[This post was written by loyal Nation member Ron Smith, a regular commenter under the name Old-school. We asked Ron to elaborate on a comment he made a couple days ago that we considered very thought-provoking. And he did! Thanks, Ron!]
“We’ve just come to a point where we’re not going to lose anymore”
–Bob Castellini April 2008
And with those words as justification, Wayne Krivsky was fired, just a few weeks into the 2008 baseball season and just three years into his tenure as general manager. The Reds are on the brink of three consecutive 90-loss seasons, a dubious distinction not seen in these parts in 80 years.
The bullpen failures in 2016 dominated the losing landscape and deservedly so. Pitching woes again — specifically starting pitching — have come to define the losing season that is 2017. However, I want to identify an ominous organizational shortcoming that pervades the entire Reds farm system – A Shortstop Crisis.
Much time has been spent debating the imminent needs at the shortstop position in 2017 and for 2018. Do you risk overpaying for an injury prone Zack Cozart in a free agent deal? Do you commit to a weak-hitting and unproven Jose Peraza? Do you move Eugenio Suarez back to short again? More problematic is the dearth of future shortstops in the Reds farm system. There is no Plan B. Or C. Or D. Sink or swim with the present…for the future. How did we get here?
The origins of the current shortstop crisis go back a decade to a time when the Reds had both Didi Gregorius and Zack Cozart. Wayne Krivsky had assembled a promising young Reds team before his untimely and messy termination only weeks into the 2008 season. In the 2007 draft, the Reds — with Krivsky at the helm — selected Cozart in the second round, a third-team All-American from the University of Mississippi. Under Krivsky, the Reds also scouted and signed Didi Gregorius out of Curacao in the same year.
In retrospect, the Reds were stacked at shortstop when Walt Jocketty took over in 2008. Jocketty ultimately traded Gregorius in the Shin-Soo Choo deal after the 2012 season. Under Jocketty, the Reds did not draft a shortstop with a meaningful pick from 2008 to 2015; the next was Blake Trahan in 2015.
That’s eight full years that the Reds went without a singular investment in the draft for the most important position on the field (sans the battery of pitcher and catcher). Okay, technically Billy Hamilton and Alex Blandino were high pick investments who played shortstop when drafted, but neither were drafted to play shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds. Finally, Jeter Downs was drafted in 2017, two months out of high school. When Downs signed and was assigned to Billings, it appeared that we might have a sighting of a real shortstop…if you squint long and hard.
What was Walt Jocketty’s plan for acquiring shortstop talent and depth during his tenure? From 2008-2016, Jocketty and the Reds consistently ignored the draft as a mechanism to acquire shortstops. It’s not a stretch to say that the Jocketty plan was specifically NOT to acquire college or high school shortstops through the draft. That’s too bad.
In fact, the Reds had a great opportunity in 2012 to draft a young high school phenom out of North Carolina: Corey Seager with the #14 overall pick. Jocketty took Nick Travieso instead. Of course he did. You can never have too many young pitchers, right? The Dodgers, the uber-rich pitching deep franchise that doesn’t need to draft or scout or develop, took Seager at #18. (Yes, this is 20/20 hindsight, but still…)
In my opinion, it’s pretty clear where Jocketty was singularly focused — Latin America. He concentrated on signing weak hitting Latino/Venezuelan shortstops and running them through the Reds’ Dominican leagues. Perhaps he thought he had mastered the Davey Concepcion recipe for shortstop development. How did Jocketty’s shortstop plan for nearly a decade work out? The 2017 Reds minor league shortstop picture is depressing.
Carlos Rivero (Class-A Dayton): .192/.229/.221/.451
Hector Vargas (Class-A Dayton): .202/.235/.261/.496
Luis Gonzalez (A/A+): .281/.290/.398/.688
Alfredo Rodriguez (A+): .247/.286/.296/.583
Blake Trahan (AA): .216/.301/.257/.557
Zach Vincej (AAA; 37th round pick in 2012): .272/.327/.333/.660
The offensive stats of shortstops at the Reds AAA/AA/A+ and low A are…well, offensive.
The Reds tried multiple times to acquire Jose Peraza. After reviewing the shortstop crisis in the Reds minor league system, it’s fairly apparent now why the Reds targeted Peraza when they did. Someone in the front office acknowledged the obvious. Who plays shortstop when Cozart doesn’t? There was no succession plan for Cozart. That’s a shortstop crisis.
I am now Jose Peraza’s biggest fan. You should be too. What happens if his quad gets injured? Wayne Krivsky and his team did a great job in short order in scouting, signing/drafting, and partially-developing Zack Cozart and Didi Gregorius. What a difference a decade makes at shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.