Aimless In The Outfield

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There’s been an uprising of sorts lately in Baseball Nerdom, an insurrection related to the justified plight of top prospects forced to spend additional days or months in the minor leagues for “seasoning” or “development” because of baseball’s archaic service time structure. Depending on service time accrued, teams can gain an extra year of control and save millions of dollars by delaying call-ups for players who otherwise have nothing left to prove in the minor leagues. Defeats the purpose of fielding your best nine, eh?

Future MVP Kris Bryant was a victim a few years ago, and this spring, Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr.—the closest thing to a Mike Trout clone I’ve seen—failed to make the Opening Day roster despite hitting .432 in spring training. Reds farmhand Nick Senzel, one of the game’s top position player prospects, is also (allegedly) receiving this antiquated treatment.

Yes, Senzel should have been promoted weeks ago. And yet, this misfortune is of less concern to me than the Reds continued insistence on their outfield rotation of Adam Duvall, Billy Hamilton, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker, despite the latter two clearly deserving more of the playing time. (Hat tip to the estimable Joel Luckhaupt for the inspiration.)

Now, the naked eye and the statistics indicate that Duvall and Hamilton are superior fielders to Schebler and Winker, the latter of whom is a distant fourth in that category while also lacking the footspeed of the other three. Still, those facts aren’t enough to merit taking any playing time away from Schebler or Winker, especially factoring in that this duo actually has a future with the club.

Though the Reds control Duvall’s rights through 2021, he will turn 30 in September. His career numbers are that of a part-time player. Hamilton is also a part-timer masquerading as a regular, and he will be even more expensive in the final year of his contract in 2019 than he is now at $4.6 million. (The Reds were reportedly open to trade offers for both players this winter.) Schebler, who turns 28 in October and is under team control through 2022, and Winker (turns 25 in August) are central to this team’s future.

Interim manager Jim Riggleman did note earlier this week that while the rotation will stay for now, player performance could alter the plan— Riggleman has pinch-hit for Hamilton and Duvall over the last week late in games. It’s also quite possible Riggleman is under orders from the front office to keep Duvall and Hamilton in the mix for trade purposes, with the hope that some regular playing time may boost their value to contenders.

And speaking of the outfield, and the future, holy Taylor Trammell!

For the uninitiated, the 20-year-old Trammell was the 35th overall pick in the 2016 draft. The Reds gave him a fat sack of cash to persuade the former two-sport star—he topped the Georgia state rushing leaderboard his senior year of high school with 2,500 rushing yards—to forgo college.

Doug Gray of RedsMinorLeagues.com did a nice job outlining Trammell’s progression over the past two years before his hellacious start to the 2018 campaign at High-A Dayton, a notoriously difficult league for hitters. The Reds have played it slow with Trammell his first two seasons as a pro, but as Gray noted, it might be time for the organization to display some aggression and bump the left fielder/center fielder to Double-A Pensacola should Trammell continue to produce into June.

Not only does Trammell’s skill set (improved batting eye, on-base skills, defensive ability, athletic pedigree) fit the profile of a fast-riser, but his ability to functionally play center field fills a clear position of need for the big-league club.

Other top prospects off to blazing starts (through Monday’s games) are Double-A second baseman Shed Long (.351/.432/.468, 159 wRC+) and High-A catcher Tyler Stephenson (.351/.440/.519, 172 wRC+). Long, 22, has hit the moment he ditched catching for second base in A-ball, but his biggest issue is his position—he plays second, likely the same spot Senzel will play for the Reds once he’s called up. (Although, if Long proves he can hit in the majors, it’s feasible Senzel could play a corner outfield position.) Once Senzel is called up, bank on Long being bumped to Triple-A.

Stephenson was the Reds first round pick in 2015 who has had various ailments to his head, left wrist and right thumb abbreviate his past two seasons. Through 91 plate appearances in 2018, the 21-year-old has 11 walks and 11 strikeouts, an enviable split. And with fellow catching prospect Chris Okey having recently joined Daytona, Stephenson could use the regular playing time in the field further furnish his (cringe) development.

Grant Freking is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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