“_____ of the Future” is an oft-uttered phrase in baseball, particularly among rebuilding teams. When the Reds traded Todd Frazier and got Jose Peraza, he was immediately labeled the “shortstop of the future.” With the trades of Jay Bruce and Brandon Phillips, it became clear that Dilson Herrera was considered the “second baseman of the future.”
The thing about it is that it is really more about hopes and dreams and golden sunbeams than it is about the actual blood and guts of roster construction. Projecting a “middle infield of the future” is necessarily a best-case scenario exercise. That has been illustrated with startling clarity this year for the Reds.
Peraza earned quite a bit of leash with an impressive half-season in 2016. He slashed .324/.352/.411 in 256 PAs and showed impressive glovework in the field. Unfortnately, he has struggled quite a bit this season. His slash is a pitiful .255/.285/.347. Though his defense is still fine, that kind of production at the plate is not something you can hang your hat on.
Dilson Herrera has fared no better down in Louisville. In 225 PAs so far, his slash is a wholly uninspiring .252/.303/.391. Again, if you were planning on hanging your hat on “Jose Peraza and Dilson Herrera - Middle Infield of the Future,” I would suggest reconsidering. Your hat may end up on the floor, and you don’t get a prom date if you are wearing a floorhat. #HappyBadMetaphorsDay
Given the point at which the Reds find themselves in their rebuilding process, the early-season struggles of their Middle Infield of the Future aren’t really that big of a deal. Both of these guys are only 23 years old and given their track records and obvious talents, it is not unreasonable to think they can turn it around. If the Reds don’t change a thing and decide to just be patient, one could not blame them.
The complicating wrinkle here is the emergence of an erstwhile faceless middle infielder. I’m not talking about Zack Cozart, though. While his performance so far has been astounding, it really shouldn’t change the Reds’ plans. It just means they might be able to get more value on the trade market when they deal him this July. What makes this all so complicated now is Scooter Gennett.
Scooter was a last-minute roster addition on Opening Day Eve. He was DFA’d by the Brewers and the Reds claimed him, largely for his positional versatility and left-handed bat. He has been way better than expected, playing competent defense at 2B, 3B, LF, and RF and hitting for unprecedented power (21 XBHs in 155 PAs). Even though he has spent the entire season on the bench, he is fourth on the team in accumulated bWAR, behind only Joey Votto, Cozart, and Eugenio Suarez.
But he is a bench player no longer. With Cozart hitting the DL with a quad strain, Jose Peraza slides to shortstop leaving 2B open. Scooter has been the starter in the two games since Cozart went down and he has slugged two homers and a double in those two games.
So at what point do the Reds start revising their “Middle Infield on the Future” plan? It is worth mentioning that Scooter was no slouch in Milwaukee. In four seasons for the Brewers, he carried a league-average OPS and played fine but unremarkable defense at 2B. He has been a steady league-average player up to this point in his career, which is not nothing. He was the victim of a roster crunch in Milwaukee and the Reds seem to have been lucky enough to pick him up. Maybe they were able to make some minor adjustments with him, enough to take his game up a notch, or maybe his performance so far is just a fluke. But maybe he’s actually really good now.
All of this is to say that the Reds have some interesting decisions to make right about now. It seems Cozart won’t spend too much time on the DL, so they will need to decide what to do here real soon. Should they try to trade Scooter now that his stock is peaking? Should they give Peraza some time down in Louisville to try to get his bat back in shape and give the 2B job to Scooter outright? Should they trade Cozart as soon as possible and go with a middle infield of Peraza and Scooter for the rest of the year? Should they keep Scooter in a bench roll because it is working so well? I don’t know what the right answer is here, but it is going to take quite a bit of guessing and projecting to determine the way forward. But what is undeniable here is that Scooter has added a complicated variable to the Reds Middle Infield of the Future equation. He only just turned 27 himself, so maybe he is the Reds’ 2B of the Future.