I’m a little perplexed about Eugenio Suarez.
Earlier this year, I wrote that I was really high on this kid. He had been up and down in his first two seasons in the big leagues—first with Detroit, then with Cincinnati after he was acquired in exchange for Alfredo Simon—but his overall stats looked really good for a 22-23 year old.
This year has been more of the same—hot and cold—but overall, it’s been a fairly productive season for a 24-year-old (.248/.316/.429, 20 home runs). Especially when you consider that number: age 24.* He’s still young.
*He actually just turned 25. But this is considered his age-24 season for baseball purposes.
You may remember that the man Suarez replaced at third base, Todd Frazier, spent his entire age-24 season in Class-AAA (where he only hit 17 home runs, for what that’s worth). At the same age, Eugenio is playing in his third big league season. Yes, there are very good reasons to be excited about Suarez’s future, and nothing I’ve seen this year has changed that.
The big question before the season, and during the early part of the 2016 campaign, was about Suarez’s defense. And that neatly dovetails with another huge question surrounding the future of Eugenio Suarez: How does he fit into the Reds plans?
Let’s begin this discussion with the fact that I’m seriously impressed with the strides Suarez has made defensively at third base. Before the season, I thought the best spot for Suarez longterm with the Reds was shortstop; he acquitted himself there well last year after Zack Cozart suffered a season-ending injury. It seemed, to me anyway, like there was reason to believe that he could handle the position defensively. Yes, he made 19 errors, but you may have forgotten that the Reds once had a 24-year-old shortstop who made 29 errors in a single season. That shortstop would go on to win multiple Gold Gloves at the position. His name was Barry Larkin.*
*No, I’m not predicting that Eugenio Suarez is the next Barry Larkin. But that would be awesome, right?
My thinking, of course, was that if Suarez were to stick at shortstop—i.e., if he were able to handle the demands of the position defensively—the Reds would have an above-average bat at the position, and, as Marvin Lewis likes to say, that’s a good thing. There was (and is) no question in my mind that he would hit enough to be one of the best offensive shortstops in the game.
But alas, Todd Frazier departed in an off-season trade, Cozart returned at full speed, and the Reds shifted Suarez over to third base. Over the first six weeks of the season, Suarez was awful defensively, as I’m sure you’re aware. It was pretty bad. He was having difficulty with almost every aspect of defending the hot corner. He has committed another 19 errors this season.
Early on, I urged caution. After all, Suarez had never played third base before, at least not as a professional. That is, unless you count 8 games in the Venezuelan Summer League all the way back in 2010, and 33 starts the season before in the same summer league—when Suarez was 17-18 years old.
So here we have a guy who came up as a shortstop, and is trying to learn a new position at the big league level. No one should have been surprised that he struggled initially. But struggle he did, and after a while, even I started getting concerned. He looked pretty awful with the glove.
Then a funny thing happened: Suarez improved. Steadily, over the last couple of months, it became apparent to the naked eye that Suarez wasn’t making the same mistakes, and that his throws were getting better. Occasionally, he was making an outstanding play.
It’s gratifying when the numbers agree with what your eyes are seeing, and that’s what happened here. All the defensive metrics show that Suarez is a pretty good defensive third baseman right now. Despite the horrible start to the season, Suarez is above water, providing 4.5 defensive runs above average. That’s the ninth-highest total in either league among third baseman. Todd Frazier is number 15 on that list.*
*I don’t mean to dump on Frazier. We all love Frazier, and I loved him as a Red more than most. But if you wouldn’t rather have Suarez than Frazier over the next five years, I’d like to know your reasoning. Suarez has been better in every facet of the game than Frazier this season, and Eugenio is still just in his age-24 season. Frazier is 30.
Surprisingly, according to FanGraphs, Suarez has been the fourth most productive defender on the Reds this season, behind Billy Hamilton (who is likely to win his first Gold Glove), Zack Cozart, and Tucker Barnhart. His defensive numbers, across the board, are higher than Brandon Phillips, who has been one of the best glove men Cincinnati has ever seen over the course of his career.
So he’s done well, and at this point, it’s unlikely that Suarez will get moved back to shortstop. This is also due to the fact that Jose Peraza—acquired in the trade for Frazier—appears to be the heir apparent at short. All available evidence is that the 22-year-old Peraza is ready to take over whenever Cozart’s excellent reign as the Reds shortstop comes to an end.
But Chad! you say. Suarez has proven that he can handle third base. He can be the long-term option at the hot corner, right?
Yes, I answer, and thank you for the question. He can be. But then again, the Reds just drafted a guy named Nick Senzel with the second overall pick in the draft. The growing consensus is that Senzel—a college guy with a very impressive command of the strike zone—could be ready to make his big league debut as soon as next year. Senzel is advanced as a hitter, and he’s a prospect that Reds fans should be very excited about.
Well, if shortstop and third base are accounted for, what about second base? The Reds have had pretty good success over the last decade with a converted shortstop playing second, a guy named Phillips. Whenever he moves on to retirement or another club, perhaps the Reds should hand his job to another converted shortstop, Suarez.
Actually, after Senzel was drafted, I thought moving Suarez to second base was not just the right move for the Reds, but almost a no-brainer. There is no question in my mind that Suarez can handle the position, and it actually might be the ideal spot for him. I began to salivate over the prospect of this infield for the next five years:
1B — Joey Votto
2B — Eugenio Suarez
3B — Nick Senzel
SS — Jose Peraza
Looks good, right? But then the Reds went and traded Jay Bruce for a highly regarded second base prospect, Dilson Herrera. So is second base out of the question now too? If so, where does Suarez fit? The short answer to that question is: who knows? But I think he’ll fit in somewhere.
I heard something a long time ago that has been helpful to me. It was a quote from Calvin Coolidge: “If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”
The real answer to the question above shouldn’t be: who knows? It should be: who cares right now?
A hundred different things could happen that resolve this issue. Any one of the Senzel/Peraza/Herrera trio could get hurt. (Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.) One or more of them may not pan out as everyone hopes they will. Perhaps another trade opportunity comes along, and one of the three are dealt to another team.
Whatever happens, Suarez will be here ready to grab a position (presuming he’s not the one traded or hurt). He’s already established himself as a quality player in the big leagues—something Senzel and Herrera haven’t done, and Peraza has only started to demonstrate. He’s at an age when he should still be improving. He’s already shown that he’s willing to play wherever the Reds need him, and that he’ll work hard to get better.
Frankly, he’s shown clearly that he should be in the Reds plans, even if his precise destination on the next good Reds team is a bit murky. Maybe he’s just a super utility guy on that team. Either way, the kid can play.
And he will. Somewhere on the diamond.
Chad Dotson is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, ESPN’s SweetSpot blog, and the founder of Redleg Nation. You can follow him on Twitter at @dotsonc.