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Pretenders to the Thrown of Larkin

Checking back in on the shortstop situation in Cincinnati

MLB: Miami Marlins at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Jose Peraza has been a particularly interesting player to me since he came over from the Dodgers. For whatever reason, I’m aesthetically drawn to players of his profile: speed to burn and a great hit tool, but serious limitations that will make his struggle to survive in MLB a captivating one. Despite all of the advancements in player evaluation and development, I will always been romanced by the sexual charisma of players like Willie McGee. It’s a gut thing, not a brain thing.

I’ve written extensively about Peraza over the last year or so. The Reds have put a lot of faith and hope into his development and it seems that quite a bit depends on his emergence as a decent starting shortstop. At the beginning of the year I was willing to give him two or three months to settle in, get everyday at bats, and establish himself as the starting shortstop. He is still only 24 years old and there isn’t exactly a ton of talent in the minors breathing down his neck. But we are quickly approaching the point at which the Reds need to do something.

We are coming up on 13 of the way through the season and the point at which we have enough information to start talkin’ shit. As of today, Peraza has the most PAs (187, one more than Votto) on the team. He has started at shortstop more-or-less every day and has been regularly hitting at the top of the lineup. I love this. I think it is absolutely how the Reds should be handling him. He’s a young and green hitter who absolutely needs these regular reps to spur his development.

So how is he developing?

Well, I’m kinda disappointed. His hitting line thus far is better than last season, but not better enough. He has slashed .269/.290/.354 with just four walks and 11 extra-base hits. Last winter I postulated that one possible path forward for him was to hit the ball on the ground more, increase his efficacy at bunt hits, and refrain from popping the ball up so much. Basically, become more like Dee Gordon. Which, I mean, that all sounds so easy, but obviously it isn’t. He has done well so far to cut his infield pop-up rate by more than half (last season he popped up a gruesome 13% of the time, and this year he’s down to about 6.5%) but his groundball rate has actually decreased (only about 3.5 percentage points, but still). He is hitting more line drives, which generally speaking is a very good thing. Line drives turn into hits more often than any other batted ball type, but look: not all line drives are created equal. Peraza has been among the weakest in the league for exit velocity. He might be hitting more line drives, but his line drives are relatively soft and are easily snagged by infielders. Scott Schebler doesn’t really have that problem.

I don’t want to sound like “If Jose Peraza would just do what I say he would be good,” but it still stands that what he has been doing isn’t really cutting it. His defense at shortstop is certainly improved, but he’s not the kind of glove wizard that can cover for his weak bat. I don’t want to give up on him just yet, but his clock is ticking.

He might still turn it around and answer the shortstop question for the Reds. He is young enough and talented enough, certainly. But at this point it would behoove the organization to start outlining some contingency plans. As far as I can tell, they don’t really have one.

Down in Louisville, Blake Trahan has gotten most of the reps at SS. There are also Cliff Pennington, Dilson Herrera, and Nick Senzel. Pensacola isn’t exactly brimming with talent, either. The Reds are really counting on Peraza making it. Which, of course, how many teams have the talent to run serious depth at a premium defensive position? But still, I think we gotta think of something.

Trahan is a perfectly nice fella and has steadily ascended through the system over the last few years, but he has never hit enough to carve out a place for himself in this conversation.

Dilson has dealt with awful shoulder issues since coming over from the Mets, to the point where he passed unclaimed through waivers this spring. He finally looks healthy though and his hitting again, but I don’t trust him at all to handle defensive duties at shortstop. He is pretty much encrusted in at 2B.

Cliff Pennington? Why did I even write that.

Senzel dabbled a bit at shortstop this spring, but he has played exclusively at third base and second base thus far this season. He is currently on the disabled list dealing with vertigo (again).

Alex Blandino is another option. He is up with the Reds right now and has even started a game at shortstop. But he hasn’t played shortstop regularly since 2015 and it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t have the chops to stick there. He is fine at third and second, but shortstop is too much of a stretch for him.

So that brings to me to the whole dang point of this stupid thing. The Reds don’t have any real, true, obvious alternatives at shortstop if Peraza doesn’t hack it. Aside from an outside hire (Elvis Andrus can opt out of his deal with the Rangers this coming winter and in that event I would seriously look at him), the best alternatives they have are trying Senzel there (when he gets healthy) or moving Eugenio Suarez back there. Neither one is a perfect solution, but I’m pretty confident that both of them will hit enough to make up for any defensive shortcomings.

I’m becoming especially intrigued by the idea of moving Suarez back. He steadily improved his defense there in 2015 when he filled in for Zack Cozart and has made himself into a strong defender at third the last two seasons. My guess is that one: he’d be open to the idea, and two: he would put in the work necessary to pull it off.

The Reds have him signed for another six seasons after this one and while he may not be the perfect answer to the question “who is the Reds’ shortstop of the future?” I think he can be a good enough answer. He has certainly proved he can hit well enough to cover himself if he turns out to be below-average there, but I think he has also proved that he is a dedicated-enough defender that he won’t allow himself to be below-average there.

Again, if Jose Peraza can turn this around and make it all work out, then alls the better. But as the days go by it is looking ever less likely that that will be the case. For me, he has until Nick Senzel is healthy again and ready to play every day for the Reds. And that ain’t long at all (hopefully).