02/15/2006 2:00 PM ET
Around the Horn: Bench
Narron's squad features versatility off the bench in 2006
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- Reds manager Jerry Narron's playing career was spent entirely in the American League. Most of his coaching experience was in the AL and he also previously managed the AL's Texas Rangers.
But by no means is Narron an AL loyalist. He loves the National League style of play.
"I personally think it's a better game to watch. It's a better game to manage," Narron said. "There's a lot of strategy. It's more than who can out-slug the other."
Much of that strategy involves how a manager utilizes his bench. Just 92 games into his regime in the Reds' dugout, Narron has shown a knack for making full use of his reserve players.
"I really love to get everybody involved," said Narron, who was 46-46 after taking over from Dave Miley in June of last season. "In the NL, it's important to stay sharp, even in a pinch-hitting role."
Cincinnati's roster has a few players who can play multiple positions, including utility man Ryan Freel and infielders Rich Aurilia and Tony Womack. All are expected to rotate at second base, but their versatility could stretch Narron's bench a little more.
Freel batted .271 with three home runs and 21 RBIs in 103 games last season and played in a career-high 143 games in 2004. He stole 36 and 37 bases, respectively, the past two years. Besides having speed and a penchant for hustling, Freel's value was found in the five positions he played last season. The Reds signed him to a two-year, $3 million contract this winter.
Aurilia, who was brought back as a free agent in a one-year, $1.3 million deal, will probably see most of his action at second and third base. He hit .282 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 114 games last year. Womack, who is coming off a poor 2005 with the Yankees (.249 with 15 RBIs), can play second base, shortstop and left field.
On Sunday, the Reds improved their depth at first base by signing veteran Scott Hatteberg to a one-year, $750,000 contract. Although he's coming off a down year where he batted .256 with seven homers and 59 RBIs with Oakland last season, Hatteberg is a strong on-base percentage hitter and can be tough to strike out. His ability to put the ball in play makes him suitable for both starting and pinch-hitting duties.
Speaking of pinch-hitters, Jacob Cruz led the Reds -- and the Majors -- with 20 pinch-hits last season. Also a first baseman and an outfielder, Cruz was signed to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training. But Hatteberg's signing could make it tougher to make the team.
Backup catcher Javier Valentin can also play first base and provide some pop with the bat. Valentin posted career bests in 2005 with a .281 average, 14 homers and 36 runs scored and also had 50 RBIs.
The race to be the 25th man could come down to what the Reds need the most, and who's playing the best, when camp concludes. If it's an extra outfielder, the last roster spot could go to the organization's Minor League Player of the Year -- Chris Denorfia -- or non-roster invites Quinton McCracken and Tuffy Rhodes. If a third catcher is desired, it could mean a place for Dane Sardinha. An extra infield spot might mean a job for Ray Olmedo or non-roster invite Frank Menechino.
"It will be interesting to see who gets that last roster spot," Narron said.
02/13/2006 10:00 AM ET
Mailbag: Will Belisle break into rotation?
Reds beat writer Mark Sheldon answers fans' questions
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
What are the chances of Matt Belisle making the rotation? I watched him a lot in Double-A and Triple-A, and the guy has great stuff in my opinion. I know he did better out of the bullpen last year, but if given a real chance at a lasting spot in the rotation, I feel he could make a huge impact.
-- Larry L., Piedmont, S.C.
As it stands now, it's unlikely Belisle will be part of the five-man rotation, but that doesn't mean he won't get a chance to start and show he belongs in Spring Training. Reds manager Jerry Narron recently told me Belisle was someone who could start for him if someone was hurt or struggled. Obviously, a lot of eyes will be on the recovery and rehab of No. 5 starter Paul Wilson. If there's a setback that prevents him from opening the season, it could open the door for someone like Belisle or recent acqusition Michael Gosling.
Who do the Reds have to fill in at first base as a backup to Adam Dunn? Will Ken Griffey Jr. see any playing time there?
-- Duane D., Chillicothe, Ohio
The Reds made a move to bolster this area Sunday by signing veteran first baseman Scott Hatteberg to a one-year contract. Hatteberg, 36, is a solid hitter and an average fielder.
Although Hatteberg's signing might making more difficult for him to make the club, non-roster invite and pinch-hitter extraordinaire Jacob Cruz also plays first base. So does backup catcher Javier Valentin. Infielder Rich Aurilia might also be a possibility. I don't expect to see Griffey holding a first baseman's mitt this year.
What are the chances of Chris Denorfia making the Major League roster this season? -- Will P., Miami
Based on the 2005 season he had in the Minors and Majors, Denorfia has an excellent chance to make the team out of camp, possibly as the 25th man. Since Ryan Freel and Tony Womack can play the outfield too, Denorfia's hopes will ultimately come down to how Narron and the club decide to use its final spot. They might want another infielder, a third catcher or an extra outfielder. It will be one of the interesting stories that develop this spring.
Will Barry Larkin ever be a part of the Reds coaching staff or the front office? -- Joe H., Cincinnati
In his short tenure as chief executive officer, Bob Castellini has shown a great affinity for Reds history and the players that contributed to building it. He's invited Tom Browning, George Foster and Mario Soto to Spring Training, and Hall of Famers Johnny Bench and Joe Morgan to a team dinner to be held later this month in Sarasota, Fla.
Larkin is certainly an important link to the team's past, and there's no doubt in my mind that Castellini would like to have him working for the Reds some day down the road. But Larkin is currently employed in the Washington Nationals front office as a special assistant to general manager (former Reds GM) Jim Bowden.
With another Twins alum like Wayne Krivsky as general manager now, do you see some deals developing between the Reds and Twins? I mentioned pitcher Scott Baker to you previously and still think that he would be a great pickup if they could swing it. -- Rich T., Williamsburg, Va.
I suppose the lines of communication between Krivsky and his former boss, Minnesota GM Terry Ryan, would be pretty decent because of their longtime working relationship -- especially if there is a good match that helps both teams. However, Baker is someone the Twins have shown no interest in dealing (along with lefty Francisco Liriano). As close as he is to Krivsky, I don't expect Ryan to do the Reds any special favors by dealing one of his organization's most coveted prospects and likely No. 5 starter in this year's rotation.
Can you tell me who is going to be playing in the World Baseball Classic from the Reds roster? I'm coming down for Spring Training and was just curious who wasn't going to be there. -- Kendall, Tennessee
As it stands now, there are seven players from the Reds that have agreed to participate in the World Baseball Classic, if selected. They are Jung Bong (South Korea), Griffey Jr. (USA), Felipe Lopez (Puerto Rico), non-roster invite Frank Menechino (Italy), Wily Mo Pena (Dominican Republic), Valentin (Puerto Rico) and Joey Votto (Canada).
The tournament runs from March 3-20. Final 30-man rosters for each nation must be submitted five days before their first game.