People in Cincinnati should know by now what it looks like to watch an MVP candidate develop. Maybe the player takes a few tentative first steps. There are probably a few bumps when he’s really young, but by 25 or so, he’s hit his stride and is one of the best players at his position. He controls the strike zone and becomes an elite offensive player. MVP consideration is only a season or two away.
By now, you know I’m talking about Eugenio Suarez.
You didn’t? You thought I was talking, perhaps, about the future Hall of Famer who plays across the diamond? Not today, no. Today, we’re talking about Suarez. And yes, he really might be a future MVP.
Let’s go ahead and start with the Votto comparison. I am NOT claiming Eugenio Suarez is the next Joey Votto. He’s unlikely to ever hit like peak Votto because Votto is one of the best hitters in major league history. However, thanks to his stellar defense, Suarez may end up providing Votto-like value, especially as he moves through his peak years.
Consider this: During his age-25 season, Joey Votto was worth 4.6 WAR. This was immediately before his MVP season in 2010. His power and OBP spiked that year and we could all see that the Reds might really have something. Suarez is currently in his age-25 season and has so far been worth 4.5 WAR. His power and OBP have both spiked dramatically as he’s learned—it seems—from one of the best hitters you could ever hope to learn from. The result is an August OPS pushing 1.200, among the best in Reds history. He is a near lock to have one of the 20 best seasons at third base in franchise history, and with a good September, could end up in the top 10.
He really has been that good. Some, I know, didn’t think he was ever going to develop into an above-average player, especially in the field, and many never thought he’d hit at an all-star level. Development is like that. It’s why so many of us beat the don’t-give-up-too-fast drum on young players. At 22, Suarez was good enough to play half a year for the Tigers. That’s very young for a rookie. By comparison, Jesse Winker is 23 this year, meaning he had over a year longer to develop than Suarez, and Winker is STILL younger than most rookies.
Age matters in baseball. And age is what you should look at before deciding how much patience to have. If someone is 27 and still not getting it? Okay, probably time to let go. But 22 or 23 or 24? At 25 and learning a new position? You’ve got to be patient; a fair bit of the time, that patience will pay off. Suarez had talent. That was obvious. And now he’s worked himself into being one of the best players in baseball.
He’s also largely overshadowed by what might be the best third base crop in National League history, but he’s still an all-star caliber player. Even with his stellar performance thus far in 2017, he’s still only fifth in the NL in WAR among 3rd baseman. (For what it’s worth, he’d be first in the AL at the hot corner.) He’s 12th in the entire NL in WAR, but would be 4th in the AL.
Yes, he really has been that good.
And with his recent ability to control the strike zone at Votto-esque levels, it’s easy to imagine him morphing into an MVP candidate as soon as next year. Take his second half, stretch it over a full season and, well, there you go. You’ve got an elite defensive third baseman putting up Tony Perez-level offensive numbers—that’s how you get an MVP.
Joey Votto is the best player on the Reds. No question. But don’t be surprised that Eugenio Suarez is close behind him.
Jason Linden is a contributor to Nuxhall Way, Redleg Nation, and The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @JasonLinden.