I Don’t Know is On Third

Third base belongs to Eugenio Suarez. For now.

Richard Fitch
Aug 13, 2017 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Richard Fitch

Hey, Cincinnati. You know full well who’s on first. We’ll see this Fall how many of Baseball’s MVP voters know, but for now, we’re all pretty much on common ground here. We get to watch the jaw-dropping excellence day-in and day-out. It’s the kind of excellence that harkens back to the days of The Mick and The Splendid Splinter. So, you could excuse us if we’re feeling all Tokki, too. And if you don’t relate, you’re probably whiling away your recreational hours up on the hill at Nippert Stadium watching a good game of kickball anyway.

Due south at The Ball Park Down By the River, we’re giving homage to that classic Abbott and Costello comedy routine, fretting about the near future. Bud Abbott’s words fairly ring in the ears even if they don’t seem as funny in the local baseball context:

I Don’t Know is on Third

You can hear the footsteps. He’s coming fast. He’s been cutting through the minor league jungle, hacking a path to the major leagues with his white ash Hillerich and Bradsby. The Reds’ first round pick and the second overall in the baseball draft one year ago, he made short work of Single-A ball before making an almost seamless transition to Double-A Pensacola, where his .341./.398/.553 slash line fairly shouts at Triple-A Louisville to get on with it already and welcome him to Louisville Slugger Field.

If things continue apace, Nick Senzel — The Third Baseman of the Bright and Shiny Rebuilt Future — will be standing 90 feet from Devin Mesoraco sooner rather than later.

Or not.

Squatting there right now is Eugenio Suarez — Resident Third Baseman Extraordinaire — just the latest in a litany of Reds glovemen who know how to “pick it.” It wasn’t long ago we marveled at Scott Rolen’s defense, only to see Todd Frazier come along and show some leather and grace of his own. Suarez, who was asked to embark upon some on-the-job training at third, got off to a slow start, but has shown he’s a quick learner, turning himself in short order into a top 5 third baseman defensively in 2017, according to current defensive metrics:

Image for post
Image for post
Fangraphs (Aug. 11, 2017)

Suarez has been so good, he could be soon known as — with a nod to 19th century third baseman Bob Ferguson — as Eugenio “Death to Flying Things” Suarez.

Suarez became a Red when Walt Jocketty — doing his best Apollo Robbins imitation — picked the pocket of Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski, the chalk outline of Alfredo Simon’s fading career being the only forensic evidence that the Reds’ GM had been at the scene of the crime.

If you are a member of the subset of Reds fans that count themselves among the optimistic, Suarez has turned into a fine player, a potential 5-WAR player and future All Star. It’s tempting to want to leave him there. When you’ve discovered the secret sauce, leave well enough alone. Amirite? Did humanity learn nothing from the New Coke debacle???

Yet, Nick Senzel’s bat continues to insist on pushing the conversation. The thought of three high on base guys (Votto, Winker, Senzel) at the top of the lineup with power hitters like Duvall/Schebler and Mesoraco behind them is almost too delicious to contemplate. Do you ask Senzel to learn a new position, a task that could affect adversely affect his bat in the short term? Billy Hamilton’s ability to get on base was developing very nicely until 2013, when he reached Triple-A and the Reds asked him to learn a new position — centerfield.

Image for post
Image for post
Tracking Billy Hamilton’s Minor League OBP History

Now, one might just come to the conclusion that the competition on the mound at Triple-A overwhelmed the 22-year old prospect. But, you might be surprised to learn that the biggest hurdle to climb when working through the minors is not the jump to Triple-A, but the transition to Double-A.

“In the world of scouting, the jump from High-A to Double-A has long been seen as the most critical for a prospect’s future. Double-A, the thinking goes, is where a minor leaguer’s true ability is tested for the first time against competition that can also list ‘future big leaguer’ as a realistic goal.”

— The Hardball Times

It makes sense. Triple-A rosters are not merely way stations for hot prospects waiting to shine in The Show, they’re also rosters comprised partially of marginal players who might have some limited major league use. Guys with decent command, but mediocre fastballs.

This is a roundabout way of saying that asking Nick Senzel to change positions as he prepares for his first appearance at GABP might just slow his roll, not just in the minors, but at the major league level. Suarez, on the other hand, has already logged nearly 1500 very successful plate appearances at the major league level, is naturally a shortstop and played 96 games there for the Reds when Cozart went down with injury.

And this is where it gets sticky. Jose Peraza is still the guy the Reds would like to see play SS. They went to extraordinary lengths to get him, going down one blind alley, then another, until they found a trade path. Despite his poor season, he’s only 23. Moreover, Dick Williams, answering questions on Reddit back in July, dropped this with a thud:

Q: Mr. Williams, any chance of Suarez being converted back to SS if/when Cozart is moved?

Williams: I do believe he could go back if we wanted. I also think he has turned into such a tremendous 3B that we are better served with him there, continuing to improve and plugging someone else in at short.

Case closed. And yet…

As reported by C. Trent Rosecrans, Suarez has been asked to oil up his SS glove and be a good scout and be prepared. While the request seems to be a nod toward infield flexibility with the demotion of Arismendy Alcantara, you can’t help but wonder.

If Peraza continues to struggle….

If the fallen Dilson Herrera can’t get up….

Meanwhile, Senzel, the erstwhile Dayton Dragon, continues to slay all fellow dragons in his path. Any Wahoo can figure out he’s flying solo on a glide path to the majors, the bright landing lights of Great American Ball Park along the Ohio River illuminating the way.

The bat always plays. But where?

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch

Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore

Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store