Cincinnati's pitching staff was bolstered by acquiring 6-foot-6 Mat Latos from San Diego to anchor its starting rotation. The cost may have been steep. Several top prospects -- including pitcher Brad Boxberger, catcher Yasmani Grandal and first baseman Yonder Alonso -- were shipped to the Padres, along with pitcher Edinson Volquez, to fetch Latos. But prospects are prospects. There is little guarantee of Major League success.
Latos is a proven starter with the ability to shut down the opposition. The trade trumpeted the Reds' desire to close the gap in the National League Central. Beyond Cincinnati's outstanding offense, newcomer Latos could join veteran Johnny Cueto in giving the club a dynamic pitching duo at the top of the rotation.
Latos has a big-time repertoire of swing-and-miss pitches. While his name is familiar to fans, he's only entering his fourth year in the Major Leagues. He should be in the Reds' rotation for many years.
Latos moves from pitcher-friendly Petco Park to the more challenging Great American Ball Park, but Latos' has enough quality pitches and good enough control to pitch successfully anywhere. His ERA away from Petco Park last season was a sound 3.68. Latos was challenged to find the win column last season, but he wasn't exactly showered with run support. That situation should be different in Cincinnati.
Latos has shown a tendency to be emotional on the mound, but that comes from being competitive, with an overt desire to succeed. He will not hesitate to challenge hitters, using all of the plate to his advantage.
Offensively, the Reds should be secure in their everyday lineup. Additionally, there are some emerging players that make scouts pay close attention. In the event injuries or poor performances surface, the club has the depth to cover any potential roster needs.
Left-handed-hitting Didi Gregorius is a middle infielder with an incredible feel for the game. His footwork and instincts on defense are Major League quality. Using a very quick first step, his range to both sides is solid. At 6-foot-1, Gregorius is a big man for a middle infielder. He somehow looks even taller than his actual height. He has terrific hands and a very strong and accurate arm. And with shortstop being his natural position, Gregorius could easily challenge Zack Cozart and Paul Janish for playing time in the near future. Gregorius makes even the toughest plays look easy.
Some may question Gregorius' ability to hit quality Major League pitching. He has a natural line-drive type stroke with good, quick hands at the dish. His plate coverage is sound. For a young player, breaking pitches don't seem to fool him.
Gregorius needs experience and repetition, but the native of Amsterdam, Netherlands, has a chance to be a special player. After more seasoning, he will play and hit his way up to the big club. At times, he may seem too aggressive, but Gregorius won't be denied. Last season he played at both Class A and Double-A, hitting a combined .289 with seven homers and 44 RBIs. Only 22, Gregorius has a tremendous future.
The Reds' future behind the plate should belong to Devin Mesoraco. His powerful bat is made for Great American Ball Park. He has quick hands with a slight uppercut swing. A strong right-handed hitter, Mesoraco has the unique potential of being able to hit for both a high batting average and power. He has the ability to recognize pitches and use the entire field. Mesoraco could be the next big-hitting catcher to surface in the NL.
Defensively, while Mesoraco has really improved, he still needs some work blocking balls in the dirt. His feet are not the quickest, and his first step will always be crucial. His arm is certainly strong enough to get runners trying to steal. There are far fewer issues with Mesoraco's defense than he had two seasons ago in the Arizona Fall League. He needs repetition behind the plate. Ultimately, he is a good enough athlete to play acceptable defense. But his bat will be his calling card to an everyday job with the Reds.
Denis Phipps is a 26-year-old outfielder with an ability to play solid defense while showing an improving bat. He isn't a top prospect whose name is on the lips of scouts, but Phipps is very intriguing. He is long and lean, listed at 6-feet-3 and 210 pounds. He has the ability to take excellent routes and close ground quickly on balls hit to the outfield gaps. He can play center field very well, a position that is suddenly becoming scarce in some organizations.
Offensively, Phipps had an outstanding season over two classifications in 2011. He hit a combined .346 with 12 homers and 64 RBI while playing at Triple-A Louisville and Double-A Carolina. Those are serious numbers worthy of attention. Phipps is a keeper in an organization that is not overly deep with outfielders.
The departure of Alonso to San Diego may slide 23-year-old Neftali Soto up the organizational first-base ladder by one notch. Soto has outstanding power. That's really his finest tool. Hitters with loud bats usually find their way to playing time on the biggest stage. Eventually, that could happen for the right-handed, pull-hitting Soto. He doesn't have the greatest plate discipline in the world -- striking out in roughly a quarter of his Minor League at-bats. That certainly isn't unusual for power hitters. If he can improve his pitch recognition and lay off difficult pitches, he will improve his on-base percentage and ultimately his path to Major League Baseball. His power plays.
One of the finest pitching arms I have observed this spring has belonged to right-hander Daniel Corcino, who throws a two-seam and a four-seam fastball as well as a slider and a changeup. A native of the Dominican Republic, he can bring the fastball up to 95 mph.
At 5-feet-11, Corcino gets the most out of his lower body in his delivery. He works hard on the mound, almost to the point of being violent. If he cleans up his mechanics by slowing down the moving parts and repeating a smoother delivery, Corcino will be very special. He has to be careful not to exhaust himself with his delivery. For now, however, the "stuff" is developing and he's learning how to pitch. He isn't currently on the Reds' 40-man roster, but eventually clubs generally find rotation spots for pitchers with his type of power arm.
Many outstanding players are on display at this year's Reds camp. The strength of the club rests with core players like Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Scott Rolen, Drew Stubbs, Chris Heisey and pitchers like Cueto and Latos. A sprinkling of new players will ultimately supplement the veterans, making the team even more dangerous.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.