Adam Duvall has started in left field for the Reds in 17 of their 25 games. It’s safe to refer to him as their every day left fielder. To win that job, Duvall had to beat out Scott Schebler and maybe Yorman Rodriguez, Tyler Holt and Jake Cave.
How should the Reds front office and Reds fans look at Duvall? It would be easy for our perception to be clouded by the thick fog of low expectations.The Reds as a team are off to a poor start on offense. The Reds have neglected left field for most of the past decade. Assumptions about the performance of a left fielder have hit rock bottom. We’re a bit like people crawling through the desert toward a mirage. When we find out there’s no water, we drink the sand because we don’t know the difference.
The truth is it’s way too early to develop a reliable opinion about Adam Duvall’s long-term promise. Data is still scarce. Duvall played a couple dozen games for the Giants in 2014 and about the same for the Reds in 2015. Compounding our ignorance is that Adam Duvall has been in the Reds organization for less than a year. Those of us who aren’t from Louisville don’t know a lot about him other than his name is similar to a former Reds left fielder.
Duvall’s Baseball Background
The San Francisco Giants selected Duvall in the 11th round of the 2010 amateur draft after his senior year playing for his hometown University of Louisville. He spent 2010 in low A, 2011 in A, 2012 in high A, 2013 in AA and 2014 in AAA. He also played in the Venezuelan Winter Leagues in 2013 and 2014.
Despite the big league cups of coffee in 2014 and 2015, Duvall is technically still in his first year as a major league player. The Reds control him for five more seasons. The earliest Duvall would be eligible for arbitration is 2019 and his free agency year would be 2022, his age-33 season.
In Duvall’s six minor league seasons, he hit .268 with an on-base percentage of .338 and isolated power of .235.
Duvall debuted for the Giants on June 26, 2014 at age 25. His power made an appearance that day. Duvall hit a home run of Mike Leake. Over the course of 2014, Duvall played in 28 games for the Giants. In 77 plate appearances, he hit .192/.234 (AVG/OBP) with isolated power of .150.
Duvall began the 2015 season rated in the range of the #20 prospect in the Giants system. He spent the first half of 2015 on the Giants AAA club in Sacramento. On July 30, the Giants traded Duvall, along with Keury Mella, one of the club’s top rated prospects, to the Reds for Mike Leake.
The Reds assigned Duvall to their AAA affiliate Louisville Bats, then promoted Duvall to the major league club last fall. He played in 27 games for the Reds and over 72 plate appearances Duvall hit .219/.306 with isolated power of .265. He struck out in 36 percent of his PA.
Adam Duvall was an infielder before his time with the Reds organization. He played third base for the University of Louisville. The Giants used him as a third baseman through his AA season. When Duvall got to AAA in 2014, the Giants had him begin to split time between 1B and 3B. When Duvall debuted with the Giants in 2014, he played first base. In 2015, then back in AAA, Duvall saw the field pretty evenly at 1B and 3B. He did play left field for 10 games in 2015 for Sacramento.
When the Reds sent Duvall to Louisville, he played 8 games at first base and 16 games in left field. After his promotion to Cincinnati, Duvall played 15 games in left. This season, he has played all but two games in LF. When Carter Bruce’s father was on paternity leave, Duvall played RF, apparently for the first time in his career.
Needless to say, the scouting reports on Duvall’s defense before joining the Reds don’t matter since he’s playing a different position. Early defensive metrics from this year, while positive, are meaningless as Duvall has only had a few dozen opportunities to make plays in the outfield.
(Side note: One of the troubling aspects of the Reds rebuilding plan for position players is that it contemplates Adam Duvall and Eugenio Suarez playing long-term roles in positions they have never played before. That seems unsound.)
Asking the Right Question
What should we make of Adam Duvall?
Let’s be clear what we’re asking.
The issue is NOT whether Adam Duvall is the best left fielder on the 2016 Cincinnati Reds. As the roster is currently configured, he is. But being better than a bunch of other players who aren’t good enough to be major league players doesn’t make you one. Since this is the rebuild-reboot year, Duvall’s fit on the 2016 team isn’t important.
Rather, what we need to determine is whether the Reds can pencil Duvall into left field for 2017 and beyond. Will Adam Duvall be the Reds LF when their window of competitiveness opens up again?
It’s too soon to know for sure. Again, too soon to know for sure.
But to establish the context for answering the question as we acquire more data consider this: The average major league left fielder bats .254 with an on-base percentage of .320 and isolated power of .150. He also has a wRC+ (weighted, adjusted runs created) of 101. Those numbers are based on the production of all major league LF over the past four season.
Let’s look at each of those numbers in isolation.
Can Adam Duvall hit .254? He hit .268 in the minor leagues. His batting average was .192 for the Giants and .219 for the Reds last year. He’s currently hitting .224 for the Reds. And even that number is inflated by a BABIP of. .333, nearly 60 points above his career number. The highest BABIP Duvall sustained in a minor league season was .320. So when Duvall’s hit-rate returns to normal, his batting average will land in the neighborhood of his 2014 and 2015 numbers.
Can Adam Duvall get on base at an average rate? We just looked at the hit component. The average walk-rate for a major league left fielder from 2013-2016 is 8.1 percent. In his 900+ plate appearances in AAA, Duvall’s walk-rate was 6.5 percent. It’s 5.6% this year. Duvall’s walk-rate for his 2014-15 time in the major leagues was 6.1 percent. Based on what he’s done throughout his professional career, it seems unlikely Adam Duvall will produce a walk-rate of 8.1 percent.
Can Adam Duvall hit for power at an average rate? Here the early signs are more encouraging. Duvall’s isolated power in the minor leagues was .235. In his short time with the Giants, it was .150. With the Reds, his isolated power has been .236. So it’s reasonable to expect Duvall to put up above average power numbers for a major league LF.
Here’s a way-too-early, shouldn’t-even-try-it projection for Adam Duvall’s offense: .210/.250/.430.
For many prospects, this would be the time to point out a level of youth and assert the player still has the chance to become better. But Adam Duvall turns 28 in September. That’s a heavy, wet blanket smothering the hope that Duvall will sustain significant improvement. With his defense in the outfield entirely unproven, it takes a Grand Canyon-sized leap of faith to conclude that the Reds have found their post-rebuild everyday left fielder.
How about a right-handed power bat off the bench with the ability to spot start in LF and 1B? There’s nothing wrong with that future for Duvall.
The fact that Jesse Winker is still playing LF every night in Louisville is a good indication where this is headed.
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.