring people in from outside.

"I do think we are getting close to that point where we'll make more significant additions from the outside."

Video: Reds open camp with staff improvements on deck

Besides adding Hughes and Hernandez, the other offseason need for a backup shortstop was filled when free-agent infielder Cliff Pennington was signed Thursday to a Minor League deal.

Although the Reds looked at Tim Lincecum's pitching showcase last week and will touch base with his people, it seemed unlikely more acquisitions would be made during camp.

"We'll keep our eyes open. We're always opportunistic," Williams said. "I do feel like we've got a team we can break camp with."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds

Larkin helping Senzel adjust to shortstop

Reds' top prospect trying out new position during Spring Training
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The original idea was that Reds top prospect Nick Senzel would be exposed to several positions throughout the infield and outfield to get comfortable and more versatile. But in the short term, Senzel appears slated to play only shortstop and third base, which may not be Senzel's primary position for much longer.

"My focus is on shortstop," Senzel said on Tuesday. "I'll take some reps at other spots, but I think third base is a little bit to the side right now."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The original idea was that Reds top prospect Nick Senzel would be exposed to several positions throughout the infield and outfield to get comfortable and more versatile. But in the short term, Senzel appears slated to play only shortstop and third base, which may not be Senzel's primary position for much longer.

"My focus is on shortstop," Senzel said on Tuesday. "I'll take some reps at other spots, but I think third base is a little bit to the side right now."

That could change later in camp, but Reds manager Bryan Price wanted to keep things simple.

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"We don't want to get him spread out too much," Price said. "I think he played exclusively third base last year. To move him is enough of a challenge."

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During bunt shift defensive drills on Monday, Price was watching Senzel from behind the shortstop spot. Also there was Hall of Fame shortstop and camp instructor Barry Larkin.

Senzel felt comfortable, as he became used to the differences between handling bunts at shortstop compared to third base.

"At third base, you're used to crashing and reading the bunt," Senzel said. "At shortstop, it's more covering the bag or being in a specific place at a specific time. I thought I caught on pretty quick. There are a lot of people there to help me and guide me through it."

Larkin is certainly one of those people. On Tuesday during drills to turn force plays he was behind Senzel as he took ground balls and fired throws to second base.

"Don't stop, don't stop," Larkin called out, wanting Senzel to field and throw in a fluid manner.

"He's great," Senzel said of Larkin before the workout. "He's one of the best to ever do it. Anything that he says, you listen."

Video: Senzel on learning new defensive positions in spring

Price wasn't ready to assess how Senzel was playing at shortstop.

"I'm looking forward to seeing him play, not only in practice, but in games and seeing what he does instinctively," Price said.

"I just look forward to continuing to get better at the position, learning it and getting more reps," Senzel said.

The organization's No. 1 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, Senzel is blocked at his primary spot by Eugenio Suarez. Besides shortstop, he will get chances to play second base and both corner-outfield spots at some point this spring. At shortstop, Cincinnati currently has Jose Peraza, 23, who is still developing.

• Reds' Top 30 prospects

"The idea to play the outfield or play second base is in large part if there's an injury or lack of performance issue that creates an opportunity to play or he is ready to be added to the club and we've got to find a place where he can play more frequently than others," Price said.

"The first thing he's got to do is come out and perform and drive that conversation when it is the right time to get him up here and what position he should be playing when he does arrive."

Video: Top Prospects: Nick Senzel, 3B, Reds

Stephenson has sore neck
Reds pitchers have been largely healthy following the first week of their workouts. The lone exception is rotation candidate Robert Stephenson, who is being held back a little. But Stephenson's issue isn't serious.

"A little bit of a crick in his neck. He's fine, the arm is great," Price said. "We're making sure the neck doesn't get him in bad habits."

Reds undecided on starter for spring opener
The Reds open Cactus League play on Friday against the Indians, but Price wasn't ready to announce his pitchers just yet.

"We want to get through the first [live] batting practice before we announce it," Price said.

