On Monday night Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell announced that on Tuesday the team was going to start Eugenio Suárez at shortstop against Colorado. It wasn’t an announcement of a permanent move. But it also sounded like it was something that they wanted to look at more than just one time, too. Along with Suárez sliding to shortstop, Mike Moustakas is going to move from second base to third base. That would seem to open up second base for Jonathan India, who has been the talk of the organization over the last year.
Last summer there were a few players who were being talked about with high praise for their improvements at Prasco Park – the Reds alternative site. None of the players were getting more praise, though, than Jonathan India. Cincinnati’s 1st round pick in 2018 out of Florida had battled injuries in the 2019 season, and while he held his own at the plate, he didn’t stand out, either. Healthy in 2020, but hidden away from the public eye at the alternate site, India was hitting the ball, and he was hitting the ball well. But it wasn’t just the hitting that was turning the corner, he was also working on his defense. Coming up he had spent a majority of his time at third base, but Cincinnati also had him spending time at second base in 2020 and the transition there has gone relatively smoothly.
In the offseason, the Reds stated goal was to acquire a shortstop for the 2021 season. Their plan still had Jose Garcia as the potential future shortstop, but they believed that he still needed time in the minor leagues to develop his bat a little bit more. The organization failed to bring in anyone to fill that spot. Kyle Holder has never played a game in the big leagues and is a trade acquisition and Rule 5 pick from the Phillies. The team picked up Dee Strange-Gordon on a minor league deal.
The failure to find a shortstop, plus Eugenio Suárez dropping some weight and getting into better shape over the offseason has given manager David Bell the opportunity to perhaps salvage something with his infield…. if Suárez can play even a bad defensive shortstop. There is a limit on how bad you can accept, and the math for that is beyond what I think we can really guesstimate right now.
But, let’s pretend that Eugenio Suárez can play shortstop better than “so bad we can’t keep playing him there”. Let’s accept for arguments sake that between the high rate of strikeouts in the game, and the advanced defensive positioning, that he’s someone you can live with at the position for the time being. That opens up a world of possibilities for the Cincinnati Reds. Moustakas can slide to third base, where he has spent a majority of his professional career. And then you can put Jonathan India at second base, where he’s likely an upgrade defensively over Moustakas, and he’s likely an upgrade offensively from whatever you were going to get from the shortstop position when it wasn’t Suárez.
Now, what about Jose Garcia? That’s a fair question. And it’s also one that we may have an answer for. Garcia needs time in the minor leagues to continue developing his bat. Good offspeed pitches are his biggest struggle and he’ll often chase them out of the zone. He simply needs to see more of them. How long that will take, no one really knows. But let’s say that he could be ready to go to start the 2022 season. What then?
Well, that could come down to how the upcoming collective bargaining agreement goes. Both the players and the owners want the designated hitter in both leagues. They couldn’t agree to make it happen this year. Perhaps with more time, and a lot more on the table, they can implement it moving forward. If so, that could help unclog some of the position battles happening in Cincinnati. Whether that’s getting more time for Joey Votto at the designated hitter position while sliding Moustakas to first, Suárez back to third, and playing Garcia at shortstop – it gives the Reds opportunities moving forward to try and maximize both offensive and defensive values at multiple spots on the infield.
That plan, that timeline, it likely gets Jonathan India to the Major Leagues a year sooner. If Suárez can’t handle shortstop, then it’s tough to see the Reds keeping India on the bench in Cincinnati when he won’t be playing hardly ever given that the team would have to choose to sit either Suárez or Moustakas in order to get him on the field aside from pinch hitting opportunities, or an occasional start when the team is playing in an American League park and can utilize the designated hitter – but even then he probably doesn’t get all of those starts with an attempt to get the outfielders some at-bats, too.
For Cincinnati, this move with Suárez to shortstop could be what they need to truly fix their offensive questions. It’s going to likely come at the cost of some defense – even a slimmed down, in better shape version of Suárez probably isn’t as good of a defender as the Kyle’s (TM), Strange-Gordon, and definitely not Garcia. The balance between offense and defense is real. Where that line is…. well, that’s a bit tougher of an answer. Hopefully over the next two weeks the Reds take all of the time that they can to figure it out. The move not only would solve a short-term “shortstop problem”, but it would also open up a spot for a fast rising Jonathan India to get into the big leagues.