In December of 2017 the Cincinnati Reds picked up Mitch Nay in the Rule 5 draft. It wasn’t the one that most people know about where players must stick to the 25-man roster all year. No, instead it was the Triple-A version. The rules for eligibility for that would take too much to explain, so we’ll skip that. Unlike the big league version, a player taken in the Triple-A Rule 5 draft does not have to stick on any particular level roster. And the cost is much less, too. The Reds had to pay the Blue Jays $12,000 for the selection.
Mitch Nay has played in just 61 games during the 2017 season. And he was not good, either. The 23-year-old played in Low-A with the Lansing Lugnuts, and he hit .222/.265/.393. His age and that performance initially draw you into the “oh, that’s not a good sign” thought process. But Mitch Nay had some extenuating circumstances for his age and performance.
In late 2015 he began to experience knee issues. He would miss nearly all of 2016, and most of 2017 thanks to the issue. Ultimately he would undergo multiple knee surgeries due to staph infection. As a result of the surgeries and recovery, it took him quite a while to get back to where he was physically. The time away from the game, too, led to him needing to get his timing back and all of those things related to actually playing in games that you just can’t get without seeing live pitching.
Mitch Nay is a former supplemental first round pick. The Blue Jays selected him 58th overall in the 1st round of the 2012 draft. He hadn’t really had a “break out” kind of year with the Blue Jays before his knee issues popped up. But the Reds felt that for the price, and with his upside, he was worth the risk of picking up and giving a chance.
In 2018, the 24-year-old corner infielder (first and third base) spent the first half of the year in Daytona where he hit .271/.342/.418 in 69 games played. Daytona plays in the Advanced-A Florida State League. The FSL as it’s known, is the most pitcher friendly league in minor league baseball and is known to sap power output. His first half output earned him a promotion to Double-A Pensacola. With the Blue Wahoos in the second half he hit .262/.363/.389. While his power took a step back, he increased his walk rate and cut down his strikeout rate.
However, Mitch Nay was a free agent after the 2018 season unless the Reds chose to add him to the 40-man roster. They didn’t and he tested free agency. But before spring training began the Reds and Nay agreed to a minor league deal for the 2019 season.
With a new Double-A affiliate, who is also an old Double-A affiliate, the Reds assigned Mitch Nay to the Chattanooga Lookouts. His season didn’t begin immediately when the Lookouts did. And when he did get to Chattanooga in mid-April, he played sparingly. Nay started four games and came on as a pinch hitter in six others. In total he managed to get just 23 plate appearances, and he really struggled in them, going 1-17 with four walks and seven strikeouts.
But then when May began, Mitch Nay began to see consistent playing time. And with consistent at-bats, he began to rake. During the month, in 28 games played, the now 25-year-old hit .297/.354/.635 with 15 extra-base hits, seven walks, and 19 strikeouts. In June it was more of the same. He played in 27 games and hand 113 plate appearances. In that span he hit .356/.398/.587 and had 12 more extra-base hits. He struck out just 14 times during the month and picked up the Southern League Player of the Month for his efforts. Through eight games in July he’s hitting .290/.333/.645 with seven more extra-base hits.
On the year, through 73 games played, Mitch Nay is hitting .307/.364/.573 with 20 doubles, 2 triples, and 12 home runs. His .307 average ranks 3rd best in the league. His .364 on-base percentage ranks 9th in the league. He’s easily leading the league in slugging with a .573 mark (.539 is the next best). And he’s also atop of the league in OPS at .937.
It’s currently July 11th. The minor league baseball season is over for Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Louisville on September 2nd. That is, unless they make the playoffs. That means that there are just 51 games remaining for each team in the season. Mitch Nay will once again be a free agent when the season is over unless the Reds add him to the 40-man roster.
As a former 1st round pick who seems to be taking a big step forward this year, there’s not much time remaining to see if he can handle Triple-A. While the Reds certainly don’t ask me for my advice on what I would do in their situation, it certainly feels like it would be good business to promote Mitch Nay and see what he can do against pitching in the International League the rest of the way. That information seems like it would be rather useful to have when it comes to determining whether to keep him in the organization by adding him to the 40-man roster, or letting him head back into free agency this offseason.