Reds pitchers faced hitters in live batting practice on Tuesday morning. Bullpen candidates Cody Reed and Zack Weiss were among those who threw.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Nick Senzel, Robert Stephenson

All clubs to don Douglas caps for ST openers

MLB.com @_dadler

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

All 30 Major League teams will wear Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School baseball caps before their Spring Training games this weekend to show support for the Parkland, Fla., community and the Stoneman Douglas student body after the tragic shooting at the school on Feb. 14.

Players across MLB will then be signing the caps and auctioning them to raise money for the Broward Education Foundation, which will benefit the official Stoneman Douglas Victims' Fund. Seventeen people were killed in the shooting, including 14 students and three staff members.

Video: Teams to wear Stoneman Douglas hats for ST openers

"It's a tragedy. It was a tragedy that hit the state of Florida, where we have two teams, but obviously has very specific baseball connections," Commissioner Rob Manfred said. "Really a very strong sentiment among the clubs that this was the appropriate thing to do immediately."

MLB teams will wear the caps pregame on Friday and will also be allowed to wear them during their games. Since they're off on Friday, the Royals and Rangers will don the hats on Saturday.

The Commissioner approved the use of the caps during all games on Friday, the Spring Training openers for most of the clubs.

The effort started with a few Grapefruit League teams, which wanted to wear the caps pregame, and it quickly spread across camps in Florida and Arizona. Soon all 30 teams had decided to join in the support and fundraising effort for the school community.

Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo attended Stoneman Douglas, and spoke at a prayer vigil at Pine Trails Park the day after the shooting. 

"It was the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Rizzo said Monday about meeting with families of the victims of the shooting. "You don't know what to say, there's nothing you can say. When people get shot, you're grateful they're alive. When they pass away, you're grateful you knew them. Just to see how real it is, it's sad and it's why I'm so proud of what they're doing back in Parkland and how everyone is coming together. They're going to turn this tragedy into something positive.

"The caps made for the fundraising effort will be provided to all players, coaches and umpires."

The Stoneman Douglas High School caps are reminiscent of how the Mets wore NYPD and FDNY caps following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. The Mets donned the caps to honor the first responders in their first game after the attacks, in Pittsburgh on Sept. 17, and again in their return to New York four days later. In that memorable game at Shea Stadium, Mike Piazza hit the go-ahead home run in the eighth inning to lead the Mets to an emotional win over the Braves.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Bailey hopes healthy spring brings return to form

Right-hander had 6.43 ERA in 18 starts last season after returning from elbow surgery
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds pitcher Homer Bailey is not getting ahead of himself. Bailey, a veteran of two no-hitters but three elbow surgeries, felt good throughout the offseason and rolled into Spring Training healthy. It's something Bailey doesn't take for granted.

"It was definitely a change of pace, that's for sure," the right-hander said. "As far as goals, it's get through camp and start the season. Then take the ball every fifth day."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds pitcher Homer Bailey is not getting ahead of himself. Bailey, a veteran of two no-hitters but three elbow surgeries, felt good throughout the offseason and rolled into Spring Training healthy. It's something Bailey doesn't take for granted.

"It was definitely a change of pace, that's for sure," the right-hander said. "As far as goals, it's get through camp and start the season. Then take the ball every fifth day."

Bailey had surgery to repair a torn flexor mass tendon in 2014 and Tommy John surgery in 2015 to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament. Just before camp opened last year, he needed a surgery in the same elbow to remove bone chips in his throwing arm.

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Following his June 24 debut last season, Bailey was 6-9 with a 6.43 ERA in 18 starts.

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"I think the repetition, the ability to have a normal offseason, a regular long-toss plan, have a normal Spring Training will go a long way in him regaining his status as one of the better starters in our mix," Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Ten years ago, in 2007, Bailey was the top prospect in Reds camp and made a highly-anticipated big league debut. By 2012, he pitched 208 innings with a league-leading 33 starts and then 209 innings and 32 starts in '13.

