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Jose Barrero is playing shortstop, again

Will he get that shot with the Reds, finally?

MLB: Spring Training-Cincinnati Reds-Workouts Cincinnati Enquirer-USA TODAY NE

Jose Barrero is a shortstop. He cut his teeth as a shortstop prior to signing with the Cincinnati Reds out of Cuba for a hefty seven-figure signing bonus. He excelled as a shortstop as he rose through the ranks of the minor leagues, his elite combination of glovework and burgeoning bat earning him praise as the highest ranked prospect in the entire franchise by Baseball America.

He even spent the entirety of his last three games in the big leagues at shortstop, doing so in the final series of the 2021 season against Pittsburgh. And as he finally begins to ramp up his rehab in the minors after hamate surgery earlier this spring, he’s continued to play shortstop - starting there twice for AAA Louisville over the weekend sandwiched around one DH appearance.

Jose Barrero is a shortstop. The question today, as was the question for most of the last two seasons, is just how straightforward the Reds are going to make that path for him.

That final series of the 2021 season just so happened to coincide with the perky Reds having officially been eliminated from postseason play, with the St. Louis Cardinals having ripped off a run of a billion consecutive wins down the stretch to once again seal that fate. Going hand in hand with that elimination was the shutdown of resident shortstop Kyle Farmer, who was dealing with a sports hernia that had plagued him down the stretch of the season beforehand, opening up a spot to Barrero that had until then seemed mostly blocked.

In the six-week run to that final series, however, Barrero started a grand total of four games at short, a fewer number of games started there than the five he got as the team’s centerfielder. He even logged a pair of starts at 2B to spell Jonathan India in that span, the kind of versatility emblematic of a player with both gifted athleticism and glovework innate enough to have made him stellar at shortstop - the gloviest position on the diamond - in the first place.

Reds fans - and those Reds supporters who still want the team to succeed desperately despite the team’s ownership group giving them so little about which to be fanatical - don’t need me to belabor how different the scenario is for Barrero today than it was during those final weeks of September 2021.

The brief version (for those who don’t qualify as either of the previous genres) is that last September saw Eugenio Suarez finally get hot at the hot corner, India en route to franchise cornerstone status at 2B, Joey Votto looking all-world at 1B, Mike Moustakas an immovable contract embedded on the roster, and Tyler Stephenson a capable 1B when not becoming an all-world catcher, the collective surrounding a friendly and competent Farmer as the feel-good shortstop that tied the room together. The outfield, though, had some issues. Jesse Winker would be the stalwart in left around which the club’s offense would run, but with Nick Castellanos bound for free agency and Nick Senzel as absent as Lieutenant Dike in center, perhaps the fewest feathers would be ruffled if Barrero just slotted into the outfield mix somewhere.

That old scenario, at least in some ways, also had a priority placed on trying to win baseball games. It will never not shock me to revisit just how vast, and quick the personnel and mindset changes swept through the Reds franchise between then and the start of the 2022 season, one that began without Barrero as he worked his way back from surgery to fix a tiny, busted bone where his hand meets his wrist.

With the Reds now more firmly entrenched in rebuilding and route-finding for the future, and with Barrero on the comeback trail, I do wonder just how different he’ll be worked into the lineup this year than last. There’s now a designated hitter spot in every single lineup, for one, while the glut of infielders from last year’s scenario has been thinned by trade and injury already. The outfield that was already sparse has posted a combined 70 wRC+ this year, a number that has them ahead of only the Oakland collective at the bottom of the league-wide rankings. The path to playing time for Barrero is as wide open as it possibly could be at the same time that prioritizing game time for a soon-to-be 32 year old at the position where Barrero is a natural seems as silly as it ever could for a 12-28 club.

This is a club that has willingly doled out almost 340 PA this season to the likes of Brandon Drury, Colin Moran, Matt Reynolds, Taylor Motter, Alejo Lopez, and JT Riddle, after all, with Moran’s one-million buck deal last offseason the only guaranteed big-league money of the bunch. Easing Barrero back into the mix the way he’s been eased-in before could happen without a blink moreso than even last year, and would be an upgrade to expectations and excitement levels, if nothing else.

But, Jose Barrero is a shortstop. He’s the kind of shortstop that just doesn’t come around very often. With this season’s inevitable demise already out of the way and four-plus months left to play out, it’s hard to envision a better situation for him to get the everyday opportunity to plant his flag at the position than what the Reds have provided for him. That he’s playing there again with AAA Louisville might be all the hint we need that it’s a move that’s going to be made as soon as he’s ready, too.