A Minors Obsession

Spring battles: The Infield

Over the last two weeks we have covered the pitching, both starting and relieving, as far as it goes for minor leaguers battling for a spot on the Cincinnati Reds 25-man roster. Today we will take a look at the guys who will be vying for a shot at the infield.

The infield seems to be set as far as the starters go. At catcher you’re going to see a hybrid of Devin Mesoraco and Tucker Barnhart. Joey Votto, Jose Peraza, Eugenio Suarez and Zack Cozart seem to have their spots locked up, short of an injury. The backup/utility spot(s) seem to be up for grabs, though. There’s also the chance that the team could move Cozart in a trade later in the spring, but we will operate under the idea that he’s going to be a Red to start the season.

The Players

The most likely players fighting for spots on the infield include catcher Stuart Turner, infielders Dilson Herrera, Arismendy Alcantara, Tony Renda and Hernan Iribarren. Two of those players are listed as outfielders on the Reds official website, but they are both infielders by trade who have limited experience as outfielders.

What do they need to show in the spring to get the job

Stuart Turner’s roster spot may be reliant on things outside of his control. Short of him going out this spring and just obliterating the baseball, his spot is almost directly tied to the health of Devin Mesoraco. As a Rule 5 pick he would have to stick to the 25-man roster all season or be sent back to the Minnesota Twins. Defensively, Turner fits the bill. He’s well regarded for his defensive abilities and handling of a pitching staff. There are many questions about his bat, though. In Double-A last season he hit .239/.322/.363 with 35 walks and 72 strikeouts in 370 plate appearances. He showed solid plate discipline, but didn’t hit for much power as a 24-year-old. It appears that Turner is insurance for Mesoraco, and if he’s healthy enough, it may be real tough for him to make the team. If Mesoraco isn’t quite ready to play 3-4 times a week as a catcher to start the season, then Stuart Turner likely needs to show he can at least hold his own with the bat in the spring.

Dilson Herrera was pegged as the second baseman of the future when the team acquired him in the Jay Bruce trade last August. The organization still sees him in that role, even though for now they appear to be going with Jose Peraza at the spot. That’s just a move until they can slide Peraza to shortstop. What is interesting with Dilson Herrera is that he may be preparing for a utility role at the big league level in 2017. He’s pretty much been a second baseman only for years, so if he’s going to get a real chance at a utility role, he’s going to have to show that he’s capable of handling other positions defensively. Only being able to play second base won’t provide enough flexibility on the bench.

Arismendy Alcantara has really struggled in his big league career, though most of that time came in 2014 when he had 300 plate appearances with the Cubs. He’s only had 51 over the last two seasons. For his career he’s hit .195/.249/.337 as a Major Leaguer. He did hit well in the minors in 2016, posting a .278/.325/.467 line. It did come with a poor strikeout-to-walk ratio though, with 30 walks and 127 strikeouts. There are some serious questions about his bat and how it will play at the big league level. What he does provide is plenty of speed and position flexibility. He can play both in the infield and outfield. He’s out of options, so he’s going to have to make the roster or be placed on waivers. The defense and base running seem to be proven. It’s the bat that will be the big question that needs answering in the spring for Alcantara, and perhaps more specifically, his ability to control the strikezone better. For more information on Arismendy Alcantara, you can read a detailed piece from Chad Dotson from October and why a former Red could be an interesting comp for his future.

Hernan Iribarren saw action late last season with the Reds. It was his first big league action in seven seasons, after getting 15 and 14 plate appearances in the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the Brewers. In 2016 the infielder got 45 plate appearances with Cincinnati and hit .311 and slugged .444, but he didn’t draw a walk and struck out 11 times. That came on the back end of hitting .327/.380/.410 for the Louisville Bats as a 32-year-old. Iribarren is certainly not a young guy in baseball years (I’m actually a few months older than he is, and I absolutely feel young – but I guess for an athlete, I’m not young at all), but he’s coming off of a strong season in the minors and in a brief call up he held his own in the big leagues. He also showed that he can play just about anywhere on the field. The only place that he didn’t play last year was catcher (in the minor leagues). He even pitched in four games. Defensively, he provides tons of flexibility. Offensively he’s going to make contact, but not show much power. He’s a non-roster player, so he’s going to have to beat out the competition in order to take the spot since it will require a roster move to be made. If he comes out and hits well, with all of the positions he can play, he could certainly take the job.

Tony Renda, like Hernan Iribarren, is a non-roster player in big league camp. After hitting very well in Pensacola in 2016 he moved up to Triple-A. He didn’t hit quite as well there, going from an .836 OPS to a .703 OPS with Louisville upon the promotion. The biggest drop off came in the power department. His isolated power dropped from .141 in Double-A to .076 in Triple-A. He is a high rate of contact hitter. In the minors last season he struck out 8.9% of the time he stepped to the plate. He’s got a little bit of speed to work with as well. In the big leagues over the final two months he was mostly used as a pinch hitter, but got a few starts as well, and he struggled at the plate. In 67 plate appearances he hit just .183/.246/.217 for the Reds with five walks and 11 strikeouts. With the position flexibility he has, the questions he’s going to need to answer in the spring will all revolve around his bat. He has shown he can make enough contact, but Triple-A and the Majors leave open some questions as to what kind of damage he can do when he does make that contact.