Now 31, Bailey is one of three players on the projected 25-man roster over 30 along with Joey Votto and new signing Cliff Pennington. Bailey is a throwback of sorts. As players frequently become more open on social media about their personal and professional lives, Bailey avoids it altogether. He's not on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram.

"I just don't see the benefit to it," Bailey said. "The small circle of people I share things with are people you generally care about. If you've got a million followers on Twitter or Instagram, 99 percent of them, you don't know. More than anything, it leaves yourself open to things that are not good as opposed to the things that are good."

"You take a look around this clubhouse, everyone is one their phone somewhere. That's not something that I came up with. It's not something I always use as part of my daily life."

Video: MIL@CIN: Bailey strikes out Thames in the 5th

It doesn't mean Bailey has technophobia. An avid reader, he travels with an iPad so he can devour books. The Texas native did his offseason workouts in San Antonio while also finding time for two trips to British Columbia, Canada. But he kept it out of the spotlight.

"Other than my trips, I was in the middle of nowhere for quite a lot of time," Bailey said. "I've got property in south and central Texas. When you have all of that, something always needs your attention."

Bailey also has a passion for riding horses. Once big on roping, he's now become more interested in working cow horse competitions. It involves reining and herding cows, where both horse and rider are judged. He keeps his horses outside of Cincinnati during the season and has them in Arizona during camp.

"Pretty much most days, that's where I'm at as soon as I leave here," Bailey said. "It's actually a lot of fun."

At the complex, Bailey is continuing his work on trying to rein the command of his pitches -- something that often eluded him last season. For many patients of Tommy John surgery, it's the last part that comes back into form.

"You see hitters take time off and they come back, it takes them a while to find their swing. It's no different with pitchers," Bailey said. "Finding your tempo, your delivery or release point and being able to do it out of the wind-up, out of the stretch with guys on in tight games or whatever the case, the more you're exposed to it, the better off you are."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey

Winker's emergence creates 4-man OF rotation

Reds' No. 5 prospect thrived at plate during final two month of 2017 season
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With one caveat, Reds manager Bryan Price plans to have four outfielders rotating around the three spots this season. That means someone among Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton or Jesse Winker will sit each game.

"Unless performance dictates otherwise," Price said on Monday. "I think all four of these guys can help us in significant ways."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With one caveat, Reds manager Bryan Price plans to have four outfielders rotating around the three spots this season. That means someone among Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Billy Hamilton or Jesse Winker will sit each game.

"Unless performance dictates otherwise," Price said on Monday. "I think all four of these guys can help us in significant ways."

Price felt that Winker -- the organization's No. 5 prospect according to MLBPipeline -- is a big leaguer after his performance over the final two months of the 2017 season. The club did not trade one of the other outfielders, hence the rotational system.

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Performance could drive the decision of who plays, but Price didn't believe it would be hard to split the four players' playing time.

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"We know the current strengths and weaknesses of that group of four," Price said. "I will certainly always try to put them in the best position to be successful and to help our ball club. But unless there's reason to do so, I think they all should be playing regularly."

Complicating the maneuvering will be a couple of factors. Price plans to use Duvall only in left field. He was a Gold Glove Award finalist each of the past two seasons.

"To take him off of that position for the convenience of putting someone else over there that doesn't play it as well, doesn't make a great deal of sense," Price said.

Video: Winker on being a part of the Reds' outfield in 2018

Hamilton, of course, will be only be used in center field. Schebler can play all three spots and will be the only outfielder besides Hamilton to get time in center field. Winker can play either corner-outfield spot.

"It's one of those dynamics we just haven't had in several years," Price said. "We haven't had position-player depth to the point where these guys are nipping at the heels for playing time. Jesse's done that. Jesse's pushed himself into this equation."

Winker, 24, batted .298/.375/.529 with seven home runs and 15 RBIs in 47 games.

