During spring training, even teams that figure to be quite bad usually have most of their starters set. Such is the case with the Reds this year (though I think they’ll be decent – but that’s not today’s topic). This means that, often, the most interesting thing to watch is who fills out the bench.
With a 12-man pitching staff and eight everyday players, the bench generally consists of five non-regulars (though sometimes platooning is involved). Given that, versatility is highly prized. In recent years, the Reds’ bench selection has left many of us puzzled, especially since it doesn’t seem to be rocket science. Bench guys, in general, should possess the following qualities in order to be considered:
- Not a top prospect/future contributor (you want these guys playing regularly at AAA to avoid stunting their development).
- Not a jerk (if you can hit 40 homers, you can be hard to get along with. If you’re just hoping for a roster spot, you’d better be nice).
- Not good enough to start, but also not likely to embarrass the team.
- Versatile. Benches are small. If you can play multiple positions, all the better.
Given those qualifiers, who are the best candidates to make the bench? (These aren’t guys I necessarily think WILL make the bench, mind you.)
1. Tucker Barnhart – This is obvious. It looks like Devin Mesoraco is going to make some kind of comeback (knock on wood) and that means Barnhart is the second catcher, though he’ll probably get more action than a typical second catcher. The organization is very thin at catcher in the upper-levels right now, but you have to have one and as long as Mes is playing, that’s Tucker.
2. Hernan Iribarren – He’s been getting at least a little bit of talk after acquitting himself very well in a call-up at the end of last season. At 33, he’s old for a bench guy, but his lack of MLB time also means he’s cheap. In Louisville, he was considered a great clubhouse guy and he has a reputation in the organizations he’s been with for mentoring young players, especially Latin guys. He also plays EVERYWHERE. I saw him play every position except catcher in Louisville and he generally acquitted himself well. His defense up the middle is especially nice because, while not spectacular, it is solid and reliable. He’s a reasonable spot starter pretty much anywhere. Plus, if Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera end up on the roster, he may be a good guy to keep around.
3. Tony Renda – Renda is probably destined to be a starter in Louisville this year, but at 26, it may be time to ease him into the utility role. Like Iribarren, he’s well thought of in the organization. He’s also capable of playing second, third, and the outfield. He’s probably a better option than Herrera to be in a utility role simply because he isn’t as highly touted. He is also someone who you can imagine getting a good chunk of playing time should the need arise. Both analytics guys and old school guys in Louisville were fans of his game when I talked to them.
4. The Three-Headed Monster of Jesse Winker/Scott Schebler/Adam Duvall – The more I think about having all of these guys on the roster, the more it makes sense. Consider that, just in the corner OF spots, there are 1400 plate appearances to be distributed. But then factor in that Duvall can also sub at 3rd and 1st and that Schebler can play center and it’s easy to imagine all of these guys getting 500+ plate appearances, while also almost always having a REALLY solid bat on the bench – something the Reds have missed in recent years. I don’t think the Reds will do this, but I very much think they should do it.
5. The last spot depends a lot on how you feel about Arismendy Alcantara. If he’s still a prospect, he goes to Louisville and plays every day and you give this spot to Desmond Jennings. If not, you maybe cut Jennings and let Alcantara have this last spot. In any case, the fifth outfielder is probably the least important spot on the bench and these two are similar(ish) players at different points in their careers.
I suppose this all amounts to little more than speculation and I’d be shocked if this was the bench that headed north with the Reds, but it’s how I’d shape the bench. The Reds could certainly do a lot worse.
Jason has been a fan of the Reds since he was born. He really had no choice in the matter. He has been writing at Redleg Nation for a few years, and also writes and edits at The Hardball Times. His debut novel, When the Sparrow Sings, is available now and concerns baseball, among other things. You can find more information at jasonlinden.com.