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Baseball preview: Cincinnati Reds

After finishing in fifth place in the NL Central last season, the Cincinnati Reds will rely heavily on the emergence of several prospects in order to be competitive in 2008.

Homer Bailey, a right-handed pitcher that was 4-2 with a 5.76 ERA in nine starts last season, will compete for a spot in the starting rotation. Johnny Cueto, another pitching prospect, could also make an impact this season. The two pitchers figure to be a major part of Cincinnati's future. It remains to be seen how much of a contribution they'll make in the major leagues this year.

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In addition to the two pitchers, there are two position players who could potentially help the Reds in 2008. First baseman Joey Votto, who hit .321 with four home runs and 17 RBIs in 24 games in 2007, will compete for a starting job this spring. Top prospect Jay Bruce could begin the season as the team's starting center fielder. He'll be 21 in April, so if he makes the team, then he'll be a valuable fantasy prospect for several years.

The only major move that the Reds made in the offseason was signing closer Francisco Cordero to a four-year deal. As a member of the Milwaukee Brewers last season, Cordero finished second in the National League with 44 saves. He'll anchor the Reds bullpen, which finished 26th in the major leagues with 34 saves as a team in 2007.

Cincinnati Reds

2007 record: 72-90 (5th in NL Central)

Key additions: RHP Francisco Cordero

Key losses: OF Josh Hamilton, LHP Eddie Guardado

Most valuable fantasy performers:

1. Adam Dunn, LF – The good news is that Dunn is a fantasy superstar because he'll hit 40-45 home runs with 100-110 RBIs. The bad news is that his batting average will likely be below .260 and he'll strike out more than 160 times. Dunn's career high in batting average is .266, so he's definitely going to hurt you in that category. If your league counts strikeouts, then he might be more trouble than he's worth. Will the positive impact of Dunn's home runs and RBIs outweigh the negative impact of the strikeouts and low batting average?

2. Brandon Phillips, 2B – Since becoming the starting second baseman in 2006, Phillips has quietly become an outstanding fantasy performer. He hit .288 with 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and 32 stolen bases last season. Phillips will likely hit around .285 with 25-30 home runs and 80-90 RBIs in 2008. He should pick up around 30 stolen bases again this season.

3. Aaron Harang, RHP – As a member of the Oakland Athletics in 2002, Harang was overshadowed by teammates Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson. Zito won the AL Cy Young Award that season with a 23-5 record and 2.75 ERA. Mulder won 19 games and Hudson won 15. Harang was 5-4 with a 4.83 ERA in 16 games as a rookie that year. He was traded to the Reds in the middle of the 2003 season and has become the ace of the pitching staff. Harang won 16 games in each of the last two seasons and will likely lead the team in victories again in 2008. He led the NL in strikeouts in 2006 (216) and finished second in the league last year (218). If you pick Harang, then you'll be getting a pitcher who will win more than 15 games and strike out more than 200 hitters. There's not much more you could ask for in a pitcher.

4. Francisco Cordero, RHP – Cordero has notched more than 40 saves in two of the last four seasons. Even though he probably won't get as many save opportunities as he did in Milwaukee last season, Cordero will most likely be near the top of the league in saves again in 2008. The Reds won't win as many games this year as the Brewers did last season, but Cordero still has a lot of fantasy value.

5. Ken Griffey Jr., RF – The 38-year-old only needs seven more home runs to reach 600 for his career. Despite injuries that have limited his playing time in recent years, Griffey has still hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last four seasons. Last season, he hit .277 with 30 home runs and 93 RBIs. Barring injury, I don't see any reason why he wouldn't be able to duplicate those numbers in 2008. If you draft Griffey, then just keep in mind that the injury risk is always there.

6. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B – Last season, Encarnacion hit .289 with 16 home runs and 76 RBIs. His numbers will likely be similar this season, so I'd draft him in the middle rounds and consider starting him if you don't have a better option at third base. I think Encarnacion will hit around .285 with 15-20 home runs and 75-85 RBIs. There's a chance that this could be a breakout season for Encarnacion, which makes him attractive.

Hidden gems:

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1. Jay Bruce, CF – If you've checked out any of the publications that list baseball prospects, then you'll know that Bruce is considered by many to be the best prospect available. He'll be given the opportunity to become the starting center fielder. Keep an eye on his play during spring training. Bruce could soon become a top-level outfielder and you could potentially steal him in this year's draft.

2. Joey Votto, 1B – In my opinion, Votto will hit a lot of home runs in the major leagues one day. Unfortunately, he might not get to start the season at first base because the Reds have veteran Scott Hatteberg. If Votto has a strong spring and earns the starting job, then you should pick him up in your league. He'll hit a lot of home runs and will be a strong contributor to the success of your fantasy team.

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