The backup roles on the infield have a few options, but every player up for one also has some real questions that come along with their game –  at least in this role. Dilson Herrera sticks out like a sore thumb among this group in terms of his overall abilities, but as a utility man, he may be more limited than the rest of the non-catchers here. It will be interesting to see how this all begins to play out as spring training goes along.

12 thoughts on “Spring battles: The Infield

  1. This whole situation would be far easier to navigate had Price not declared Cozart the starter at SS. A three man middle infield rotation with Herrera would’ve simplified the decision about who to keep. In a season of sorting, the still maturing Alcantara gets the nod over Iribarren.

    • Agreed. The kid was only 22 in 2014 when he got his 300 MLB PA. After hitting pretty well in AAA last year, I think he deserves a really good look.

      • Just picking a couple of nits, but Herrera is 22 now, very soon to turn 23. He was 20 when he first came up with the Mets. Even more impressive in what he has done so far.
        Agree wholeheartedly about the long look, too. A strong, young nucleus is coming together in Peraza, Herrera, Winker, Senzel and Finnegan. About 3 years younger than Schebler, Suarez, Barnhart, DeSclafani and company.

        • Oh yeah, that’s why I want to see Hererra play. There is a chance that he ends up being a really good hitter, especially considering he plays 2B. My point was that I think the Reds may have stolen Alcantara because I don’t think he’s been given a real chance to show what he can do in the Majors. I think he can be at least a good utility player.

  2. I didn’t think the Reds did any favors for Peraza by keeping him on the bench and using him as a utility guy, yet they might do the same thing to Herrera? If the guy has an option left, and if he isn’t going to be an everyday player in the bigs, let him play every day in AAA. Among the rest of them, I really like Iribarren’s versatility, but if Alcantara shows anything in the spring, I suspect the job is his. ……

    And of course, I wonder how this will all look if Senzel is ready by next spring. Then the question is whether Suarez moves to second base. So it might be nice to see what Herrera could do this year. That knowledge strikes me as more valuable than playing Cozart everyday just to try to pump up his trade value. Have a good spring, Zack!!!!!!!!!!

    • Why waste Senzel’s service time on a year in which they’re still trying to figure 10 other things out? I’d rather have him cost controlled in 2023 than contribute to a 73 win 2017 team that has a bunch of questions to answer.

  3. I realize this is INF only article, but to spark conversation. My prediction is:

    C – Barnhart
    INF/OF – Alcantara
    OF – Jennings
    INF/OF – Raburn
    INF/OF – Iribarren

    Jennings provides a true OF. Raburn I think makes it solely because the Reds will need a power bar on the bench. Alcantara and Iribarren provide flexibility; Alcantara is a better athlete with more tools than Renda and Iribarren will outhit Renda.

    Idk what corresponding roster moves will be made to clear room. I think once Winker is called up, either Alcantara or Raburn, whoever is underperforming, gets DFA’d and Duvall or Schebler takes that bench corner and/or power bat slot. If Iribarren doesn’t cut it, he gets swapped for Renda

    • I predict they go with 3 catchers, therefore eliminating Iribarren from the mix. Not out of the question that they carry 13 pitchers too (ugh), and that probably rules out Raburn. I think one of them needs to be on the team for a little flexibility, so I really hope they don’t do 3 catchers and 13 pitchers.

      • Agree on 3 catchers. About the only way that doesn’t happen is of Mesoraco has an absolutely “perfect” spring in regards recovery/ rehab or if conversely he starts the season on the DL. If Meso starts on DL; however, I don’t look for Turner to be the #2 in such a scenario. Instead there will be musical roster chairs to move somebody else in as the #2.

      • Yeah, I hate that 3 headed catching monster thing even if one of them is really good at something else like backing up Joey, and if they can’t do that it’s a complete cluster for your bench.

  4. This comment has some 20/20 hindsight to it since I am reading this after I read Hererra has a sore” shoulder again! I think they keep Turner if he has an inkling with the bat. My thought process is Mez will not catch for an extended period of time again………..ever! The track record with injuries and treatments from this FO is absolutely terrible! The one that comes to mind this year is Homer they decide to clean it up just before ST and then place him on the 60 DL? I have some very nice ocean front property in Arizona I will make you a deal on! I can also add the above mentioned Hererra this is what doctors who practice medicine not employed by the Reds is called chronic! Those who think that I am being to hard on these idi……………um decision makers just look at nothing but medical decisions for the past 4 or 5 seasons! I mean the pitchers who come back from TJ surgery have a history of it being the second season back that the arm is healthy! There is not a reasonable explanation to have put Baily on the mound last year we were like 29 games out of contention. What genius thought it would be a good idea to put him on the mound in a game situation, maybe he would have still had the issues that had to be “cleaned up” but where was the upside? The lack of return in trading away our veteran ball players is a good indicator I may not be around when this team is competitive again!

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