The 2016 MLB Draft was significant for the Cincinnati Reds. The last time the Reds had a top 10 pick was in 2009, when they took Mike Leake. Leake did something that is almost unheard of in baseball by skipping the minor league process and joining the club immediately. So when the Reds had the number two pick in 2016, expectations were high.
The Man from Tennessee
With the number two overall pick, the Reds selected a third baseman from the University of Tennessee, Nick Senzel. Senzel was considered the most MLB ready prospect at the plate. In his three years with the Volunteers, he finished slashing .332/.426/.508. He found a significant increase in power in his junior year, raising his slugging percentage by 100 points from .495 to .595. He also nearly matched his RBI total from the previous two years combined with 59, while sending eight balls out of the park.
The Reds knew they were drafting a player that would be joining the club sooner than possibly any other player in the draft. His stats throughout his minor league career are similar to his days in Knoxville, despite slumps and two cases of vertigo.
The Minors: First Year
Every player experiences slumps, whether it is Mike Trout at the plate or Clayton Kershaw on the mound, slumps happen. The sign of a quality player is how they bounce back from their slumps. Senzel has had slow starts, causing people to believe he may not be the first round talent the Reds thought they acquired. Senzel has proved he can recover from a slump. He hit .152 with the Billings Mustangs, yet was still promoted to A ball with the Dayton Dragons, where he proceeded to hit for an average of .329 with an OPS at .982.
The Minors: Second Year
While he was in Daytona Beach playing for the Tortugas, he was able to hit .305./.371/.476, earning him a promotion to AA to play for the Pensacola Blue Wahoos. In AA, he exceeded expectations. He slashed .340/.413/.560 with an OPS at .973 with 10 home runs in just 57 games. This easily earned him a promotion to begin the 2018 season at AAA Louisville.
The Minors: Third and Hopefully Last Year
With Louisville, Senzel started off slow. He suffered from vertigo, a condition that causes dizziness, lightheadedness and loss of balance, at the end of the 2017 season. On May 3 this season, Senzel felt symptoms of vertigo and was eventually placed on the disabled list. Before being placed on the disabled list, Senzel slashed just .271/.351/.459, not a terrible line by any means, but not what the Reds want to see from the number five prospect across the minors. Since returning from the disabled list, Senzel has been unstoppable at the plate.
Recently, Senzel moved up to the leadoff spot. Since the move in the order, he has hovered around a .500 average. While this has been a short sample size and unsustainable, it is a sight for sore eyes, as the Reds have not had a consistent leadoff hitter since their one season with Shin-Soo Choo, back in 2013. Jesse Winker has shown glimpses of being the Reds potential future leadoff hitter, and no one should give up on the 24-year old yet, but his speed is a concern for the leadoff spot. Another change they made in Saturday’s lineup involved moving Senzel to shortstop. This move has sent Reds fans into a curious state. Does it mean that Jose Peraza’s time as a starter is coming to an end? Is Scooter Gennett safe come the trade deadline? Is a Senzel promotion coming soon, or will this experiment last for a while?
What to do with Senzel?
Whether Senzel will join the club sooner or later is uncertain, one thing is for certain. Senzel needs to join the club as soon as possible. The team claims that there is no place for him to start on the major league roster, but that is just not true.
The reality is that the organization as a whole is handling the situation poorly. Scooter Gennett exceeded all expectations last year. It is understandable for the team to think that replicating his 2017 season was not feasible, or that they wanted to flaunt their trade bait. If the Reds do not plan on trading Gennett, then Senzel should have been moved to shortstop before the season, or as soon as Gennett began heating up at the start of May. If they do plan on trading Gennett, there are other options that would allow Senzel to get consistent playing time at the major league level.
From little league to the major leagues, the saying is the same. If you can hit, they will find a spot for you to play. Senzel has shown he can hit, its just a matter of time when he will play. Third base, Senzel’s original position, is locked up by Eugenio Suarez, a player proving to be one of the top players to holds down the hot corner in the league. Suarez is among the top five RBI leaders, despite missing 15 games. Gennett is also among the top five in RBIs. Joey Votto’s spot is secure and nothing but an injury would change that. Peraza is the only infielder with questions left to be answered, but the Bats just now started giving Senzel reps at short.
Where Will Senzel Play?
While mathematically the Reds are not eliminated from the playoffs, just two and a half months into the season, it is clear the season has been over for quite some time. When a prospect is still young and the team does not think they will compete next season, keeping a prospect in the minors makes sense. However, this Reds club believes they will compete as early as next year. If that is the case, then there is only one option for the Reds and Senzel. He needs to join the major league roster as soon as possible.
The big question remains the same, where will he play? One solution involves moving Gennet to right field and making Senzel the starting second baseman. Gennett has started in the outfield at the major league level. Last season he played 17 games in the outfield for the Reds. He has even said while it is not ideal, he would move to the outfield to stay in Cincinnati. Gennett may not be the best in the outfield, but he is not too great in the infield either, so if this move means Senzel could play more, then it is the right move. Scott Schebler could move to center field while keeping Winker in right, which would remove toxins at the plate in Billy Hamilton and Adam Duvall.
With his recent move to shortstop, Senzel could potentially replace Peraza in the future, giving the Reds arguably the most dangerous hitting infield in the league. The middle infielders are often afterthoughts when it comes to their ability at the plate, but between Senzel and Gennett, that is most definitely not the case. The only question is how long would it take for Senzel to master the position?
Another option would be playing Senzel in the outfield. He has shown athleticism and could probably man a corner position, but has no experience. If the Reds do not plan on trading Gennett, either him or Senzel needs to move to the outfield. While Hamilton’s defense is gold glove worthy, his performance at the plate should urge the Reds to move Schebler to center and put one of their big bats in right.
Senzel plays multiple positions, and despite his battles with vertigo, at the end of the day, his numbers are worthy of an opportunity to perform at the major league level. Regardless of where the Reds decide to play them, he needs to be on the roster. This year a perfect year to get the 22-year old accustomed to how the league works with a solid offense. There is no reason to keep waiting. The time to call up the number five overall prospect is not in September or the start of next season. The time is now.