Cincinnati was once the City of Shortstop Stability.
From 1971 through 2004, the position was primarily helmed by Davey Concepcion (Reds Hall of Famer) and Barry Larkin (Baseball Hall of Famer). Baseball-Reference.com ranks Concepion as 14th in Reds’ history in Wins Above Replacement, with Larkin checking in at No. 3. (Messrs. Rose and Bench are No. 1 and 2.)
After Larkin’s retirement, the #6 spot on the diamond was populated by the likes of Felipe Lopez, Jeff Keppinger, and Paul Janish before Zack Cozart’s six-year run began in 2012. This winter, the Reds elected to let Cozart walk as a free agent and hand those historical keys off to the unproven José Peraza, making him The Guy at shortstop in the present and—because of the Reds’ lack of ready replacements on the prospecting horizon—the near future. At least until late February, when top prospect Nick Senzel—exclusively a third baseman through the first 182 games of his pro career—was suddenly enrolled in Larkin’s School for Shortstops to open spring training.
It’s easy to see why the Reds elected to try Senzel at short. Joey Votto (first base) and Eugenio Suarez (third base) are under contract at their current positions for the foreseeable future, and there may be an understandable reticence from general manager Dick Williams to trade Scooter Gennett (free agent after the 2019 season) with the 5-foot-10 Easter Bunny hitting like a left-handed Jeff Kent since his arrival in Cincinnati.
So, why not see if your possibly position-blocked No. 2 overall pick can handle shortstop, a position he once played for the University of Tennessee? Senzel’s offensive prowess has never been in question, and if he’s even passable defensively at short, the result could carve out another decade of shortstopping stability. The Reds need not look far for a similar success story, either—Cardinals shortstop Paul DeJong, a former fourth-round pick who hit 25 home runs as a rookie in 2017 and graded out as neutral by defensive metrics in 86 games at short, never dug in at shortstop during his collegiate days at Illinois State.
The Senzel-to-short experiment also felt like sudden realization that the Peraza-at-short case study is more likely to result in a dead end than Hollywood ending. Peraza has logged over 700 innings at shortstop in the majors, and both traditional and advanced defensive metrics rate him as a below-average fielder. Offensively, Peraza is deficient. His career slash is a pedestrian .273/.309/.346. He’s never displayed a keen understanding of the strike zone (3.6% walk rate) and his knack for weak contact is concerning. It’s not hard to envision that a weak-hitting, no-walking, fringe defender may not last at one of the game’s premier positions. Yes, Peraza won’t turn 24 until later this month, so room for improvement is certainly possible—yours truly thinks strides will be made in the field—but if Peraza struggles out of the gate (and he’s already hitless in 12 at-bats with five strikeouts), it’s not hard to envision manager Bryan Price (in the last year of his contract) benching Peraza (just like he did last year), only this time it could be in favor of Senzel. Or for retreads Cliff Pennington or Phil Gosselin. Gulp.
Senzel, who will reportedly make second base his chief home at Triple-A Louisville, could be a stop-gap solution at shortstop before another resolution presents itself. (Though I wouldn’t count on the club chasing Manny Machado at the trade deadline or this winter.) Or Peraza could surprise, Gennett could get traded, and Senzel could stick at second base til the sun swallows the earth.
As the Reds attempt to inch closer to contention, Votto and Suarez are entrenched and Senzel is seemingly only months away from his debut, giving shape to a formidable future infield.
Will Peraza be part of it?