In his first year as general manager for the Reds, Walt Jocketty traded Adam Dunn to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Remember the Dallas Buck Era? Dunn had become a fixture in Great American Ball Park’s left field.
And while the word fixture might conjure up Dunn’s aptitude playing defense in left field, one thing is for sure – for the seven seasons spanning 2001-2008 Adam Dunn produced runs. Over that stretch, Dunn produced runs at a rate 30 percent above league average. No other Reds player came close then (Griffey Jr. next at 17 percent). To offer context for what it means to produce runs 30 percent above league average, here are a few players who over their careers did just that: Roberto Clemente, Dave Winfield, Carl Yastrzemski and Jose Canseco.
Since Dunn’s departure, the Reds farm system hasn’t produced a single full-time left fielder. Chris Heisey and Chris Dickerson were the closest. Instead, the Reds year after year have relied on a series of bargain-basement free agents: Jerry Hairston Jr., Laynce Nix, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Ludwick and Marlon Byrd. Those are just the starters. Remember Fred Lewis, Xavier Paul and Skip Schumaker?
Let’s compare the seven-year periods for offensive production.
Yikes. Adam Dunn averaged 38 homers a year for the Reds. Reds left fielders have hit fewer than 21 per season since. In fact, in 2013 and 2014, years begun with post-season aspirations, Reds left fielders combined for a two-year total of 24 homers. Adam Dunn mashed. His replacements were well below league average.
On defense, Dunn was no Baryshnikov. But the likes of Gomes and Byrd were hardly Gold Glove candidates. From 09-15, Reds left fielders produced -69.6 runs. That dash in front of the 6 isn’t a stray mark, it’s a negative sign.
Whatever one thinks about Adam Dunn’s time in Cincinnati, it’s reasonably clear that left field has been a disaster for the Reds the past seven seasons, with Ryan Ludwick in 2012 the exception to the rule. Filling that roster spot has been an ongoing major failure.
But in the spirit of spring training, let’s look forward, not back. What relief is in sight as we charge into the rebuild-reboot-recycle of 2016?
The good news is that the Reds have a Top-50 prospect lined up as the team’s left fielder of the future. The Reds selected Jesse Winker (22) in the first round of the 2012 draft. Last season, Winker hit .282/.390/.433 at AA-Pensacola, with 13 home runs in 123 games. Also encouraging, besides that the guy can hit, are Winker’s plate discipline numbers. His walk rate (14.2%) and strikeout rate (16.9%) are superior to Joey Votto’s minor league stats. While Winker hasn’t demonstrated good power yet, he has the kind of swing and approach that projects more when he matures. Given the similarities in their games, Winker could learn an enormous amount watching Votto play every day.
But when will Jesse Winker put an end to the Reds left field miasma? Does he have a shot to make the roster out of spring training this year?
The front office party line is the Reds want Winker to spend the next year playing at AAA, although Bryan Price recently said, “never say never” about the situation.
As exciting as it would be to see Winker playing left field in GABP this April, it makes little sense for the organization to do that. Votto played a full season in AAA before a September call-up. Jay Bruce had more than 400 plate appearances in AAA, Devin Mesoraco more than 500. Jesse Winker has zero. Let’s say in normal circumstances that service time and arbitration clock concerns wouldn’t trump win-loss considerations for the big league team. But if 2016 really is a season in search of another high draft pick, then leave Winker in AAA to improve, even if he already is the best left fielder in the Reds system.
With Jesse Winker on the Louisville Bats roster, that means Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler, Yorman Rodriguez, Jake Cave and Tyler Holt will compete for major league playing time in left field. Price says that the first three on that list have the inside track going into spring training.
Adam Duvall (27), a native of Louisville, was acquired in the trade that sent Mike Leake to the San Francisco Giants. At his age, Duvall is past the point of being considered a prospect, but he has fewer than 150 major league plate appearances. Duvall started 18 games for the Giants in 2014 at 1B and 17 games for the Reds last year, almost exclusively in left field.
Expect Duvall to hit for low average but big power. He will strike out a lot and walk rarely. Duvall hit 5 homers for the Reds in 72 plate appearances for the Reds. He also struck out 26 times. Duvall’s career minor league SLG (.503) and ISO (.235) are excellent. Duvall hit 30 home runs at AAA last year and 27 in 91 games the year before. Duvall bats right-handed and has had a fairly large platoon split in the minor leagues.
