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 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.