On the heels of shortstop Jose Barrero rocketing into the top third of Top 100 prospect lists everywhere in 2021, the Cincinnati Reds called him up and played him in CF, a position he’d never once played in a professional game before. That scenario was aided because Nick Senzel, himself once a universal Top 10 overall prospect who’d been moved from the infield to the outfield without any real experience there, was once again beset by an injury that kept him shelved for months.
Two examples neither make a trend nor form a firm conclusion, but those are two very recent examples of the Cincinnati Reds taking from their surplus of infield talent and attempting, even briefly, to shoehorn it into the heart of the outfield. And as this iteration of rebuilding has once again established quite the glut of infield prospects that shall be future Reds, it’s a decision that the club must reckon with once again.
This time, though, it appears they might be approaching it with a different flavor of aplomb. As Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic relayed on Sunday, the Reds are “aggressively pursuing trades in which they work off their surplus of shortstop prospects to acquire outfielders with similar upside,” an effort that would certainly be a departure from the last time they faced a similar dilemma.
If all goes well with the first wave of new prospect graduations, Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte will take over the left side of the Reds infield, unless Barrero can somehow turn the tides and fend off one of them for an everyday role. Jonathan India is, presumably, still a 2B in the eyes of the club, meaning there isn’t an obvious path to middle-infield time for Edwin Arroyo or Matt McLain - both of whom rank among the game’s Top 100 prospects by most ratings, too. That doesn’t even get to Spencer Steer or Christian Encarnacion-Strand, a pair of former Twins farmhands who look poised to claim infield roles regularly at the big league level as early as 2023.
It’s a glut, albeit a good glut. And while the obvious lack of upside on the current outfield depth chart would suggest you simply move some of the infielders out there to play, it would appear the Reds might be thinking otherwise this time around. The idea that the Reds would simply swap prospect for prospect, though, seems to have somehow gotten a bit inflated.
As MLB Trade Rumors noted in their breakdown of the situation last night, Reds GM Nick Krall has intimated that he’d be up for potentially making a swap of ‘young, controllable players,’ which doesn’t necessarily mean ‘prospects.’ Anyone who has had eyes on the frugal Reds of late will clearly understand that means players who are not yet expensive, which could mean pre-arb guys with a little big league experience under their belt.
Clearly, the Arizona Diamondbacks have a glut of outfielders that fit both descriptions, and would appear to be an obvious trade partner if the two sides could sift through their masses and find the desirable match. In Corbin Carroll, Jake McCarthy, and Daulton Varsho, they’ve got a highly rated group who’ve already done well in some limited big league action, while the incredibly toolsy Alek Thomas boasts former Top 100 overall prospect upside and elite CF defense despite stumbling a bit at the big league level in his first action there at age 22.
It’s easy to overlook the concept of intradivision deals, but it’s only been a couple of weeks since the Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates made a deal - the Reds sending Dauri Moreta to Three Rivers for veteran shortstop Kevin Newman. The Pirates boast an All Star outfielder in Bryan Reynolds who has been publicly linked to a trade request, and he comes with team control through arbitration years through the 2025 season. I’d certainly like to think that the Reds will consider themselves ready to emerge from their deep, dark rebuild within the next three seasons, and adding Reynolds in a blockbuster would add the kind of proven thumper that simply doesn’t exist on this roster at the moment. Rest assured, though, that a deal of that magnitude would clean out the Reds glut in a hurry - they’d have to be very, very sure of who they wanted to keep to make something like that make sense.
Anyway, that the Reds are even exploring outside additions is encouraging, since it’s pretty clear that a) this roster still needs a gargantuan amount of work before even approaching the ability to functionally contend and b) if the pre-arb pitchers, India, and Tyler Stephenson are off the table in trade talks, there isn’t a whole lot else of value they have to make deals. Their prospect cache is not as good as cash, but it’s pretty damn close, and that might be what the Reds are looking to use to make their next leap forward out of the rebuild.