For the past few years, the Reds have seemed to be really stockpiling young pitching. Looking up and down their most recent top ten prospect lists, you see Jesse Winker and a bunch of good right arms. Hey, that’s a cool band name. Jesse and the Right Arms.
They drew a bit of criticism from this particular corner of the internet for loading up so loadedly on pitchers like they did. The Cueto and Leake deals last summer brought on four more very promising arms and an unprospecty fourth outfielder. I liked the value they got in those deals, but I did kinda wish they had gotten a few high-upside bats instead.
As it happens, they picked up a few promising bats in the year that has passed since then. Now, all of a sudden (#allofasudden), they have way too many guys and not enough playing time for them all.
There are a few reasons for this, of course. One is that they are on the upside of a massive rebuild and this is kinda how you have to do it in order to even hope for a decent result. Baseball is a merciless crucible that can swiftly turn promising talent into dog food.
More interestingly though, the Reds have gotten a good bit of unexpected value from their current crop of infielders. Joey Votto is kind of a given, but I doubt anyone expected the competitive production they have gotten from Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, and Eugenio Suarez.
Brandon Phillips never gets old. We have been over it a thousand times, but it still surprises me every time I think about it. He is 35 this year, which basically qualifies him for AARP auto insurance for middle infielders, but he is still playing the same kinda baseball he has played for the last decade. The defensive metrics say his glove isn’t as supple as it used to be, but the ol’ eye test says he can still git it. And his current hitting line (.291/.324/.414) is about as close to his career average as any 35-year-old second baseman has ever been. The beginning of the season was pretty rough on him, but he has been ripping since the All-Star break. It is really, really incredible. Like, seriously you guys.
Also, he has an outside chance to mash 50 extra-base hits this year, which is something he hasn’t done since his career year in 2011. I really don’t know how he is doing this.
The Reds tried hard to trade him this past winter, but no dice. It figured to make an uncomfortable situation what with guys like Jose Peraza and Alex Blandino moving up through the system, but The Ageless Beep just keeps justifying his playing time and salary.
Zack Cozart had his knee turned to butterscotch pudding last year just when it looked like the Reds could really get some valuable prospects back in a trade. So he began the year praying his knee was no longer pudding. It wasn’t, and he came out crushing it. There was a real chance that he could have lost his starting job or even been DFA’d, but he looked just as much the gold-glove caliber shortstop with a decent bat that he was before all that unfortunateness. He has cooled off a bit at the plate since the All-Star break, but he is still every bit the solid starting shortstop he has always been.
Eugenio Suarez, he who filled in so surprisingly well at shortstop last year when Cozart got hurt, moved to third base to begin the season after the Reds dealt away Todd Frazier. Remember, this is the guy who was considered a throw-in in the trade with Detroit that swapped Alfredo Simon for former first-round pick and power arm Jonathan Crawford. Few figured he’d develop into anything better than a solid utility player, but he has now slugged 20 home runs and settled in very nicely at third base after some early-season transition pains.
Listen: these guys aren’t All Stars. But six months ago, if someone said she didn’t think any of them would be good enough to hold starting jobs ever again, she likely would not have gotten much pushback. Phillips is old, Cozart had a devastating knee injury, and Suarez was always a utility guy. But here we are in the final month of the 2016 season, fully transitioned from tear down mode into build up mode, with top youngsters Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera ready to contribute and Nick Senzel right behind them, and the Reds kind of unexpectedly don’t really have anywhere to put them. It’s a good problem.
Maybe the Reds try again this winter to trade BP and maybe with only one year left on his contract they might be able to work out a deal that benefits all parties this time. Maybe they try again to trade Cozart (they didn’t really get much response this past July). Maybe Nick Senzel isn’t the next Kris Bryant (he seriously could be). But really, if they have BP, Cozart, and Suarez in the starting lineup on Opening Day 2017, that’s probably still a good thing. Valuable professional baseball players are hard to come by, you know.