GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Even if they are not viewed as potential contenders for 2017, the Reds would be very pleased to move out of the rebuilding phase and become a team that is more competitive for the upcoming season.
Cincinnati hoped to set that tone beginning on Monday, when its pitchers and catchers reported to open Spring Training. There were no formal workouts, but players underwent physicals with the first formal workout that is scheduled for Tuesday.
"Now it's time to go out there and figure some things out," manager Bryan Price said. "We have a nice group of regulars. The real question marks are going to be spots four and five in the rotation, two or three spots in the bullpen, and really primarily, the bench spots."
Following a pair of last-place finishes in the National League Central -- both seasons with the second-worst record in the Majors -- the Reds have little place to go but up. But they also felt like 2016 was a step forward. A disappointing first half of the season filled with injuries and blowout losses gave way to a team that finished one game under .500 at 36-37 after the All-Star break.
Among the early arrivals to camp, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton wanted higher expectations.
"That's going to be my job, to keep everybody loose and not tensed up by what people predicted already," Hamilton said. "That's one thing I think got in our way last year, people predicting already that we're going to be terrible, it kind of got to us. My job is to keep everyone loose and relaxed, and just go out and play ball and have fun. I feel like it's going to be a good year for us, if we can all stay healthy and play as a bunch of young guys who are really trying to be successful. I feel like we're going to be good."
Sunday's trade of veteran second baseman Brandon Phillips to the Braves for two Minor League pitchers -- Carlos Portuondo and Andrew McKirahan -- who are not considered to be highly ranked prospects, showed that the rebuild is still a work in progress. But it was a much-needed move to help Cincinnati get to see its future possibilities now. That means more playing time up the middle for young infielders Jose Peraza, and perhaps Dilson Herrera.
The loss of Homer Bailey, who had arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips last week, means it will fall on younger pitchers to pick up the missing innings.
"I don't want to sit there and say, 72, 75 wins is a nice improvement for a team that's rebuilding," Price said. "We have to set much higher goals and standards for ourselves and in order for that to happen, we have to have stability in the rotation. We need some step-up performances. Not every young guy has to come up here and struggle when they come up here. There are guys that have come up and been really good from their first start and been able to compete.
Efforts were made to shore up pitching -- the team's biggest weakness -- with some modest investment in a pair of free agents and a competition featuring several top prospects for openings in the rotation and bullpen. The hope is prospects like Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson and Amir Garrett -- among others -- grow and establish themselves this season as Major Leaguers.
"It's great seeing everyone and getting out here, and seeing my stuff in the locker all ready to go," Reed said. "I'm a little used to it since last year was my first big league camp. This year, I'm more comfortable with stuff going on and have a better feel for everything. I'm really excited for this year."
Here is a glance at the Spring Training picture for the Reds as camp opens.
Pitchers and catchers first workout: Tuesday
Position players report: Thursday
First Cactus League game: Away vs. the Giants on Feb. 24 at 3:05 p.m. ET
New faces: Former closer and free agent Drew Storen was signed to a one year, $3 million contract, plus incentives, for a chance to rebuild his resume after he struggled in the second half of 2015 and most of '16. Storen will be part of a multi-pitcher approach to the late innings Price hopes to employ. Once general manager Dick Williams traded Dan Straily to the Marlins for three prospects, he turned and signed veteran free agent Scott Feldman to a one-year, $2.3 million contract to provide innings on a young staff. Waiver claim Arismendy Alcantara will compete for a bench spot. Former Dodgers pitcher Louis Coleman -- also a non-roster invite -- will compete for the bullpen as will Austin Brice, who was acquired in the Straily trade.
Interesting non-roster invitees: One new face that is also a familiar one to Reds fans, starting pitcher Bronson Arroyo, will attempt a comeback after being out for two years with arm injuries. Arroyo previously pitched for Cincinnati from 2006-13. Desmond Jennings was signed Thursday to a Minor League deal and can earn $1.5 million if he makes the club as a right-handed-hitting outfielder off the bench.
Prospects to watch: This won't be the first big league camp for left-handed pitcher and No. 2 prospect Garrett, but it will be a pivotal one. Garrett, 24, has an excellent chance at earning one of the two rotation vacancies. Reed and Stephenson will also be back to fight for the rotation following a struggle as rookies last season. Outfielder Jesse Winker, the No. 3 prospect, according to MLBPipeline.com, is hoping to show that he can make the big leagues for the first time. Pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez, who was signed out of Cuba last summer, is the Reds' No. 5 prospect and will be at his first Spring Training as a non-roster invite. Price did not expect Gutierrez to get a bulk of innings in big league games because he's getting back into baseball after being unable to play last year during his defection process.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.