Notes: Baker looks for leadoff man
Veteran free agents Lofton and Patterson among possibilities
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Leading off for the Reds, Kenny Lofton?
Lofton is among several free agents still without a team as Major League camps opened for Spring Training. Manager Dusty Baker said on Sunday that he's spoken with Lofton and another veteran center fielder, Corey Patterson.
"They're both out there looking for a job," Baker said. "We have to see if it fits the budget here and all kinds of stuff."
Space is also an issue, especially in trying to get Lofton. The Reds' 40-man roster is currently full, leaving only Minor League contracts and non-roster invites available -- unless another move is made to make room.
"I know Kenny would like a big league contract," Baker said.
Rumors about Lofton and Cincinnati first surfaced last week. The 41-year-old has played for 11 different teams over a 17-year career, including pennant runs for Baker in 2002 with the Giants and 2003 with the Cubs.
If Lofton were to be signed to a guaranteed contract, it would likely put a dent in top prospect Jay Bruce's chances of making the club out of camp. Bruce is battling for the center field spot with Ryan Freel and Norris Hopper.
"We're trying to get best pieces of the puzzle and do what's best for everybody concerned, now and for later," Baker said. "I haven't seen Bruce play. On the other hand, you see [Ken Griffey Jr.] came in at 19. Corey Patterson looked like he was rushed a little bit on to the Cubs and didn't get time to mature.
"It's like raising your kids -- you don't know if you did it right until later. You hope you did it right. It's something that's very hard to judge -- when is now?"
Bruce, 20, was the Baseball America Minor League Player of the Year and blasted through three levels last season to Triple-A.
"It's no secret that this guy is a star of the future," Baker said. "He could be a star of the present, who knows? I'm very impressed talking with him, but there's more to baseball than just hitting, too."
In 136 games with the Rangers and Indians last season, the lefty-hitting Lofton batted a combined .296 with a .367 on-base percentage and 23 stolen bases. He has a career .372 on-base percentage.
Patterson played for the Cubs from 2000-05 and the Orioles from 2006-07. He batted .269 in 132 games last season, but owns just a career .298 on-base percentage -- not close to being an ideal stat for a leadoff hitter.
If the Reds don't sign Lofton, Patterson or someone else, Freel and Hopper are both considered capable leadoff hitters. Both have done it for the Reds.
"That's probably the most unappreciated, hardest-to-find-quality position on a baseball team," Baker said. "You have to have one and they're so hard to find."
If Bruce wins the regular center field spot, it would leave the Reds without a prototypical leadoff man.
"He's volunteered [and said] 'Oh, I can bat leadoff, no problem,'" Baker said.
"I want to help the team by doing anything to make us better," said Bruce, who hasn't batted leadoff since high school. "I'm not a typical leadoff hitter, but if I had to, I would."
Despite a team loaded with power and home run threats, the 2007 Reds scored 783 runs but gave up 853 -- a differential of 70 runs. Baker believes creating scoring chances is important, and that starts with the leadoff man.
"I led off in the Minor Leagues -- I know what it's all about, leading off," he said. "The greatest challenge I ever had -- my Triple-A manager, Mickey Vernon, told me to see how many games in a row I could lead off a game getting on base. That's a heck of a challenge. I did it like 16 or 17 times. But it puts that thought process in your mind. It puts the pitcher in the stretch right away."
Let's get physicals: Before pitchers and catchers could participate in their first workout, they had to take physicals Sunday morning. The process began just past dawn and took several hours.
Rotation candidate and prospect Homer Bailey was one of those who went through his physical without issue.
"I wish I could do my own physical," Bailey said. "I want to draw my own blood. In high school, I had [arthroscopic] knee surgery and I told the doctor to just numb it because I wanted to be awake and watch it. Then he held up the big novocaine needle and said, 'Are you sure?' I said 'OK, knock me out for two minutes.' Then I snapped back up after that and watched."
Working out: All 41 pitchers and catchers participated in the first workout on Sunday afternoon. Still rehabilitating from shoulder surgery, lefty Bobby Livingston was the only pitcher not permitted to throw. Outfielder Ryan Freel and Juan Castro also participated in the first session.
The approximate two-hour workout featured pitcher fielding drills, bunting practice and bullpen sessions. Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez, Jeremy Affeldt and Francisco Cordero were among those who worked in the bullpen.