The Cincinnati Reds shortstop position is one of the positions on the field that it would seem that the team could have an opening at if someone were ready to step in. Zack Cozart is arguably the worst hitting regular in baseball and even in his better seasons his low on-base percentage has been a big issue. Defensively he remains one of the better shortstops in the game. He will be under contract through the 2017 season but if someone were to emerge they could step in if Cozart doesn’t improve his overall game.
Louisville saw three guys make up their shortstop rotation. Argenis Diaz and Kristopher Negron handled the job for the first two-thirds of the season. Diaz would be released and be picked up by the Diamondbacks. Negron would find his way onto the big league roster for the final two months and play just about everywhere as a utility man. Defensively he can handle shortstop, but his bat is rather Cozart like. In four full seasons of Triple-A baseball he has a .289 on-base percentage. With that said he did finally post a .328 OBP in the 2014 season with the Bats and a .331 mark with the Reds in 158 plate appearances.
Rey Navarro came to the Reds organization as a free agent after the 2013 season. He came over from the Royals organization and was assigned to Double-A Pensacola. There he would split time at second base and shortstop while hitting .271/.336/.459 with 27 walks and 32 strikeouts. That earned him a midseason promotion to Louisville. With the Bats the 24-year-old would spent most of his time at the shortstop position and would improve on the offensive side of things in Triple-A as he would go on to hit .296/.351/.409 with 19 walks and 26 strikeouts in the second half. Surprisingly to just about everyone after hitting .282/.343/.435 with nearly as many walks as strikeouts and an ability to play up the middle defense, Navarro was not added to the Reds 40-man roster and brought up in September. While he may not be a very strong defender at shortstop he isn’t poor over there and posted a .967 fielding percentage at the position in 2014.
Down in Pensacola, along with Navarro, the shortstop position was played by Brodie Greene and Devin Lohman. Lohman saw more than half of the total starts for the Blue Wahoos at the position. Lohman was in his second go-around in Double-A and while he did show slight improvements he still struggled at the plate as he posted a .245/.310/.352 line. He has sold range to work with but he has a career fielding percentage at shortstop of .933 as he’s had some error problems. Brodie Greene moved around a lot during the season, spending 15+ games at four different positions but shortstop is where he saw most of his action. Like Lohman, Greene has seen Double-A before, but 2014 was his third time around and he struggled with the bat on his way to hitting .227/.296/.298.
Bakersfield saw the same shortstop almost every day as Zach Vincej started 114 games at the position during the season. Vincej held his own with the bat as he hit .271/.342/.336 with 44 walks and 73 strikeouts on the season. He struggled to hit for power, something that’s been with him since he was drafted, but he has a solid contact rate and a solid walk rate. Defensively, the Blaze shortstop was quite strong as he posted a .956 fielding percentage and continues to be known for his defense.
For most of the season the Dayton Dragons saw Carlton Daal at shortstop nearly every day. He made 93 starts at the position and hit .296/.334/.351 with 19 walks and 60 strikeouts. His season was cut short though as he injured his wrist in late July and never returned. Daal didn’t show much power during the season but there is more power in there for the future than he did show. Defensively there are some good things and some bad things going on. The good side of things is that he has a strong arm and plenty of range at the position. The bad side of things is that he has some mechanical problems with his throws and it led to a .911 fielding percentage on the season.
When Daal went down to injury the Reds called up 1st rounder Alex Blandino to replace him in Dayton after he had played well for the Billings Mustangs. With the Mustangs Blandino had hit .309/.412/.527 over 131 plate appearances before arriving in Dayton where he would finish his season. With the Dragons his stats would drop off, but he would still hit a solid .261/.329/.440. After walking 16 times and striking out just 18 times in Billings he saw his walks drop to 13 and his strikeout rate total jump up to 42 in just 21 more plate appearances. Defensively Blandino will make the plays on balls that he gets to, but most see him eventually moving to either second or third base because of a lack of true shortstop range. The Reds have said they are going to stick with him at shortstop for now and let it play out.
Before Blandino signed and after he left Billings the Mustangs relied on Cory Thompson at the shortstop position. His season started out well but he struggled after a quick start at the plate. On the season he would hit .245/.297/.375 for Billings with 13 walks and 47 strikeouts in 278 plate appearances. He flashed some power and he was 13-for-13 in stolen base attempts. The 19-year-old also showed off good range at the shortstop position but his fielding percentage was just .932 on the season. It was an improvement from the year before and he has all of the tools to remain at the position.
All of the way down in Arizona at the first stop on the chain in the US for players the Arizona League Reds had six players see time at the position but Hector Vargas and Luis Gonzalez combined to play 43 of the 56 games at shortstop. Vargas, a 19-year-old from the Dominican Republic hit .297/.319/.419 on the season with five walks and 18 strikeouts in 163 plate appearances. His low walk, high contact approach helped him hit for a good average, but the walk rate will need to increase as he moves up the ladder. He would almost split his time between shortstop and second base, posting a .910 fielding percentage at shortstop and a .949 at second base. Gonzalez saw one less game at the position than Vargas and spent another 12 games over at third base. He would hit .277/.292/.362 with two walks and 22 strikeouts in 99 plate appearances. The low walk rate kept his offensive numbers down. The 19-year-old posted a .935 fielding percentage for the Reds at shortstop and a 1.000 at the third base position. Like Vargas he will need to increase the amount of walks as he moves up the ladder.
The Reds seem to have some solid prospects at the position in the system these days but no one has that star caliber potential among the group. There are some good defenders among the guys mentioned and the guys at the lower levels have some potential in their bats as well. Rey Navarro is the most ready among the group but it seems the Reds may not be considering him for the position after failing to call him up during the season. Alex Blandino has the best bat among the group but there are concerns that he won’t remain at the position in the long term. The position is certainly better than it was even a year ago when it was possibly the worst position in the farm system from a depth standpoint, but it still doesn’t stand out either.
Top Shortstop Tools
There are four players listed for the five tools here, which does show some of the depth of talents that the team has at the position even if no one has had a full season that has been very well rounded among the group on both sides of the ball. I haven’t been able to get too much into the two guys in Arizona yet as I’ve been waiting for instructional league to end before trying to gather too much information on them, so they may very well find themselves here somewhere and if they do I will be sure to write about it on the site within the next few weeks. The easiest tool to pick here was power. Most of the shortstops lack double digit home run power both now and in the future, so Alex Blandino was an easy choice to make. Shortstops are generally fast given that they need to have quick feet and range to play the position, but Cory Thompson stood out for his speed as he consistently turned in above-average times from home-to-first. Defensively one could lean towards Vincej, Thompson or Daal and make a solid argument but I stuck with Vincej because he’s more consistent overall right now than the other two and has similar defensive tools to work with.