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02/06/11 10:00 PM EST

Reds' core group from 2010 is hungry for more

Votto, Bruce return to build on last season's successful run

No longer are the Reds entering a new season just hoping to be taken seriously as a legitimate playoff contender. A Spring Training drill has yet to be performed, and they're already in that conversation.

A team largely unchanged after it won the National League Central division last season, the Reds are banking that the maturity of their younger players and the brief experience of playoff baseball they received during a first-round exit will be enough to be better and go farther in 2011.

Unlike the rival Cardinals, Cubs and Brewers, the Reds did not make many changes and they had no bold additions. Instead, Cincinnati locked up some of their young core talent -- namely NL Most Valuable Player Joey Votto and right fielder Jay Bruce -- to multi-year contracts with an eye on contending this year and for years to come.

Given a new two-year contract right after the regular season last year, manager Dusty Baker was commended for patiently guiding his younger roster as it went through the rigors of a pennant chase for the first time. Now, Baker will be charged with getting many of those same players ready to take the next step -- while also dealing with being a prime target of the rest of the league.

In Votto, Bruce, Scott Rolen and Brandon Phillips, the Reds have a strong core portion of the lineup. Bronson Arroyo, Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto are a good starting point for a rotation that still lacks a true ace -- for now. A bullpen that features a 100-mph throwing left-hander like Aroldis Chapman in the late innings is always going to be taken seriously.

With this cadre of talent, now it's a matter of whether the Reds can put it all together again to get back into the postseason. The effort to repeat in the NL Central soon begins in Goodyear, Ariz.

Spring Training
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Pitchers and catchers report

Feb 16.

Full squad reports

Feb 19.

First Spring Training game

Reds at Indians, Feb. 27, 3:05 p.m. ET

Opening Day

Reds vs. Brewers, March 31, 2:10 p.m. ET

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. Who will be in the back of the rotation?
The battle for the final two spots of the Reds' rotation will be the most compelling storyline of the club's Spring Training. There are no shortage of contenders in Mike Leake, Travis Wood, Homer Bailey, Matt Maloney and Sam LeCure. All of them had some strong moments in the big leagues last season. Of the group, Bailey is the one out of Minor League options, and he has 56 big league starts at just 24 years of age.

2. Is shortstop Paul Janish ready to be a regular?
After Orlando Cabrera took the job from him late into the previous offseason, the Reds are making shortstop Janish's spot to lose this season. With solid work as a backup last season -- especially 27 straight games in August due to an injured Cabrera -- the club has more confidence. Janish is a superlative defensive player making improvements with his bat.

3. What's the plan in left field?
Jonny Gomes had a strong first half and 86 RBIs, and returns with the inside track. But young right-handed hitter Chris Heisey and lefty hitter Fred Lewis, a free-agent signing, could make strong cases for more playing time with good camps.

2010 record

91-71, first place in the National League Central

Projected batting order

1. 2B Brandon Phillips:
  .275 BA, .32 OBP, .430 SLG, 18 HR, 59 RBI in 2010
2. CF Drew Stubbs:
  .255 BA, .329 OBP, .444 SLG, 22 HR, 77 RBI in 2010
3. 1B Joey Votto:
  .324 BA, .424 OBP, .600 SLG, 37 HR, 113 RBI in 2010
4. 3B Scott Rolen:
  .285 BA, .358 OBP, .497 SLG, 20 HR, 83 RBI in 2010
5. LF Jonny Gomes:
  .266 BA, .327 OBP, .431 SLG, 18 HR, 86 RBI in 2010
6. RF Jay Bruce:
  .281 BA, .353 OBP, .493 SLG, 25 HR, 70 RBI in 2010
7. C Ramon Hernandez:
  .297 BA, .364 OBP, .428 SLG, 7 HR, 48 RBI in 2010
8. SS Paul Janish:
  .260 BA, .338 OBP, .385 SLG, 5 HR, 25 RBI in 2010

