The Reds have stumbled into some tough decisions that need to be made regarding the future of the middle infield. Several names been both added and subtracted from the list of candidates over the past year or two, leading us to the current state of the roster that features Jose Peraza and Scooter Gennett. With Nick Senzel hopefully not too far off, Dilson Herrera finally playing at Louisville and Shed Long improving at Pensacola, that leaves Alex Blandino as somewhat of an unknown.

Blandino is the Reds 2014 first-round draft pick (#29) who has steadily climbed through the farm system, seeing extended time at AA Pensacola from 2015 -2017 before earning a mid-season promotion to AAA Louisville last season. He was moved to the 40-man roster last November and was called up to the big leagues in early April when Eugenio Suarez suffered his fractured thumb.

After a 1-17 slump to start his major league career, Blandino has started to perform more like he did in the minors, posting an .846 OPS since April 20th. He has also played all three infield positions not manned by Joey Votto, with the majority of his time coming at second and third base. While he still has much to prove to show he can be a consistent contributor, it is not hard to imagine Blandino filling the role of a utility player. How impactful he could be, again, is still up for debate.

It is tough to get a good read on him so far considering he has played somewhat sparingly and also got off to a really poor start to the season. A good place to begin might be a tweet from Redleg Nation’s own Nick Carrington.

These numbers are basically the same from last week and do indicate that Blandino has exercised good patience at the plate and has made more contact than average when he does swing.

But while his BB% (8.9%) and K% (23.3%) are right around league average, they are worse than his minor league numbers (11.9% and 19.9%, respectively). This is due to seeing a higher percentage of pitches in the zone (53.4% vs 43.2% league avg.) and swinging less overall (34.6% vs 45.8% league avg.). This shows  he is being almost too patient and taking a lot of called strikes.

This could be a product of the contact that he has been making, which is a bit below average. Hard hit and soft hit percentages are basically average, but his GB/FB ratio is a little high. His xWOBA is right around average while his xSLG is below average at .358. His current ISO is below his worst season in the minor leagues (2016 at AA) and well below is 2017 campaign at AAA where he posted a .173.

The hit tool looks good and there is potential for more power, we just have not seen all come together at the major league level. And considering he does not even have 100 plate appearances yet, it may take awhile for that to happen.

Based on rankings from Doug Gray at redsminorleagues.com, Blandino’s prospect ranking peaked after his 2015 season as the organization’s #9 prospect. He sat at #17 after his 2017 season where he posted an .835 OPS in his time at AA and AAA. So while he has some strong pedigree as a top-pick and has been a top 10 Reds prospect in the past, he has never received the “franchise-player” expectations of that have been placed on recent draft picks Nick Senzel and Hunter Greene.

For a deeper dive into what we could potentially expect from Blandino, I looked to his KATOH projections. FanGraph’s Chris Mitchell developed this projection system which is aimed at developing long-term production forecasts for minor league players. Without getting too far into the weeds, one of the outputs for the system is likelihoods for certain ranges of career WAR. Below is Blandino’s projections as of January 2018.

 

blandino1

While this admittedly does not look super optimistic at first glance, every single prospect is going up against the odds to become an everyday contributor for a major league club. For reference, comparing Blandino to a similar, higher ranked Reds prospect like Shed Long shows us that Blandino might not be someone to sleep on.

blandino2

Considering that Blandino has already jumped his first hurdle and made it to the Reds, we can start to see a high floor, low ceiling player who would fit perfectly as a utility infielder. Positional versatility is very trendy across the league right now and despite Blandino grading out as a below average defender, there is value in being able to play multiple spots, especially if he can find the offensive production he had for most of his minor league career.

