At some point in the career of many athletes they face a make or break point. Some guys make it. Some guys don’t. That point is at different times, different ages, different stages for many players.
Last season one of the guys facing such a season was Brian O’Grady. He was entering his age 26 season, and coming off of a year where he had just hit .185/.313/.347 – mostly at the Double-A level. At his age, with the season he had just come off of he had to go out and take care of business to keep his career going. And he did just that. Between Double-A and Triple-A in 2018 he hit .280/.358/.512, and was even better than that in Triple-A. It earned him a non-roster invite to spring training with the Reds this spring.
When looking at how the organization stacks up, a few guys jump out as types who are facing a make or break type of season. The biggest one, however, is Alfredo Rodriguez. He’s not likely on the verge of being released no matter how he performs in 2019. But if he doesn’t go out and hit, he certainly could find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to his spot in the organization.
When the Reds signed Alfredo Rodriguez for $7M out of Cuba there was a near 100% agreement in all circles that Cincinnati overpaid for his services. Everyone seemed to believe that his glove and defensive abilities were legit. That those skills would absolutely translate to the Major League level. But to a man, almost everyone questioned whether he would ever hit enough to be more than a future utility player. His track record, while small in Cuba, didn’t suggest the odds were good he was going to hit enough to start. No Cuban who had reached the Majors was nearly as bad of a hitter in Cuba as Rodriguez was. The Reds were betting that they could work with him and improve the offense.
And there were some reasons to believe he could improve, even if it were just a little bit. After leaving Cuba he had bulked up and added strength. He had also worked on some mechanical changes to his swing. But as we head into the 2019 season, he’s coming off of seasons where he had a .588 OPS and a .585 OPS. And the defense isn’t quite as good as advertised when he initially signed – though it’s still considered to be quality defense.
With the signing bonus he got, he’s not the kind of guy who is likely to be let go. But at some point the signing bonus only goes so far. And there are shortstops that could push him to the backup spot, soon. Jose Garcia has the defensive chops, and the upside with the bat is a lot higher. And he is also a higher rated prospect. When 2019 begins he’s likely to only be one level behind, too. If Garcia performs and Rodriguez doesn’t step up, he could find himself losing the shortstop spot in Double-A by the second half.
There’s also a chance that Calten Daal returns and pushes for the shortstop spot. But he’s also a guy who may be facing a make or break kind of season. The 25-year-old has played in 44 total games since the 2015 season ended. He missed all of 2017. And he played in just four games in 2018. Injuries and some bad luck have kept him off of the field for a large part of his career. He made his pro debut in 2013. He’s played in a total of 272 games since. Shoulder injuries have cost him most of the last several seasons.
When he’s been healthy he’s shown a quality set of tools. Defensively, at least prior to the shoulder issues, he showed everything you wanted to see from a shortstop. Offensively he had hit for a good average, made contact, and showed some speed. He hadn’t hit for home run pop, but there was a little more power in there – though it was still going to be below-average. Health is going to be a factor here. I’ll try to report on this when I get to Arizona.
Aristides Aquino has been a highly rated prospect in the past. He’s still rated inside the organizations Top 30 prospects. After the 2018 season the Reds decided to non-tender him and he became a free agent. He almost immediately re-signed with the team on a minor league deal and was given an invitation to Major League spring training.
With Aristides Aquino two things have been obvious for a while – he’s got real power in his bat, and he’s got a strong arm. It’s been the rest of his game that’s been inconsistent. During the 2016 season in the pitcher friendly Florida State League he hit .273/.327/.519 with 26 doubles, 12 triples, 23 home runs, and he threw out an insane 28 runners on the basepaths from right field.
But the jump to Double-A has been a real struggle outside of hitting for power. In 949 plate appearances with Pensacola between 2017 and 2018 he’s hit .227/.293/.421. That’s come with 74 walks and 257 strikeouts. That’s a 27% strikeout rate. Aristides Aquino will turn 25-years-old in April. While there could still be an opportunity to become an additional outfielder after 2019 if he doesn’t step up, if his future is going to have “starter” in it, he’s very likely going to have to get it done at the plate in 2019.