With nothing of importance happening in the Reds’ camp over the past week or so, attention can turn to the battle for the final slot on the 25-man active roster. Assuming that the Reds go with six infielders and that five of those (Votto, Phillips, Cozart and Frazier starting, and Hanrahan at 3B backup) are spoken for, one roster space remains. Conventional wisdom is that the Reds will want this person to be competent at the shortstop position.
Heading into spring training, three candidates were seen as in the competition: Jason Donald, who came to the Reds in the Stubbs/Choo trade; César Izturis, who was signed as a free agent, and Emmanuel Burriss, who also signed as a free agent. Of those three, only Donald is currently on the 40-man roster. While Burriss has had a decent spring (.262/.304/.286 – kind of a bad sign when the slugging percentage is below the on-base-percentage), Donald and Izturis have both had excellent stints in Goodyear.
With the focus of the decision seemingly coming down to Donald and Izturis, let’s take a closer look:
César Izturis – Izturis (33) is a switch-hitter from Venezuela. He broke into the major leagues at age 21 and has played for eight franchises before signing a minor-league contract with the Reds on January 14. Last season, Izturis was a utility infielder for the Brewers and Nationals. Over his career, he has played 1,120 games at SS, 52 games at 3B and 48 games at 2B. He won a Gold Glove in 2003 and made the NL All-Star team in 2004. Always known for his glove, Izturis has dropped off at the plate considerably the past few years, failing to have an OPS over .600 since 2009. Last season, in 173 plate appearances, he managed .241/.254/.343, with 11 stolen bases and 5 CS. His line-drive rate was 21.2%. He hacked his way to a shocking sub-2% walk-rate. Izturis has had a strong spring with the Reds, posting a .302/.362/.442 with four walks and four strikeouts.
Jason Donald – Donald (28) is a right-handed hitter from Fresno, CA. He started playing in the majors for Cleveland, his only previous franchise, at the age of 25. He is under team control through the
2107 2017 season as long as he remains on the major league roster. Donald has played 73 games at SS, 68 games at 2B, 12 games at 3B and a few games at each of the three OF positions. Last season for Cleveland was his worst. His .202/.246/.282 line compared poorly to his 3-year .257/.309/.362 performance. His line-drive rate was 23.5%. His OPS in 2011 was .765 and was .690 in 2010. Last season he stole four bases without getting caught. His walk rate in 2012 was 4.1%. Donald has had even a stronger spring with the Reds thus far, hitting .303/.452/.364 – including 8 walks in 41 PA.
The contract status makes a difference. Izturis would remain under contract with the Reds if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training, while Donald, who is out of options, would have to pass through waivers to be reassigned to the Bats. If the Reds value what Donald provides to the organization in terms of depth, the contract status may make a difference. On the other hand, if the Reds really like Izturis better for the major league club, players like Donald aren’t exactly hard to pick up.
Based on their careers and spring performances, this is a fairly close call. Neither is going to be much of a hitter or a particularly slick fielder. Izturis is a switch hitter and veteran, Donald has had a slightly better spring and is on the 40-man roster. Keep in mind the the spring performances are fairly meaningless in terms of what to expect during the regular season. But if the spring really has been a competition, Donald would seem to hold a slight edge, at least through today.
Neither player is under consideration to be a starting pitcher or the team’s closer.