Chance to begin anew excites pitchers, catchers
Position players Frazier, Choo, Ludwick among early arrivals at Goodyear
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The buzz and bustling inside the Reds complex Tuesday was only a precursor to the pop of baseballs meeting gloves.
Put all of the different sounds together and you know Reds pitchers and catchers have reported to Spring Training.
The days of impatient anticipation for baseball to resume are over.
"Pitchers and catchers is a special thing," reliever Sean Marshall said. "I talk to a lot of people and they ask, 'When are you reporting?' or 'Two of my favorite words are pitchers and catchers.' It's as special to us as it is for the fans. It's the beginning of baseball season. It's our career and what we love to do. It's good to get to start doing it again."
Tuesday began with more mundane activity as the players took morning physicals, were fitted for new-look Spring Training caps and claimed new T-shirts and sweatshirts. The team also held a clubhouse meeting before the first workout of spring got under way.
Cincinnati has 30 pitchers and six catchers in camp. When position players report as scheduled on Friday, there will be 58 players in total. As in past years, many are often early arrivals.
Among position players already in camp are shortstop Zack Cozart, third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielders Ryan Ludwick, Chris Heisey, top prospect Billy Hamilton and newly acquired Shin-Soo Choo.
"I'm shaking hands a lot. I'm still learning and reading the media book to get their names," Choo said. "That's what is important for me right now.
"It's a different league, but we played five-six games every year so I know a lot of players -- like Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. I feel very comfortable here. I only live 10-15 minutes from here."
The Reds are intent on putting 2012 behind them and doing bigger and better things for '13. That could finally happen in earnest on Tuesday.
After finishing with the second-best record in baseball at 97-65 while winning the National League Central, the Reds had a dubious conclusion. Despite going up 2-0 on the Giants in the NL Division Series with a pair of road victories, Cincinnati dropped the remaining three games at home. Suddenly and unexpectedly, the season was over.
"You can't wipe it that quickly. It takes a winter," manager Dusty Baker said. "You think about the positives. You think about the things you have to do. The toughest part for me was being and living in the middle of Giants territory -- seeing jackets and jerseys and license plate covers, flags and billboards and everybody telling me they were pulling for me except when we played the Giants."
Now it all begins anew, and some improvements were made that are expected to make the team better.
To address a hole in the leadoff spot, general manager Walt Jocketty traded outfielder Drew Stubbs and shortstop prospect Didi Gregorius to land Choo from the Indians. Although Choo is in the final year of his contract and headed to free agency, his presence best underscores the club's urgency over winning now. Choo, a right fielder in Cleveland, will shift to center for the Reds.
In an effort to upgrade the rotation, a bold move was made from within. Aroldis Chapman, who electrified as a closer that notched 38 saves, will attempt to be a member of the rotation. How exactly this will be done is a question that will be answered during camp.
Chapman's closer replacement, Jonathan Broxton, will be in Reds camp for the first time after he was acquired on July 31 from Kansas City.
Other new faces include backup lefty reliever Manny Parra, infielders Jack Hannahan, Cesar Izturis and Jason Donald and catcher Miguel Olivo.
But most of the core that was successful in 2012 is back -– but even that group has some questions. The biggest one is whether Votto is 100 percent again after left knee surgeries last summer sapped his power at the plate. Also, can Frazier successfully take over as the starting third baseman following a strong rookie year? Will Ludwick, who was rewarded with a two-year, $15 million contract, follow up his resurgent 2012 season with one equal or better?
There will be an added wrinkle for one mainstay, second baseman Brandon Phillips, who will leave camp to participate in the World Baseball Classic for Team USA. Phillips is the only Reds big leaguer on a Classic roster, but several Minor Leaguers are also participating.
Baker, who is also putting last September's scare of a stroke and irregular heartbeat behind him, was even more motivated to keep up with good health because of his club's optimism for 2013.
"I know that we're close," Baker said. "I like this team. They like each other. It's probably as close to a family situation as I've felt in a while."
This will mark the fourth year that the Reds participate in the Cactus League and the first exhibition game is slated for Feb. 22 against the Indians at 3:05 p.m. ET.
In the days and weeks that follow, Jocketty and Baker will gradually whittle down the camp roster toward the 25 players needed to start the defense of the division. It all leads up to Opening Day against the Angels, on April 1 at Great American Ball Park.
"It's always an exciting time of year again when you get to see all of your teammates you spend most of the year with," Marshall said. "You see a couple of new fresh faces. Usually when Christmas hits, Spring Training is right around the corner. And here we are."