"That's great to hear. It's awesome," Winker said of Price's opinion. "I feel like last year I did my part to kind of earn that. I feel like that's something you earn."

Video: Top Prospects: Jesse Winker, OF, Reds

Winker played every day in the Minors, so being in a four-man outfield platoon will be a new experience.

"It doesn't bother me," Winker said. "I just look at it as I've got to go help the team win. That's the God's honest truth. I don't have time to put that thought into it. When I'm called upon, I'm going to be ready, whether it's to pinch-hit, whether we rotate. Whatever it is that day, I'm going to be ready for it."

Full squad gets to work

The Reds held their first full-squad workout of Spring Training. During drills, the team practiced some rundowns. Top prospect Nick Senzel -- who is being exposed to different positions in camp -- spent most of the time at shortstop.

Video: Senzel on learning new defensive positions in spring

Hitters won't face pitchers in live batting practice for a couple more days. But with a shortened Spring Training, they will have just one day of seeing pitches before the first Cactus League game on Friday against the Indians.

"The challenge is to get all of our fundamentals in, which we will do," Price said. "We may have to stack a couple of fundamentals on the same day. What the hitters won't have is that 7-8 days, typically, that they have prior to the first at-bat against a game pitcher."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Jesse Winker

MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18

MLB.com @_dadler

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

Major League Baseball will implement new pace of play rules for the 2018 season, Commissioner Rob Manfred announced Monday, but there will be no pitch clock this season.

After consulting with the MLB Players Association and all 30 clubs, MLB announced its slate of rules changes, among them a limit on mound visits per game.

•  Pace of play rules FAQ

A pitch clock -- giving the pitcher a certain amount of time to deliver the ball -- had been one of the major proposals considered. MLB decided to defer implementation of a pitch clock, as well as a between-batter timer, in order to give players an opportunity to respond to the new rules and positively affect pace of play throughout the 2018 season.

"I am pleased that we were able to reach an understanding with the Players Association to take concrete steps to address pace of play with the cooperation of players," Manfred said in a statement. "My strong preference is to continue to have ongoing dialogue with players on this topic to find mutually acceptable solutions."

New phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout will be installed and monitored, limiting the ability of teams to steal signs, which is viewed as a contributing factor to the increasing number of mound visits. Rules governing when players can and cannot leave the batter's box between pitches, instituted during the 2017 season, remain in effect.

•  Players, managers react to new rules

"Players were involved in the pace of game discussion from Day 1, and are committed to playing a crisp and exciting brand of baseball for the fans, but they remain concerned about rule changes that could alter the outcome of games and the fabric of the game itself -- now or in the future," said Tony Clark, the MLBPA executive director.

Here is a breakdown of the new rules:

• Mound visits: Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.

Video: Hot Stove on mound visits regarding pace of play

• Between-inning breaks: As has been the case since the start of the 2016 season, a timer will count down between innings from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised games, from 2:25 in nationally televised games and from 2:55 for tiebreaker and postseason games. The difference now is that at the 25-second mark, the umpire will signal for the final warmup pitch and the pitcher must throw it before the clock hits 20. The batter will be announced at the 20-second mark and the pitcher must begin his windup to throw the first pitch of the inning within the five seconds before the clock hits zero. Another important change is that a pitcher is no longer guaranteed eight warmup pitches between innings. However, he can take as many as he wants within the countdown parameters noted above. The timer will start on the last out of the inning, unless the pitcher is on base, on deck or at bat, in which case the timer shall begin when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If the final out of the inning is subject to replay, the timer begins when the umpire signals the out.

• Timing of pitcher changes: The timing clock -- as listed above -- also applies to pitching changes, and it will begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track.

Video: Hot Stove on batter's box rule, replay review changes

• Instant replay: All club video review rooms will now receive direct slow-motion camera angles in order to speed up challenges and the resulting review. New phone lines will connect the rooms to the dugout and will be monitored to prevent their use for sign stealing.

