Reds counting on a return to health in 2015

Reds counting on a return to health in 2015

CINCINNATI -- Reds Spring Training usually brings new hope for players, fresh anticipation for baseball-starved fans and a smorgasbord of speculation for all to consume.

Before pitchers and catchers report to Goodyear, Ariz., on Feb. 18, and will have a multi-part series that examines Cincinnati's new faces, top prospects, big questions, projected lineups and more. The first installment takes a look at players who will be on the rebound following a 2014 season filled with injuries, poor performance -- or both.

The Reds did not blow open their budget to make wholesale changes this winter following a 76-win season. They are instead counting heavily on several players to return to a form similar to that of their track record in order to contend in the National League Central.

Here are some Reds players that will need to have a bounceback year in 2015:

Outlook: Votto, 1B, CIN

1B Joey Votto: The former NL Most Valuable Player and team's best hitter is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. A healthy Votto return and a strong season are both paramount for the Reds to succeed. Limited to 62 games in 2014 because of a distal strain of his left quadriceps, Votto posted some of his poorest production numbers to date, batting .255/.390/.409 with six home runs and 23 RBIs in 272 plate appearances. He did not play another game after July 5. Votto has spent his offseason at home in Toronto continuing to rehabilitate and there is an expectation he will be 100 percent when the full squad reports.

Outlook: Bruce, RF, CIN

RF Jay Bruce: It was quite simply the worst year of Bruce's career in 2014. Right knee surgery on his torn meniscus and a rush to return in only two weeks only exacerbated his struggles as he batted only .217/.281/.373 with 18 home runs and 66 RBIs. He had averaged 32 homers and 102 RBIs from 2011-13.

2B Brandon Phillips: Phillips has remained a constant with great defense but has seen his offensive numbers decline the past two seasons. That's, in part, because of injuries. Surgery for torn ligaments in his left thumb cost Phillips 33 games last season. Now 33 years old, Phillips will be motivated to prove he has some life in his bat.

SS Zack Cozart: Cozart was not injured last year and played Gold Glove-worthy defense. But he also endured a poor offensive campaign while batting .221/.268/.300. The Reds traded for young shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who has a stronger bat, signaling that Cozart will need to bounce back to remain a lineup fixture.

RHP Homer Bailey: Bailey had September surgery to repair a torn flexor mass tendon near his right elbow and his status for Opening Day is not yet clear. Following a tough start to the year, Bailey had a 1.62 ERA over his final seven starts last season, numbers that would be nice to have from the rotation's No. 2 starter.

RHP J.J. Hoover: The reliever went 1-10 with a 4.88 ERA last season, losing all 10 decisions consecutively. Hoover also gave up 13 homers and walked 31.

LHP Sean Marshall: Shoulder problems have limited Marshall the past two seasons. It was a torn labrum that required season-ending surgery in June, which put the veteran on a challenging comeback trail.

LHP Tony Cingrani: A leading candidate for one of the two open rotation spots, Cingrani battled with control issues and shoulder problems in 2014. The 25-year-old was 2-8 with a 4.55 ERA in 13 games, including 11 starts, and walked 35 while striking out 61 in 2014 in 63 1/3 innings. He was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on June 20 but didn't pitch against season because of shoulder tendinitis.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for 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.