He has dealt with both vertigo and a ball he fouled directly off of his face. He tore a labrum in his right shoulder while slamming into the wall in CF. He needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee to repair cartilage under the patella, and a toe fractured last November has managed to keep him sidelined all the way through Cactus League play so far in 2023.
Nick Senzel has managed to complete the head, shoulder, knee, and toe superfecta so far in his career. God, I hate that I just wrote all of that.
The injuries have been relentless for the former 2nd overall draftee, the guy who put up 12 homers and 14 steals during a 104 game rookie season back in 2019 that, if extrapolated over 162 games, would’ve put him on a virtual 20/20 pace. A 20/20 guy who could cover CF despite little experience there, a 20/20 guy who was drafted, developed, and hoisted into a starring role for a club that had embarked on another rebuild.
Senzel won’t turn 28 until July, and all reports continue to suggest at least limited optimism about what he can do when he’s swinging the bat and running the bags at 100%. The only problem is that fewer and fewer eyes have the chance of seeing him in such scenarios anymore, something the Cincinnati Reds have clearly been forced to address this spring once more.
A quick glance around camp in Goodyear suggests that the Reds have, effectively, already moved on from counting on Senzel as a viable piece to their rebuilding puzzle.
In Jake Fraley and Wil Myers, they’ve put together two ‘everyday’ corner outfielders, with Myers’ once touted positional versatility now redundant with Joey Votto back and Tyler Stephenson slated for bulk time at both 1B and DH. They swung a deal to bring in Will Benson and his loud tools, and so far he’s looked deserving of time. TJ Friedl lit the world on fire offensively down the stretch in 2022, has hit again this spring, and clearly deserves an opportunity. And now, the Reds are even circling back on the idea that Jose Barrero, likely their best big-league option at shortstop at the moment, can cover CF well enough to make that an option, too.
All that and we haven’t even mentioned their apparent adoration of super utility man Chad Pinder, a guy who’s made a pretty solid career out of what it appears Senzel could be, if ever healthy.
In CF, they’ve got Benson, Friedl, Barrero, and even Stuart Fairchild in AAA. In Barrero and Pinder, they’ve got RH bats who can cover both IF/OF positions defensively. In Benson, they’ve got a former 1st round pick who deserves the chance to show that the improvements he made last year are indicative of a guy with big promise. Since the star-caliber part of Senzel never materialized, it’s those three aspects of his game that kept him a viable piece of this rebuilding Reds roster, and the Reds have added redundancy in all three arenas with Senzel once again out.
Who among those is he going to unseat when healthy? Is he even in the position where, when healthy, he simply plays a couple games in Louisville and gets activated? Or, rather, is he firmly in a spot where, when healthy, he’s optioned to Louisville and has to hit his way back into the big league mix?
Pinder’s age and struggles in 2022 likely mean he’d be the first one to make way for Senzel, but in that role we’re talking about perhaps the last man on the bench. If Barrero struggles, or if Benson struggles, we’re talking about guys at moments in their respective careers who deserve the kind of longer windows to work things out since they’re potential pieces for the future - the kind of long windows to work through struggles that Senzel has been given repeatedly over the last four years. Making those kinds of moves won’t happen until the end of April, at the earliest.
The more I squint, the harder time I have seeing a path back to a regular role for Senzel, even as the Reds enter play in 2023 with as unsettled, as unproven a roster as they’ve had in a long, long time. Rather than build a roster ripe with players deserving of roles due to the performances on the back of their baseball cards, the Reds have built a roster ripe with players deserving of long leashes and needing experience, and I’m just not sure how shoehorning Senzel, now entering his fifth full season, back in there makes much sense.
The thing is, these things do have a pretty unflinching way of working themselves out. There will be injuries, potential trades, underachievments and demotions, and at some point the Reds will need more depth than what they’re carrying currently at the big league level. The other thing is, though, that the Reds now have so much burgeoning prospect depth that if those things don’t happen until May or June, it might not even be Senzel they turn to anymore to address them. Matt McLain brings to the table a whole lot of what Senzel brings, while Elly De La Cruz brings all that and more.
Toes, while small in stature, can truly be a giant pain in the ass when they bark. I have broken a big one before and dealt with plantar fasciitis under the other, too, and trying to function normally when you just can’t walk is far more debilitating than it may seem. In this instance, it may well be that a toe - not a head, a shoulder, or a knee - will be what ultimately calls time on the experiment that was Nick Senzel leading the Cincinnati Reds, at least in the grandest, dreamist ways we once envisioned. Now, he’s going to have to shake off a toe injury just to maybe, maybe get back on the roster at all.