Some of the more successful seasons the Reds have had with infield utility players came from the likes of Juan Castro (1.7 bWAR in 2003), Rich Aurilia (3.0 bWAR in 2005-2006), Paul Janish (1.1 bWAR in 2010) and Kris Negron (2.1 bWAR in 2014). There have also been some poor seasons, with both Castro and Negron, as well as players like Ivan De Jesus and Wilson Valdez. Overall it is a mixed bag of players that have filled the role, though most of them were older veterans on the tail end of careers. One exception was Juan Castro who joined the Reds as a 28-year old and had six plus seasons as a true utility man, but actually amassed -2.6 WAR over that span (2000-2007).

The point of all this is to say that Blandino presents an opportunity for the Reds that they have not been able to take advantage of in the past. It only takes a little squinting at the graph above to see that Blandino has a roughly 20% chance of producing 4+ fWAR for his career. That might not sound like much, but it does sound better than Juan Castro’s -6.1 career fWAR. It is also not hard to look around the league and see dozens of players who are not one of their team’s top options, but play a key role in their success. Marwin Gonzalez, Brock Holt, Chris Taylor, Ian Happ and many others have all been key contributors on teams that have seen significant success recently. There is obviously more to winning a World Series than having a good utility player, but it certainly can be an X-factor when every little detail matters in October.

Blandino may or may not be as good as any of those players; there is still much to be seen about that. But given the other infielders on the 40-man roster this could be a best-case scenario for everyone involved. If the Reds are going to manage to build a contender in the near future, Blandino could end up being an important part of it, even if he is not the most important part.

 

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

Join the conversation! 20 Comments

  1. It also looks like Brandon Dixon might be getting called up soon, as he was pulled early from the Bats game w/o injury. I’ve also heard that a trade is a possibility. Interesting.

    (Louisville Bats and Jason Linden had this on Twitter)

  2. I like Blandino. I haven’t seen his defense at SS yet, but would prefer him to Perazza for the bat. Worst case he would be my choice for utility guy. The 2B situation is interesting with Gennett, Blandino, Senzle, and Long all presumably vying for the 2B spot. Obviously Scooter has shown the most potent bat of the group and is not going to be demoted to a bench player. I am still hoping multiple teams are in need of his bat at the deadline and at lest one is willing to overpay. I think Herrera has the bat to play if he can stay healthy. Senzel has the highest ceiling of the group and Shed Long has shown potential as well

  3. Brandon Dixon is another nice option for playing multiple positions, and would add some much needed power off the bench. Probably would replace Herrera if he gets called up.

    Having guys that can play multiple positions on the bench would be a nice idea for the Reds to try.

  4. I’d like to see Blandino given a shot to swap roles with Peraza. His .360+ OBP in the minors and majors would look great in the #2 slot, and he hits to all fields. He’s also a slick fielder. Let him start at SS and Peraza play the utility role.

  5. Excluding Long there’re already 4 players in the bigs plus 2 in the minors for 3 positions + 1 bench player, therefore 2 of them must be traded in the short term. I’d depart ways with Herrera and Peraza, leaving Suarez at SS, Sensel at 3B, Gennett at 2B and Blandino as utility. If a good return can be obtained for Gennett, then keep Herrera.

    • Still not convinced that Geno’s now Gold-Glove caliber defense at 3B should be moved or even would translate back without regression all across the board if he becomes a SS again. He’s more valuable as I see it where he is and he looks like a “leader” playing there. That’s a distraction we just don’t need to muck with.

      • Eugenio has put on weight since his SS days of two years back. While he could certainly pick it, I don’t know if he would have the range he once had.

  6. I liked what I heard from Blandino on Sunday when he was questioned about his first start at leadoff, facing Yu Darvish. He showed a high baseball IQ, which backs up his plate discipline. Combine that with versatility in the field and I like Blandino as a super-sub type utility player as much as anyone the Reds have had in many years. I don’t see a future every day starter for the Reds – too many higher ceiling options – but he could have a long, productive career in the super-sub role.

  7. The fact that blandino has batted most of the time in the seven hole right before the pitcher has likely had some bearing on the data.

    If he bats leadoff, 2nd or even 9th that would be a better spot for a patient hitter.