Projected rotation

1. Bronson Arroyo, 17-10, 388 ERA in 2010
2. Edinson Volquez, 4-3, 4.31 ERA in 2010
3. Johnny Cueto, 12-7, 3.64 ERA in 2010
4. Homer Bailey, 4-3, 4.46 ERA in 2010
5. Travis Wood, 5-4, 3.51 ERA in 2010

Projected bullpen

Closer: Francisco Cordero, 40/48 saves, 3.84 ERA in 2010
RH setup man: Nick Masset, 3.40 ERA in 2010
LH setup man: Aroldis Chapman, 2.03 ERA in 2010

The new guys

SS Edgar Renteria: Signed to a one-year, $2.1 million contract with added incentives, the veteran and 2010 World Series MVP for the Giants gives Dusty Baker the true shortstop he likes from the bench. Renteria can pick up for Janish, but could also see some games at second base or third base.

OF Fred Lewis: A free agent signed for $900,000, Lewis gives the Reds a left-handed leadoff hitter when they need it and a bat from the bench. He can play all three outfield positions, but will likely see most of his time in left field.

LHP Dontrelle Willis: Signed in November to a Minor League deal, the former All-Star starter is trying to revive his career as a reliever.

OF Jeremy Hermida: The club is short of left-handed hitters for the bench, which opens up a good window of opportunity to make the club. Hermida was also signed to a Minor League contract.

Prospects to watch

RHP Mike Leake: After he skipped the Minors to become the fifth starter out of camp last year, Leake is back to fight for one of the final two spots in the rotation. Although he didn't have a great second half and was shut down early, it would be unwise to discount his chances.

C Devin Mesoraco: After a breakout year across three Minor League levels, Mesoraco was named the Reds' Minor League Player of the Year in 2010. He is slated to begin 2011 at Triple-A Louisville -- but if the need arises and he's playing well, he could be summoned to the big leagues deeper into the season.

1B Yonder Alonso: A budding left-handed power hitter, Alonso is blocked by Joey Votto, but has a great attitude and desire to improve. He could get some chances in left field again, which he is willing to do.

OF Dave Sappelt: The Reds' Minor League Hitter of the Year recipient in 2010, Sappelt batted .341 with 10 homers and 74 RBIs across three levels last season.

3B Juan Francisco: A big left-handed bat with questionable defense, a good spring could earn Francisco a spot on the bench and some starts when Rolen needs days off.

IF/OF Todd Frazier: A versatile infielder and outfielder, Frazier wants to earn one of the spots on the bench. He didn't have a good spring last year, and hopes to open some more eyes this camp.

On the rebound

3B Scott Rolen: The respected veteran had a first-half renaissance that had him in the MVP conversation. But injuries to his back, neck and hamstring wore him down and hampered his second-half production. He had 17 homers before the All-Star break and only three in the second half. He also struggled mightily in the NL Division Series.

RHP Edinson Volquez: The second half of last season marked his return from Tommy John surgery, but many pitchers don't really fully return to form until the second season removed from the procedure.

RHP Jose Arredondo: Arredondo signed a year ago despite needing Tommy John surgery. After a full year of rehab, the former Angels pitcher has a good shot at making the Reds' bullpen. He has great numbers vs. left-handers, despite being right-handed.

Long gone

LHP Arthur Rhodes: The 41-year-old reliever signed as a free agent with the Rangers. He was considered a clubhouse/bullpen leader, and his departure will be noticeable to some players.

SS Orlando Cabrera: The Reds did not exercise the $4 million option on Cabrera, allowing him to move on after one season. Like Rhodes, he was a sizeable veteran presence in the clubhouse.

OF Laynce Nix: Before he sprained his ankle in August, Nix was a valuable left-handed bat off the bench and key pinch-hitter. He was outrighted from the roster after last season and opted for free agency.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com Read his blog, Mark My Word and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.