His unique feat has been easy for Reds fans to overlook.
We’ve obsessed over every swing by Jay Bruce and home run surrendered by Jason Marquis. We’ve dissected every bunt by Billy and bad hop for Badenhop. We’ve been thrilled by the shiny new toys of Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias. Been deflated by disheartening injuries to Devin Mesoraco and Homer Bailey. We’ve scrutinized the development of Anthony Michael Cingrani and Anthony James DeSclafani. And we became irate to the point of filing a petition to have Kevin Gregg sent away.
All the while, a rare accomplishment has taken place right under our noses, underappreciated in baseball value and beauty. The 2015 season isn’t two months old and Kristopher Negron has played 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, LF, CF and RF. No other major league player has done that this year. Brock Holt has manned six positions for the Red Sox, but not first base.
Negron has not only played seven positions, he’s the Reds’ best defensive replacement at all of them. You only have to watch a few innings when Brennan Boesch tries to fill in for Billy Hamilton or Skip Schumaker steps in at second base before you realize how valuable Negron is to the Reds.
Billy Hamilton, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart and Todd Frazier — those are awfully good gloves. Imagine taking over in the field for even one of them. And yet, Kristopher Negron has played all their positions, and he’s excelled at it. Manager Bryan Price loves strict roles for his team? Well, Negron has more parts to play than Meryl Streep.
I don’t think we’ve quite grasped the wonder of what we’re witnessing. Gadget Man might not have been a Marvel Super-Hero, but Kristopher Negron is a marvel.
Kristopher Negron was born in New Jersey but played high school and college ball in California, then selected by Boston in the 7th round of the amateur draft in 2006. The Red Sox traded Negron to the Reds in 2009 in exchange for shortstop Alex Gonzalez.
Negron started at Advanced-A for the Reds but by 2010 he was playing for AAA Louisville. In 1,400 plate appearances for the Bats, he hit just .227/.289/.344. Negron got a brief call-up in 2012 when Drew Stubbs strained a side muscle. Negron’s major league debut occurred on June 6, 2012 when he entered the game as a pinch runner against the Pittsburgh Pirates. His first hit came a week later.
Kristopher Negron had spent parts of five seasons playing for Louisville before last July when he was summoned to replace Brandon Phillips. He also played frequently at third base when Todd Frazier moved across the infield to play first in Joey Votto’s absence.
Negron made the most of his second big league opportunity. Over 158 plate appearances, he hit .271/.331/.479 with six home runs and five stolen bases. In his first at bat, he hit a 3-run homer off of Francisco Liriano. Negron’s isolated power (ISO) was second highest on the team, ahead of Frazier, behind only Devin Mesoraco. His overall value to the team (fWAR) was fourth among position players, after Frazier, Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton – even though Negron played in only 49 games.
Negron credits his late-in-career breakthrough to elbow grease.
“I learned to really stick to my routine and really study,” Negron said. “That was a big thing last year. Skip Schumaker helped me out a lot with that, how to watch video on pitchers and go out with a game plan. Coming off the bench and going out to pinch hit, I had an idea. I definitely put myself in a lot better position to succeed.” (John Fay)
Swiss Army Knife
Coming off his exceptional 2014 season and strong spring training, Kristopher Negron made the Reds roster this April. He hasn’t duplicated last season’s hitting performance – Negron is still looking for his first extra-base hit – but he’s provided enormous value to the Reds as a more-than-reliable fielder across the diamond.
Hall of Fame writer Hal McCoy gave Negron the apt nickname Swiss Army Knife. Indeed, he’s Bryan Price’s multi-use pocket tool. Sharp blade, screwdriver, can opener, scissors, corkscrew, bottle opener, nail file, toothpick, tweezers, a key ring even a wood saw – the versatile pocket knife has them all.
Joey Votto gets suspended for a game. Sharp blade. Play Negron at first base.
Zack Cozart’s wrist is barking. Bottle opener. Negron slides in at shortstop.
Todd Frazier’s day to rest. Screwdriver. Negron plays third.
Billy Hamilton, Marlon Byrd or Jay Bruce need a day off. Scissors, corkscrew, key ring.
“I’m just happy to be out there wherever it is,” says Negron, who carries six gloves on the road.
Negron pitched a scoreless inning for the Bats last year.
Might Negron some day be the Reds emergency wood saw, er, catcher? In an early demonstration of his positional superpower, Negron played behind the plate in Little League (C. Trent Rosecrans) for a season, when no one else on his team would do it. “I’ve caught Mike Leake between innings and I caught a lot of bullpens in Louisville,” says Negron.
He’d have to borrow Devin Mesoraco’s glove.
“But I’d do it.”
As if there was a doubt.
Before becoming the Reds’ Angus MacGuyver, Kristopher Negron was a shortstop.
“I’ve played it forever. I go back to shortstop every day in batting practice. My instincts take over there. I’m a natural shortstop and played it since I was a kid, in high school, in college and in the minors.”
The Reds have needed that Kristopher Negron, with Zack Cozart sidelined a few days recently with a nagging wrist injury. “He (Negron) is athletic, has enough arm strength and he understands the position,” said Bryan Price.
“I’m filling in for a Gold Glove shortstop in Cozart and I’m just trying to field every ball the way he would.”
Appreciate What We’re Watching
Injuries are an inevitable part of sports. Back-ups get their chance. With Brandon Phillips suffering from turf toe, Kristopher Negron may see more time at second base in coming weeks. One position or another, Negron has proven that he can capably play anywhere Bryan Price needs him.
Sure, to anyone who can read Negron’s minor league stats, it’s no surprise he hasn’t had great success at the plate in 2015. Yet, Negron feels like he’s hit the ball well, but it’s just not falling in. His .154 BABIP screams agreement. Other stats belie a genuine regression to his career level.
But who cares?
In a season where it’s becoming obvious that Reds fans will have to work hard to find things to cheer for, Kristopher Negron’s mastery of all the defensive positions is an easy one. We should enjoy his unique talent whenever – and wherever – he takes the field.
“I keep grinding. It hasn’t been a sprint for me, it’s been a marathon, but I’ll take it,” says Negron.
Grinding. That’s the nail file.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.