Reds report to camp, ready to rise up in tough division

Reds report to camp, ready to rise up in tough division

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In the four years from 2010-13, the Reds reached the postseason three times and were often viewed as the team to beat in the National League Central. A big step backward in 2014 means the club will have to earn some respect again.

That began in earnest on Wednesday when Reds pitchers and catchers reported to camp at the team's player development complex in Goodyear. No formal workouts were part of the day's agenda, with the first workout slated for Thursday following physicals.

2015 Spring Training: Reds

Following a 76-win season and a fourth-place finish in the National League Central in 2014, the Reds are viewed by many as underdogs in what could be the toughest division in baseball. The club traded starting pitchers Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon and did not make dynamic personnel changes while counting on its returning core to turn things around.

"It's probably a very likely description of us," Reds starter Homer Bailey said of the underdog tag. "I think it's a little unfair, almost, because we had so many injuries last year, so it's kind of hard to tell what you've really got until you've got all of your guys healthy. I think just about everybody, at some point, missed some time."

On the camp roster are 34 pitchers and six catchers. The full squad of 64 players is due to report on Monday, followed by the first full-squad workout on Tuesday. The first Cactus League game will be March 3 vs. the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.

Manager Bryan Price, general manager Walt Jocketty and the coaching staff will have about seven weeks to pare down the club's roster to 25 players before Opening Day on April 6 vs. the Pirates at Great American Ball Park.

"In the end, it doesn't matter where we're picked to finish. It matters where we do finish," Price said. "I think anybody that comes into our camp that doesn't believe we have a good team doesn't know our team well enough. You have to play the season to find out where we end up.

"There were three teams that came in ahead of us [in 2014]. There's no reason to think they won't be good again in 2015, and the Cubs have gotten better. I think we're a very easy target to be a second-division type of ballclub. That being said, I think we have a chance to have a great year ... and a great improvement over 2014."

There will be numerous storylines and subplots to follow throughout the Reds' time in Arizona. Here are just a few:

Joey Votto is back after an injury-shortened 2014 season in which he had a distal strain of his left quadriceps. Votto, the team's most important offensive player, is expected to be 100 percent, but his on-field performance will be under a microscope nonetheless.

• Ace Johnny Cueto and his agent, Bryce Dixon, will be negotiating with the Reds for a long-term contract with an Opening Day deadline. Cueto, entering the $10 million option year of his current deal, could become a free agent at season's end if he isn't signed.

• There are two openings for the final two spots in the starting rotation. Tony Cingrani, Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias, Jason Marquis, Paul Maholm, Dylan Axelrod and David Holmberg are among the candidates.

• New left fielder Marlon Byrd will be in Reds camp for the first time and is expected to help boost an offense that sagged last season.

• Bailey will be working his way back from September surgery that repaired a torn flexor mass tendon near his right elbow. Reliever Sean Marshall will need to show he's healthy again after left shoulder surgery last summer.

• The bullpen, which added pitchers like Burke Badenhop and Kevin Gregg, will have multiple spots up for grabs.

Of course, there are also the unforeseen issues that can crop up. Injuries cast a pall over Reds camp last spring. The least pleasant surprise was certainly closer Aroldis Chapman being struck in the face by a Salvador Perez line drive in a game vs. the Royals.

Getting through camp healthy will be paramount for a Reds team looking to get back into contention again.

"I think it's going to be one of those seasons if we can all stay healthy, then we'll be successful," Bailey said. "And then of course, just going out there and doing our jobs. There were a lot of things we didn't do very well last year, collectively. We need to improve, there's no doubt about that."

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.