The shortstop position for the Cincinnati Reds is one with a big question mark. After years of having Zack Cozart man the position, including a huge 2017 season, the organization is looking for the next guy. For 2018 it appears that they are going to look at Jose Peraza – at least in the beginning of the year. In his two seasons with the Reds, we have seen two extremes. In 2016 he hit .324/.352/.411 and stole 21 bases in about half of a season. Last season saw Peraza struggle, hitting .259/.297/.324 with 23 steals. And on top of the struggles at the plate, he also only played 422 innings at shortstop. Between the two years, according to UZR, he’s a slightly below-average defender. Of course, the sample size there is small, so the error bars in that value could be large.
In Triple-A last season it was Zach Vincej for 106 games at shortstop. No one else spent more than 15 games at the position. The Reds, however, lost Vincej on waivers after the season to the Seattle Mariners. He was then waived by the Mariners, went unclaimed and was outrighted to Triple-A.
Blake Trahan saw almost all of the time at shortstop for Pensacola. He played 135 games at the position for the Blue Wahoos. In the field he was very sure handed, making just nine errors on the season. That led to a .982 fielding percentage. At the plate it was more of a struggle for Trahan. At the plate he hit just .222/.311/.275 in 526 plate appearances. There’s not much power there, with just 20 extra-base hits on the season. Where he did find success was his plate approach – he walked 52 times and had just 82 strikeouts. If he’s going to compete for a job as a starter in the big leagues he’s going to have to hit better moving forward.
Daytona saw another guy take almost all of the playing time at shortstop. Alfredo Rodriguez played in 115 games, with no one else playing in more than 11 games. It was his first full season as a professional in America. Defensively he showed off all of the tools you want to see from an outstanding defender. He made 16 errors and posted a .967 fielding percentage. Like Trahan above him, Rodriguez struggled at the plate. The Cuban born shortstop hit just .253/.294/.294. There wasn’t much power, Rodriguez had just 16 extra-base hits. Unlike Trahan, he didn’t walk much, drawing just 25 walks on the year. He did, however, make plenty of contact with just 79 strikeouts on the year. He’s the best defender in the organization at shortstop, but his bat is going to have to improve substantially moving forward if he’s going to have a chance to be a starter at the next level.
For the Dayton Dragons there were a few guys who shared some of the shortstop responsibilities. Hector Vargas played in 87 games, getting the biggest chunk of time at the position. The 22-year-old made 20 errors and posted a .939 fielding percentage. His errors were split 9-to-11 between throwing and fielding. At the plate he struggled, hitting .225/.260/.309. He’s got a quick bat, and his power potential is more than he showed with 14 doubles, a triple and seven home runs. He makes contact, with just 66 strikeouts in 121 games. But, he didn’t walk much – he had just 19 walks during the year. Like the guys above him in the organization, the bat will have to take a step forward if he’s going to compete for a starting gig down the line.
Carlos Rivero played in 38 games at shortstop in the second half of the season for the Dragons. He was strong defensively, but he struggled at the plate. In 145 plate appearances he hit just .180/.273/.230. In Billings he made another 13 starts at shortstop and did hit a little better there with a .564 OPS.
Jeter Downs saw a majority of the time at shortstop for Billings. The 1st round pick struggled on the defensive side of things. He made 15 fielding errors to go along with three throwing errors in 50 games played. That led to a .911 fielding percentage. He will have to improve in this aspect moving forward, but scouts seem to believe he can do that. At the plate he hit .267/.370/.424 for the Mustangs. His approach is advanced, he walked 27 times with 32 strikeouts in 209 total plate appearances. There’s also some pop in the reserves waiting to come out compared to what he showed in 2017, though it may be a few years down the road before it starts to show up.
The Goodyear Reds saw a majority of the time at shortstop go to Miguel Hernandez. But, he began his season with the Dominican Summer League Rojos where he played in 37 games. The 18-year-old hit .285/.337/.397 in 167 plate appearances there before being promoted. With the AZL Reds he hit .314/.338/.407 in another 145 plate appearances. He made a lot of contact with just 42 strikeouts in 312 total trips to the plate. But that also came with a lack of walks, drawing just 15 of them on the season. Defensively he showed well for an 18-year-old, posting a .951 fielding percentage between the two stops. Scouts think he’s got a lot of potential in the field and there’s room for him to grow offensively, too.
In June the Reds made their final big splash on the international market. The team paid $10M in total to sign Cuban shortstop Jose Garcia. Half of that went to Garcia and the other half to Major League Baseball as a penalty. He never got a chance to step onto the field during the year, but participated in the instructional league with the Reds in the Dominican Republic at their academy. Scouts seem a bit split on whether he can remain at shortstop in the long run, or if he will slide to center or second base. The Reds believe he can play short, though, and they’ll give him the opportunity to show it. Offensively is where there are less questions. He’s shown a good approach as an amateur, has good bat speed and shows some power potential.
Calten Daal missed all of the 2017 season after only playing in 40 games in Double-A in the 2016 season. A shoulder injury has kept him off of the field, but when he’s been healthy, he’s shown potential to be a strong defender. At the plate he’s been more of a good average, high contact rate kind of hitter. He’ll be 24 this season, and injuries have cost him plenty of developmental time, but he’s someone we should see at some point in the first half of 2018.
Shortstop has a problem at the top, but it’s got a lot of potential at the lower levels. In the immediate future the Reds need to hope that Jose Peraza is more like the 2016 version than the 2017 version because you have to go to Billings to find a shortstop in the organization who OPS’d over .600 last season. But, between Jose Garcia, Jeter Downs, and Miguel Hernandez there is a whole lot of upside. Garcia and Downs should see time in full-season ball during 2018, but they are both still several years away.
There’s not a Top 10 prospect in the bunch, but there are two Top 15 prospects and three Top 25 guys. They all have a lot to prove, though. The guys from the full season leagues are probably all better hitters than they showed in 2017, but they all hit quite poorly. Overall I’ll give the position a C+, but with upside.
Hit Tool | Jeter Downs
Power | Jose Garcia
Running | Jose Garcia
Arm | Jose Garcia
Fielding | Alfredo Rodriguez