The one, and only real ‘knock’ on top Cincinnati Reds prospect Nick Senzel has been his potential home run power at the big league level. No, it’s not a ‘can he actually hit a ball over a fence’ knock, since anyone who’s seen the kid rake knows that’s going to happen at least a few times, regardless. Rather, it’s that the rest of his game is so danged refined that the idea that he might only whack 18 or so homers a season seems to stand out against his otherwise frame-worthy resume.
One-hundred and seventeen MLB players hit at least 20 homers last year. Forty-one socked at least 30. And, I’d be willing to be the scouting reports on many of them as they came through the minors questioned whether they’d ever be true home run hitters, either. However, given the current state of the juiced ball and the proliferation of high velocity pitching, the reality these days is that most every player in the lineup is now a home run hitter whether their specific skill set truly dictates that’s what they’re best at being.
A quick look back to a 2015 article from our friend John Sickels at Minor League Ball features a 2012 scouting report on current Cincinnati Reds 3B Eugenio Suarez, one from his time spent in the Midwest League. Sickels was obviously high on Suarez at the time - which has proven to be quite well-founded - but one quote in particular about Suarez jumped out at me while I had Nick Senzel on the brain:
Although not a big home run hitter, he’s not punchless and should be good for doubles power.
Of course, Suarez is fresh off a 26 homer 2017 season, has belted 47 dingers in the last two years, and is projected to club more than 20 again in 2018 by most every prognostication system out there. The juiced ball might well be propelling much of that - as did the 72 starts Suarez got in Great American Ball Park in 2017 (that saw him swat 21 of those 26 homers) - but the fact remains that Suarez has emerged as a legitimate ‘25 homer guy’ while still just 26 years old.
The convoluted point towards which I’ve been working is two-headed. First, and most obvious, as that the most similar current Reds hitter to what Senzel projects to be - a righty swinging, strike-zone aware, athletic, doubles-power infielder in Suarez - has seen his power play up in today’s homer-driven game. The second, though, is that despite Suarez’s breakout and overall solid prospect pedigree, the grades on the similar skills that both he and Senzel possess have across the board been infinitely better on Senzel’s end - and what that means for his dinger prowess when he inevitably makes his big league debut in 2018 has me salivating.
Of course, there’s a reason for this rambling preface. Sickels released his 2018 Top 20 Cincinnati Reds prospects list this morning at Minor League Ball, a list that’s predictably headlined by Senzel. In it, Senzel rates as a classy A- prospect, albeit one that includes the question-caveat is he a 15-homer guy or a 25-homer guy at maturity? It’s that question that took me back to Suarez’s original scouting report, but it’s also a question I think has a rock solid answer (assuming MLB doesn’t revert to pre-1968 and raise the mounds in retaliation to the dinger smashing pace). I think Senzel will comfortably have 25-30 homer power through his prime years, power at the hot corner you could theoretically call rather Rolen-y. And, even if that doesn’t materialize for some reason, a replication of this accomplished non home run hitter would still cement him as a cornerstone of the Reds for years going forward.
Man, it’s fun when a prospect has so few nits to pick. Senzel’s defense, it’s worth noting, isn’t one of those, according to MLB Pipeline.
In other news, one former Reds’ uber-prospect who had a rather impressive career despite not being a ‘home run hitter’ is still impacting the game years after he last played. In a great piece at The Enquirer, Zach Buchanan looks at how Barry Larkin’s B-Lark University in Florida has become not just a training camp for the best in the business, but a proving ground as well. It’s well, well worth your time to read.
Over at Reds.com, Mark Sheldon answered a series of fan questions in his latest Reds Inbox. Of specific note: he mentions that Homer Bailey can reach his 10/5 rights this year with a full season of service time, which both makes me feel old and is an aspect of his current contract I’d not yet considered.
Finally, a big picture piece - one from Yahoo’s Jeff Passan on the current economic climate across the MLB landscape. This offseason has been the slowest in recent memory, with the years during the financial collapse last decade firmly included, and the economics behind why get explored quite well by Passan here. It’s great insight into how the analytics movement has filtered through all front offices, and how teams have increasingly begun to value the combination of skills and age in increasingly standard ways - meaning it’s now less likely to see a single player land a market-making deal anymore. As baseball begins to hedge younger, avoid terrible contracts, and operate lighter on its financial feet, revenues and team incomes still continue to skyrocket, which is causing an increased rift between the people who should be making the money - the players - and the ones currently rolling in it - the owners. To me, it’s a story that will only continue to fester until the next chance at a Collective Bargaining Agreement, though I don’t think it’s outlandish at all to suggest there could be a work stoppage before that point is ever reached at this rate.