There are few better stories in baseball right now than Hernan Iribarren. Last year, when he was with the Bats, I spent some time talking to him and wrote a profile that – conveniently – went up just as he was promoted to the majors for the first time in seven years. Just the other day, C. Trent Rosecrans wrote a story about his potential value as a teammate.
There are common threads in both stories. One is that, at one time, Iribarren was a well-regarded prospect. The other is that all of that changed when he was injured before the 2011 season. But I’m not going to re-hash those stories. Instead, I’ll encourage you to go read them if you haven’t already.
What I want to focus on today are Iribarren’s chances of making the roster.
There is a fair bit to recommend Iribarren. At the top of the list is that he can play anywhere. This has been talked about a lot, but I’ve seen it in person and he really is competent at any non-catching position in the field. And he likes it. One of the places he hadn’t played until last year was first base. But he thought it would be fun and so he asked to get time there. Players with that kind of capability and willingness to do what’s asked of them aren’t common.
Speaking of willingness to do what’s asked, Iribarren is entering his age-33 season. He has no illusions about the paths open to him. When I spoke to him, it was very clear that he knew his ceiling at this point is that of a bench player. A younger player or a player who had formerly been established as a major league regular may chafe at the notion of being given the status of permanent bench player. Not so with Iribarren, and that’s nice for team chemistry.
Perhaps the biggest asset Iribarren has is his reputation as someone who is excellent at mentoring younger players. Everyone I’ve spoken to – including Rockies GM Jeff Bridich – has spoken highly of his ability to work effectively with younger players. He’s already working with Jose Peraza and Eugenio Suarez. Should Herrera be called up, one presumes Iribarren would work with him as well. He very much feels that he is someone who didn’t appreciate the opportunities he was given and is dedicated to making sure other players don’t make the same mistakes he did. On a team overflowing with young players, having a player around who’s willing to be honest in that way can only help.
The two primary issues with Iribarren are age and roster space – and those intertwine. Iribarren is not currently on the 40-man roster and the Reds would have to give him a spot if he were given a place on the Opening Day roster. And, at his age, you can understand why the Reds might be reluctant to do that. Iribarren isn’t going to be a long-term contributor and so if the choice is between him and, say a 26-year-old who could theoretically contribute over a longer time period, it could be a difficult decision.
Regardless of what ends up happening, Iribarren is a fabulous story. A player returning to the majors for the first time in seven years when he is in his 30s is almost unheard of. And now he’s worked his way into the conversation for a regular bench spot on a major league team. Here at Redleg Nation, we’re fond of saying that we’re pro-fun. And players like Iribarren make the game a little bit more fun and that makes us want to root for him.