Should Nick Senzel be developed as a shortstop? Or a third baseman? Or a second baseman?
That question has been on the minds of Reds management for weeks. Senzel’s best position is third base, but that spot belongs to Eugenio Suarez, he of the seven-year contract extension. In the press conference announcing Suarez’s new contract, General Manager Dick Williams praised him as “one of the best defenders in the league.”
Even before spring training began, it was clear that the path to a big league starting position in 2018 for Senzel, the Reds’ top prospect, was not going to lead through third base. Early in camp, it was announced that the former Tennessee Volunteer star would work at shortstop in practice and in games. In a November interview, Williams said Senzel’s path to the majors might resemble that of Todd Frazier:
“We knew he was going to be able to hit in the big leagues,” Williams said of Frazier. “When Todd came up, we thought maybe the opportunity would be in left field, maybe third base, maybe shortstop. He had the ability to play multiple positions, and we played him that way. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t get [Senzel] some time at different positions.”
Monday’s announcement that Senzel was being sent to the minors was not surprising. But the announcement he would be going to Louisville to play second base caught many Redleg Nation regulars by surprise. Many had presumed that, because Senzel had played shortstop in training camp, he would continue to do so in the minors, as a way to prepare him for an eventual starting role with the Reds at that position.
Senzel’s reaction to Monday’s news, in an interview with Mark Sheldon:
“We’re a good club. There are spots [already filled] that people have proven they can play at a high level. My job is to fill whatever they need and where they feel they need me to play. I just wanted to know where I would play every day in Louisville. I didn’t want to be bouncing around, and they didn’t want me bouncing around, either. I’ll be at second base, and that’s what it is.”
The reaction at Redleg Nation was a bit more passionate, with one train of thought seeming to be that Senzel’s future was perhaps being compromised for the benefit of Jose Peraza.
Here’s what I believe is happening:
- Joey Votto and Eugenio Suarez are both under contract through 2024, with one caveat — the Reds hold an option on Votto’s 2024 season, and can buy him out at $7 million instead of paying him $20 million. Presuming both players continue to produce as they have recently, that’s an incredible corner combination for the next seven years. (Note: Votto will be 40 years old in 2024.)
- The consensus belief is that Senzel will join that duo at some point this year or next at one of the middle infield positions. Presuming he plays a portion of this season in the bigs, he won’t reach six full major league seasons (and possible free agency) until … 2024.
- The Reds front office believes it has stronger prospects in the minor league system at shortstop than at second base. Within two or three years, Jeter Downs or Jose Garcia will be ready to play at the major league level. (And, don’t forget Alfredo Rodriguez, supposedly major-league-ready on defense right now. Last year, he played at Class A+ Daytona.) When that time comes, do you want to have to move Senzel to second? Or do you want a guy who has established himself at second base to work with the new young shortstop?
- In the meantime, Jose Peraza will get the chance to show what he has. If he blossoms, that would be great! If not, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal to move on from him in two or three years.
In essence, it’s my belief that management is maneuvering to have one of the best infields in the big leagues together for four or five years, and having Senzel established at second base solidifies that plan.
Another perspective on the big picture of the Senzel move from Manager Bryan Price, in the Mark Sheldon article:
“He’s got to be ready to play anyplace but first base if we have an injury or setback.”
That may truly be what is happening. Preparing Senzel to play any of three positions certainly gives him more opportunity to jump to the big leagues in case of injury to Suarez, Peraza or Scooter Gennett.
These developments also make you wonder if we haven’t seen the last of the chronically injured second baseman Dilson Herrera. If he’s going to play second, it’s apparently going to have to be at Class AA. Neither he nor Gennett should get too comfortable in their current situations.
Many Redleg Nation commenters were thrilled when the Senzel-to-shortstop announcement was made, perhaps with visions in their heads of him becoming the Reds’ version of the current crop of young great-hit, great-field shortstops currently starring around the majors. The hitting part of that equation is seen as a given. But we really don’t know if Senzel has the great-field attribute. Shortstop is not his natural position, and only people who have seen him every day in practice and in games in Arizona have any idea whether he has the potential to be a big league shortstop defensively.
There are many variables which will determine when and where Nick Senzel will debut and play for the Reds. I think second base makes the most sense on a long-term basis.