  8. He should start 3 times out of 7 games because well there is no reason not to.A couple of times for Peraza and once for Scooter at the minimum.Who knows he may take over at short on a permanent basis.He works the count,gets on base and if he can just make the routine plays in the field well why not.

  9. Blandino has the look of Jose Altuve and could well be the super sub or regular infielder on the Reds next competitive team.

    • If Blandino=Altuve, can better days be far off?

      • Blandino is young and I like the way he plays the game. He could be a sparkplug for the Reds. You never like to see a hitter take a third strike but protecting the plate often comes with experience.

  10. 13/2 K/BB in April, 8/6 in May. Looks like Blandino is settling in nicely. Too many strikeout looking however. He needs to refine his 2 strike approach.

    Peraza has had 800 at-bats to prove his futility as an everyday SS. You absolutely cannot give him the remainder of the season at the ML level to find it, lost season or not. I thought I was being generous in saying he’ll never OPS .700 with his approach. Looks like the bar is more like .625. I’d bump him down to high A to completely rework his plate approach.

    Blandino, even with average defense, would be a significant upgrade.

  11. The solution for the middle infield is this: sign Machado in the off-season! He’s really young and already showing a HOF trajectory. The boost in ballpark attendance, TV ratings revenue, jersey sales, etc. will make up for his enormous salary. The rise in the value of the ballclub would be worth the investment (as of April 2018 the club’s worth is $1 BILLION). Speed up the rebuilding, high risk with stratosphere rewards. It will cure a lot of ills such as having an infield of 3B – Suarez, SS – Machado, 2B – Senzel/Gennett/Blandino, 1B – Votto. A top of the order batting lineup to be feared: 1. Winker 2. Votto 3. Machado 4. Suarez 5. Gennett 6-8 (fill in the blanks).

    The club’s payroll in 2019 pre-arbitration is only $68 million (including Bailey’s contract). The team can endure MM’s salary of at least 25M-30M for one season if Bailey is not traded (hope for that). Plenty of players do not need to be resigned or are just entering arbitration years that most will be team friendly.

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KrcS437uTmyjdF4-p57Djr9vNgRB9xWydFkzdBDE_sk/edit#gid=0

    It is doable. Why not?

    This is a fan’s campaign.

    • Why would Machado come to Cincinnati? Money talks, but even if we’re the biggest number, he’s going to want to go somewhere and win.

    • I can’t see into the Red’s finances, but I can’t see $30 million a year being something under consideration. Over $70 million committed to three players, plus raises in arbitration and Suarez’s $7 million would put well over anything it has ever spent. Trading Gennett and Hamilton would only free up $10 million, and the only thing significant coming off the books is Mesoraco’s $13 million. Those three subtractions could probably pay for Machado, but the Reds still wouldn’t have starting pitching. If someone would take on Bailey’s contract that would change things, but Machado would still have to want to play in Cincinnati

      • Keith, Bill, you’re probably right, especially about MM wanting to play for a current contender and the finances would be hard to accommodate. About the finances, the burden of Homer’s contract would only be for a season. If you look at the list of players eligible for raises in arbitration, the majority would not receive huge raises or win their cases if the Reds decided to tender offers because they have been injured or not performed very well on the field this season. Other vets can be traded. The team would have to bank on their young pitching prospects to blossom, which they are doing already. The devil is in the details.

        I’ve seen more improbable, surprising FA signings over my 40+ yrs as a baseball fan. It’s doable and worth a shot. Highly Improbable, but not impossible.

  12. Glad to see that Dixon was (finally) called up today. If he and Blandino broke camp with the club instead Gosselington, we might have a couple more victories on the ledger.

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About Matthew Habel

Born and raised in Cincinnati, Matt ironically became a diehard Reds fan while living in Pittsburgh and experiencing the 2013 Wild Card game. He is currently living in the land without baseball, Portland, OR, where you can find him exploring the great outdoors whenever he is not watching the Reds.

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