Summary of 2018 Rule Changes

I) Mound Visits 
1. Number
A. 2018 Championship Season. Mound visits without a pitching change shall be limited to six (6) per team, per nine innings. For any extra-innings played, each Club shall be entitled to one additional non-pitching change mound visit per inning.  
B. OBR 5.10(l). Official Baseball Rule 5.10(l), which governs mound visits by a manager or coach, remains in effect (i.e., a pitcher must be removed on the second visit by a manager/coach in an inning). 

2. Definition of Mound Visit. A manager or coach trip to the mound to meet with the pitcher shall constitute a visit. A player leaving his position to confer with the pitcher, including a pitcher leaving the mound to confer with another player, shall also constitute a mound visit, regardless of where the visit occurs or the length of the visit, except that the following shall not constitute mound visits:
A. Discussions between pitchers and position player(s) that (i) occur between batters in the normal course of play and do not require either the position player(s) or the pitcher to relocate;
B. Visits by position players to the mound to clean spikes in rainy conditions;
C. Visits to the mound due to an injury or potential injury of the pitcher; and
D. Visits to the mound after the announcement of an offensive substitution.

3. Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a "cross-up"), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team's total number of allotted mound visits.

II) Inning Breaks and Pitching Changes
1. Time of Break. The timer will count down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised championship season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised championship season games, and from 2:55 for tie-breaker and postseason games as follows: 

Time Remaining | Required Action
25 seconds: 
Umpire signals pitcher to complete last warmup pitch.
20 seconds: Batter's announced and must leave on-deck circle, batter walk-up music shall begin, and pitcher shall complete last warmup pitch.
0 seconds: Pitcher must begin motion to deliver first pitch.

A. The pitcher may take as many warm-up pitches as he desires, but regardless of how many warm-up pitches he has thrown, he must deliver his final warm-up pitch at least 20 seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change. OBR 5:07 will be revised to reflect that pitcher is not guaranteed eight warm-up pitches. 
B. The umpire shall signal for the last warm-up pitch at 25 seconds, unless a special circumstance (as described below) applies. 
C. The batter must leave the on-deck circle and proceed directly to the batter's box when the pitcher throws his final warm-up pitch.  
D. The pitcher must begin his motion for the first pitch as soon as the batter steps into the box and is alert to the pitcher; provided, however, the pitcher cannot begin his motion for the first pitch more than five seconds prior to the end of an inning break or pitching change so that television is ensured to be back from commercial break. 

2. Special Circumstances. A Player will be excused from following the time limits set forth above if the umpire determines that any of the following special circumstances are present:  
A. There is a delay in normal warm-up activities during the inning break due to no fault of the Players (e.g., injury or other medical emergency, equipment issues, playing field or grounds crew issues);
B. The umpire believes the pitcher is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to throw warm-up pitches; 
C. The umpire believes the batter is at a legitimate risk of injury if he does not receive additional time to enter the batter's box; 
D. Any other special circumstances which, in the umpire's judgment, warrant allowing the pitcher to throw after the deadline. 

3. Start of Timer for Inning Breaks
A. Last Out of Inning. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break.   
B. Close Plays/Replay Review. The Field Timing Coordinator shall delay the start of the timer if the final out of the inning is a close play that may be reviewed by instant replay. If the final out of the inning is determined in instant replay, the timer shall start as soon as the out is signaled by the umpire.  
C. Pitcher or Catcher On Base/On Deck. If a pitcher ends an inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer shall reset when the pitcher leaves the dugout for the mound. If a catcher ends the inning on base, on deck, or at bat, the timer will reset when the catcher enters the dugout (and another catcher must begin warming up the pitcher). 
 
4. Start of Timer for Pitching Changes
A. Pitcher Crosses Warning Track. The pitching change timer shall begin as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens) to enter the game. In the case of a pitching change that occurs during an inning break, the timer shall reset if previously started as soon as the relief pitcher crosses the warning track (or foul line for on-field bullpens).  
B. Relief Pitchers Must Promptly Leave Bullpen. Relief pitchers shall leave the bullpen promptly following an appropriate signal by their manager or coach. During the playing of God Bless America, or any other extended inning event previously approved by the Office of the Commissioner, the timer will begin at the conclusion of the song or event. 
 
