The Reds have struggled to put together a solid bench the last few years. This year, they’ve given 602 plate appearances to the combination of Skip Schumaker, Brennan Boesch, Kris Negron, and Jason Bourgeois. Their collective efforts have produced -2.9 WAR. While we don’t expect bench players to put up extraordinary numbers, we hope they provide value above replacement-level players. The importance of not having bad players is outlined in this Fox Sports article.
In the case of Negron, the Reds seemingly gave him a spot on the major league bench based on a strong performance during the latter third of the 2014 season. Unfortunately, Negron’s 2015 has been a disaster. That disaster has occurred because of several factors. First, we probably expected too much from a guy who never hit much in the minor leagues and had only a short, albeit successful, audition in the majors. Second, Negron has experienced a measure of bad luck as evidenced by his .186 BABIP. Finally and unfortunately, he suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season and kept him from potentially improving his numbers.
Negron’s season provides some hard evidence that short sample sizes should be taken with a grain of salt. Enter Ivan De Jesus Jr. While De Jesus has not impressed this year to the level that Negron did in 2014, he has nonetheless had a solid season for the Reds. To this point, DeJesus has hit .253/.327/.388, good for a 95 wRC+. He has also walked 9.5% of the time, an impressive number. The utility man has played every infield position besides catcher and logged some time in leftfield. Overall, DeJesus has rated fairly well defensively and produced 0.5 WAR off the bench.
So, is De Jesus another cautionary tale in small sample sizes, or should the Reds view him as a potential contributor off the bench going forward? The easy comparison is with Negron because they both play multiple positions, would fill a similar role, and have impressed to varying extents in a small-sample size in the major leagues.
There are some key differences in the profiles of Negron and De Jesus that suggest that De Jesus has a better chance of repeating his solid performance. Neither player has much of a track record in the major leagues with both players recording about 270 plate appearances. Even Mike Trout hit only .220/.281/.390 in his first 135 plate appearances so judging these two players based on limited time in the majors seems silly.
But, both players do have a long sample of minor league stats, and Negron and De Jesus have starkly different minor league numbers as seen in the table below.
De Jesus produced at much higher levels in the minors. He hit so well in the minors that it’s kind of strange that he never got much of a chance at the highest level. His ability to produce at other levels makes him more likely to hit adequately in the majors, though it guarantees nothing. The biggest argument against Negron receiving a bench spot in Spring Training without a real competition was that he never had much success in the minors. Obviously, players rarely hit well at the highest level after struggling at each of the lower levels. The Reds probably felt it was worth the risk because of Negron’s ability to play several positions in the field well, which seems reasonable.
De Jesus was also recognized for his tools as a young player. In 2009, Baseball America had him rated as the Dodgers sixth best prospect. They also noted De Jesus as the player with the best strike-zone discipline in the system. Baseball America’s scouting report from that season praised De Jesus’ ability to use the whole field and labeled him as an advanced-approach guy.
His approach has been as advertised. While it would behoove him to strikeout less, De Jesus has a strong walk rate. Even more impressive, he has hit the ball almost equally to all fields:
- Pull%: 32%
- Cent%: 32.8%
- Oppo%: 35.2%
De Jesus has translated some of those tools into actual skill. Negron never had much fanfare as a minor leaguer. Most considered him an organizational guy with a chance of earning a spot on a major-league bench because of his speed and defense. While we wouldn’t consider De Jesus an especially toolsie player with the bat, we can clearly see that he has more hitting talent than Negron.
De Jesus’s minor league numbers and advanced approach suggest he might be worth another look next season on the Reds’ bench. He will also begin the season at age 28, usually a prime season for most players. I don’t think they should just hand him a job as they seemingly did with Negron, but he has earned an opportunity to win a spot. Negron may get another look too, but the Reds may see those two players as filling redundant holes. If they have to pick one or the other, my money’s on De Jesus.