Nick Senzel was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds with the #2 overall pick of the 2016 MLB Draft as a 3B out of the University of Tennessee. Of course, the Reds have Eugenio Suarez tied down to a $66 million contract to be their All Star 3B, which meant that Senzel’s path to playing time in the big leagues was destined to b a quirky one from the start, and it surely has.
The stud infielder spent a decent bit of time around the infield while in college, so the idea that he could simply slide over to 2B as a way to shovel him into the big league lineup was far from farfetched. The only problem with that, though, is that 2B is being manned by Scooter Gennett, the owner of an NL-best .321 batting average and a personal favorite of team owner Bob Castellini, which is a thing that matters in this particular organization.
So, the logical next move was to get Senzel some time playing shortstop, since that was the only potential weak spot in the Cincinnati infield. That’s precisely what happened on June 16th, as Senzel finally got a start at SS after returning from his bout of vertigo, going 2 for 5 with a dinger and 3 ribbies. Of course, if you look back on the 75 games that 24 year old Jose Peraza has played since Senzel made his professional debut as a AAA SS, you’ll find that the incumbent SS has hit a rock-solid .314/.356/.484 in 333 PA, which is more than good enough to warrant holding command of that position going forward.
Senzel’s finger injury and subsequent surgery ended his AAA season just a week after that SS appearance, which made moot many of the lingering questions about how he’d fit into this particular Reds team. However, as the folks at Baseball America noticed just yesterday when the Reds released their instructional league roster, Senzel appears set to begin getting reps as an OF, which once throws a giant wrench into how this roster might look heading into 2019.
The Reds Instructional League roster is live, and they've listed Nick Senzel as an outfielder...https://t.co/POvK6tAIOu— Baseball America (@BaseballAmerica) September 13, 2018
There are several scenarios that could be in play here, so let’s burn through them all.
First, there’s the chance that this doesn’t actually change a single damn thing, and that’s a plausible one in theory, I suppose. Gaining experience in the OF might be something the Reds would like to see Senzel get so that they have one more way to work him into a lineup where he doesn’t have a fixed spot, similar to how the Chicago Cubs have managed to integrate Ian Happ into their lineup more often than not, or how the Washington Nationals eased Trea Turner into their lineup here and there before the SS spot was readily available. This, of course, would give him a super-utility role for 2019 until other roster spots may come open due to contract situations, which is feasible in the grand scheme of how big league dugouts run by folks like Jim Riggleman operate. However, it certainly doesn’t seem like the best way to integrate the #4 overall prospect in baseball into the bigs, though for only one season it’s certainly not the end of the world.
The next scenario here is one that seems to be more and more likely by the minute - that the Reds are going to keep Scooter Gennett beyond this year, and likely extend him beyond 2019. This would mean that 3B, SS, and 2B are all accounted for not just for an experiment 2019 season in the OF for Senzel, but for the foreseeable future, meaning Senzel is simply going to have to play elsewhere to get into the lineup. Ideally here, Senzel will get a chance to see if his athleticism is good enough to pick up CF with Billy Hamilton entering his final season under team control, as both Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler could flank Senzel in corner OF spots in the newfangled Cincinnati OF. Hamilton, you’ll remember, came up through the minors having played nothing but SS before being immediately thrust into an everyday CF role upon reaching AAA Louisville, so perhaps there is a bit of precedent here.
The third scenario would feature Senzel getting time as a corner OF, which is probably the most boring, predictable, painfully obvious scenario here. With Adam Duvall out of the equation, perhaps the Reds see putting Senzel into an OF mix with Winker, Schebler, and Hamilton and rotating them around would work like the early four-man OF rotation worked in 2018 before injuries and trades, but that would seriously put a dent into what Senzel could provide the team defensively, which makes little to no sense. Moving a player that far down the defensive spectrum is one thing, but doing it while keeping a sub-par defender as an everyday regular at, say, 2B while parking Senzel in a corner OF spot on a rotational schedule simply seems like an outright terrible idea. (Not to mention that it squeezes out Phil Ervin, who has played pretty damn well in that role the second half of this season.)
The fourth scenario here is one where this all blows over and is forgotten in a hurry, which just might be the most likely despite the concept of him getting any run in the OF sending me into a blathering, 1000+ word dissection of the possibilities. I mentioned Senzel getting a shot at SS for one whole game earlier this year, and that was it - one game, despite there being a reasonable furor around that concept when the Reds first announced it as a possibility. Perhaps that’s all this OF shindig will reveal, too - the Reds giving it some face time, but ultimately conceding that Senzel is an elite bat with the kind of elite defensive skillset that profiles as a 3B or 2B, and settling back on that evaluation. It wouldn’t clear the logjam in front of him for a full-time big league role in 2019, and any Scooter extension would further serve to muddy that, but it might still be their ultimate admission that ‘hey, we have a really, really talented infielder with a really, really talented infield in front of him’ and letting things simply sort themselves out down the road.
Fortunately for the Reds, this time around the top prospect they’re moving all over the place is more than just a bat-swinger, and is a plenty capable athlete to at least let our imaginations run. While it would’ve made for quite the formidable offense, seeing Yonder Alonso try to play LF in order to get him into the lineup alongside 1B Joey Votto was painful, but I get the impression that Senzel is going to be just fine with the glove pretty much anywhere he is played, he just simply needs the experience out there before doing it at the big league level. And regardless of where he ends up, he’s going to add a hell of a lot of value to a Cincinnati club that desperately needs it.