5. Enforcement. Umpires shall direct players and enforce the inning break and pitching change time limits on the field. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline for just cause by the Office of the Commissioner pursuant to Article XI(C) of the Basic Agreement.

III. Batter's Box Rule
The batter's box rule that was in effect during the 2017 season will remain in effect during the 2018 season.

IV. Video Replay Review
The following adjustments will be made to the video replay technology:
A. Install capability for all Club video review rooms to receive direct slow motion camera angles for the 2018 championship season; 
B. Install new phone lines connecting the video review rooms and the dugout, and monitor the communications over those lines to prevent their use for sign-stealing.

David Adler is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @_dadler.

Votto reports, issues 'winning' challenge to Reds

First baseman eager for Cincinnati to return to contention
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- By his own accounting, Joey Votto purposely tried not to do too much with his offseason. The Reds first baseman embraced his down time.

"I tried to get fatter," Votto joked after completing his physical Sunday, when position players reported. "I succeeded at that apparently. We did all the testing, and I am fatter. I just wanted to take as much time away as I could and relax and really unwind. I felt like I needed it. Hopefully it pays off."

Votto finished in second place for the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 2017 -- a mere two points shy of winner Giancarlo Stanton. The 34-year-old Votto had arguably the best year of his 10-year career after he batted .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs, 100 RBIs and 106 runs scored.

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But Votto was not using his idle time to bask in his own achievements -- especially since Cincinnati finished 68-94 for the second consecutive year. The club hasn't reached the postseason since 2013, and it is a long way from the days of being NL Central champions in 2010 and '12. He would like to get better as a player, but Votto noted he wants his team to get better, too.

Video: Outlook: Votto continues to display superb discipline

"It's tough because even had I won that award, it still would have felt awkward because we had such a down year last year," Votto said. "For me, I always want to do my job and play as well as I can. But ultimately, it's much better going home at the end of a work day knowing that you contributed to winning baseball. It's much better finishing a season knowing you're a part of winning baseball. That's been on my mind.

"I think we're starting to get to the point where people are starting to get tired of this stretch of ball. I think something needs to start changing and start going in a different direction. I'm going to do my part to help make that change."

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Votto could not say whether the team currently assembled in the Spring Training clubhouse was one that could bring that change.

"Guys need to get better. Guys need to grow. Guys need to just come out of nowhere," Votto said. "We need lots of help, all the way around. Hopefully that happens sooner than later. I think there's potentially a light at the end of the tunnel. I hope it happens. More importantly, I hope it happens where it's sustainable, where we get guys that stay put for a long time, become marquee names in the city and hopefully in the game in general. The only chance that happens is if there are guys that can really, really play."

Video: Breaking down the Reds' projected 2018 lineup

From 2010-13, when Votto helped the Reds reach the playoffs in three out of four years, he recognized there were the expectations from within -- and the outside -- that the team would be a contender and win.

This year, teams like the Astros, Cubs and Nationals are the ones that carry that aura.

"That's a frustrating thing when you move out of the window," Votto said. "I'll just speak about us. We kind of moved out of it in '14-ish, and the writing was on the wall. Hopefully we start it back up again in the not-too-distant future."

Cincinnati made no significant moves to add players in the offseason; the two big league contract signings were relievers David Hernandez and Jared Hughes. The club is instead counting on its young starting pitchers to grow and improve and veterans like Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani to stay healthy and be successful.

Votto endorsed not splurging on the free-agent market.

"I think they made the right moves," he said. "At some point they'll sign somebody very similar to the way the Brewers did it with Lorenzo Cain or made a five-year offer for [Yu] Darvish. I think those were both wise attempts and signings. I think, at some point, we'll do something similar to that."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Joey Votto