Duvall has little experience playing left field. His main position in the minor leagues was 3B, but at that he was awful. On the positive side, it’s said he made no errors in the 24 chances he had in left field last year. But other measurements, like range, pursuit course and arm strength are more meaningful defensive metrics. There’s a good chance Duvall’s defensive liabilities and poor plate discipline will offset most of the value of his power.
Scott Schebler (25) came to the Reds from the Dodgers in the Todd Frazier deal. Los Angeles selected him in the 26th round of the 2010 draft out of the Des Moines Area Community College. Schebler played in 19 games as a September call-up last year for Los Angeles, splitting his time in left and right field.
Schebler has demonstrated power, hitting 55 home runs between 2013 and 2014 with a .568 SLG. His batting slumped, however, to .241/.322/.410 in AAA last season. Schebler was a high school track star. In four of his years in the minors, he had double-digit steals. Schebler projects as having good power and below average plate discipline, with a concerning strikeout rate.
He played right and left field in the Dodger organization, but his arm is considered better suited for left. His speed and route running are positive attributes. Schebler, a left-handed hitter (throws right), exhibited a substantial platoon split in AAA last year.
Yorman Rodriguez (23) was signed by the Reds at the age of 16 out of Venezuela. He played last year at AAA-Louisville, mostly in center and right field. Rodriguez started one game for the Bats in left. He hit .269/.308/.429 in 326 plate appearances. Rodriguez is another option with poor plate discipline (5.2% walk rate and 24.5% strikeout rate).
Rodriguez had 29 plate appearances for the Reds in 2014, but didn’t get a chance to play at the major league level last year because of an injury that ended his season. He did play winter ball in good health in Venezuela. He is out of options, which means Rodriguez would have to pass through waivers unclaimed if the Reds want to send him to AAA to start the season.
The Yankees drafted Jake Cave (23) out of high school in 2011. The Reds acquired him in the Rule 5 draft this winter. If Cave doesn’t make the 25-man roster out of spring training, he goes back to the Yankees with a $25,000 check. You have to assume the Reds did an extensive evaluation of him before they selected him and feel he has a decent chance of earning his way to Cincinnati in April.
Cave played mostly at the AA level in the Yankee system last year, so a jump to the major leagues would be pretty ambitious in most circumstances. In 593 plate appearances, he hit .269/.330/.345 with 17 stolen bases. His walk rate throughout his minor league career has been decent, at 7.7%, his strikeout rate is 19.5.%. Cave has little power. He hits left-handed so maybe the Reds planned on using him off the bench prior to acquiring Schebler.
Tyler Holt (27 on Opening Day) began the 2015 season on Cleveland’s AAA team, then was promoted to the major league club where he got 21 plate appearances over 9 games, playing all three outfield positions. The Reds picked him up off of waivers on September 27 and started him a couple times before the season ended. Holt bats right handed and played CF for the Reds.
Holt’s best attribute is his speed, averaging more than 30 SB/year in the minor league. He has no power at all, with six home runs in six minor league seasons. Holt hit .274/.367/.351 over 2683 minor league plate appearances. Holt has shown impressive skill working the count and getting on base, with a walk rate above 12% and a strikeout rate just 16.5%. He is regarded as a plus centerfielder – good jumps and range, with a strong and accurate arm.
Holt could provide value as a bench player, with versatility to play all three OF positions as a defensive substitute. As a pinch hitter, he would excel at getting on base and could pinch run and steal a base if necessary. In his limited time playing for the Reds last fall, Holt stole a base and walked twice.
What to Expect
Here’s a look at how one projection service (Steamer, ZiPS for Winker) compares the six players for 2016:
In sum, the first five aren’t terribly inspiring. Unless someone emerges … out of left field … none of them will make us forget Adam Dunn, Jesse Winker or even Chris Heisey.
Assuming Winker starts in Louisville, Jay Bruce doesn’t get traded and everyone remains in good health, other than interloping by Devin Mesoraco, Eugenio Suarez and Ivan DeJesus Jr. playing out of position, here’s the most likely scenario concerning left field and the rest of the outfield: (1) Duvall and Schebler start as a platoon pair in left; (2) Holt and Rodriguez are the backup outfielders; and (3) Cave will be sent back to the Yankees.
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.