For as much major league talent Cincinnati has shipped out over the last eight months, there hasn’t been as much uncertainty about the 2016 roster as one might assume. By and large, the starting infield is set and a couple failed attempts at trading Jay Bruce mean he’ll flank Billy Hamilton in right field for the near future.
However, that still leaves left field as a bit of a mystery once again, something which has been true for the last several seasons. As it currently looks, the Reds are ready to employ a platoon at the seventh position with right-handed hitter Adam Duvall complimenting the lefty who should get the lion’s share of starts, Scott Schebler.
Schebler, of course, joined the Reds in the winter’s Todd Frazier trade. Much of the focus was initially on Jose Peraza and the lack of Frankie Montas in the package coming back to the Reds, but the early vibe surrounding Schebler was decently optimistic. Most agreed he has MLB-caliber talent, though his positional options and ceiling are limited. Comparisons to Seth Smith, Brandon Moss, and the like have been tossed around plentifully.
While none of that screams “long-term fixture in the starting lineup” Schebler has a little more to offer than meets the eye. He’s a bit of a tweener—his physique (6’1” with a weight listed anywhere between 208 and 220 pounds) makes his slugging potential obvious but shrouds his slightly above-average speed. He’s been a well-rounded athlete dating back to his high school days and he used that raw ability to get noticed by the Dodgers while plying his trade at a junior college in Des Moines. Los Angeles took Schebler in the 26th round of the 2010 draft but signed him for sixth-round money, speaking to the potential they saw in him.
In the years since then, Schebler made steady progress through the Dodgers’ farm system and ascended a level per year from 2011 on. His minor league numbers back up the general scouting report on him: He’s got loads of power—particularly evidenced by the 58 home runs he hit over three levels between 2013 and 2014—but little propensity to take a base on balls. That being said, he’s progressively improved both his walk and strikeout rates over recent seasons and posted career bests (8.2% walk rate, 19.2% strikeout rate) last season at Triple-A.
On top of a solid power tool and an ability to make contact that’s somewhere just south of average, Schebler’s speed plays. He’s averaged about 14 stolen bases per year in the minors from 2012 to 2015 and legged out more than his fair share of triples over that time as well (including 14 in one season at Double-A). His speed might not affect games as much at the MLB level (especially in the cramped confines of Great American Ballpark, where it’s tough to stretch a double into a triple) but it certainly doesn’t hurt his stock.
His major liabilities are his arm and, to a lesser extent, his glove. That combination all but assures he will be a left fielder for the majority of his career, but the combination of his speed and the small outfield in his new home ballpark does open up the possibility of center field while he’s on the right side of 30 years old. It’s not an ideal situation (especially if he’s flanked by Jay Bruce and the comparatively lead-footed Adam Duvall) but it could work in a pinch if the first two options—Billy Hamilton and Jake Cave—are mightily underperforming or injured.
Doug Gray wrote up a great month-by-month breakdown of Schebler’s 2015 over at his site. In a word, it was streaky but he was rewarded in September with a major league call-up. Though he was mostly relegated to pinch-hitting duty, Schebler did capitalize on his cup of coffee by knocking three homers in his 40 trips to the plate, including this one in which he turned on a 96 MPH fastball on the outer third:
Though the GIF begins too late to see it, he has pleasantly quiet swing mechanics—a simple bat waggle for timing and a pretty subtle leg kick—but his swing can get a bit long at times. He’s likely to see a great deal more breaking balls this year to keep him off-balance and his worth to the Reds in 2016 will largely be contingent on his ability to adjust for that.
With the side of the platoon he’ll be manning, Schebler should get a lot of opportunities to impress. Divisional play will give him a lot of work in particular, as the Cubs, Cardinals, and Brewers’ starting rotations are all heavy on right-handers. That, combined with the Reds’ commitment to seasoning Jesse Winker in Triple-A, means Schebler has the potential to log 800 to 900 MLB innings this season, so long as Duvall, Cave, Yorman Rodriguez, or anybody else doesn’t leapfrog him on the depth chart (which his current slump is threatening to do).
A pragmatic (leaning towards pessimistic) projection for Schebler’s 2016 isn’t going to sound all that great to Reds fans. Schebler could very well land somewhere between Marlon Byrd and Drew Stubbs: an average around .240 with 15 to 20 homers and 10-15 stolen bases. If he can cut down on strikeouts and take a few more walks (in the vein of his Triple-A peripherals) those numbers will go up a bit and he’ll have put together a pretty solid rookie year. If he can’t, it could be a long slog of a season for the young man.
Schebler has the same gauntlet laid before him that all fringe prospects of his profile encounter when making the jump to the majors—show better plate discipline and make adjustments or be relegated to the role of fifth outfielder and pinch hitter. There’s enough in Schebler’s toolshed to reasonably hope for him to exceed expectations, but that hope is inextricably tied to his power numbers. Patience is going to be necessary—Schebler’s been a slow starter in the past—but could quickly be rewarded when the heat and humidity of the Cincinnati summer make the outfield fence at Great American seem a whole lot closer.