Cincinnati Reds sign infielder Chris Nelson to minor league deal

The Reds added another name to a list of guys who are competing for a final roster spot when they signed infielder Chris Nelson. Nelson has spent time in the Majors in each of the last four seasons, hitting .268/.312/.399 in 820 plate appearances between Colorado, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

In 2012, Nelson hit .301/.352/.458 with 27 walks and 84 strikeouts in 377 plate appearances for the Rockies. On the surface, that looks awfully good but it came with a career high BABIP. It has been the only season in which Nelson has really hit at the Major League level though. His plate discipline at the Major League level has been poor to say the least. He has 48 career walks and 189 strikeouts. That gives him a 5.8% walk rate and 23% strikeout rate for his career. The walk rate is low and while the strikeout rate isn’t necessarily bad on its own, when coupled with the walk rate it is an issue.

Looking at his minor league track record over the last 4 seasons, all at the Triple-A level we can see some big numbers in the slash line as he has hit .320/.367/.516 in 869 plate appearances. He has 56 walks and 136 strikeouts in that time, which gives him a walk rate of 6.4% and a strikeout rate of 15.7%. The walk rate is similar to his rate in the Majors, so there probably isn’t much to believe that he will make improvements in that category. However, his strikeout rate is significantly better at the Triple-A level so there could be room for improvement at the big league level in that department.

Looking at the Fangraphs pitch values (Major Leagues only), we get some mixed signals between the Pitch Values and the Pitch F/X Pitch Values. The values are different because of how the pitches are classified. The Pitch F/X classifications are a bit more detailed. Nelson has crushed 4-seam fastballs over the last two seasons, but has struggled with 2-seamers, cutters and sinkers quite a bit. Sliders seems to be an interesting situation with Nelson. In 2011 and 2012, he crushed sliders, but he saw some struggles against them in 2013. Perhaps it is just a coincidence, but perhaps it has to do with him getting out of Colorado and having the pitches break a tad more. Against the curveball he was above-average in 2011, but below-average in the last two season. He has also struggled against the change up, being well below-average in his career.

Defensively he has spent time at third, second and shortstop, though most of it came at third base (177 games) with a bit also at second (56 games). He has only played 3 games at shortstop in the big leagues. In the minor leagues though, he has played 102 games at shortstop since 2010 began. That gives me the confidence that he can at least cover the position as a back up who gets a start a week or so.

Nelson brings some intriguing things with him. He provides some position flexibility and he has some pop in his bat. If used correctly, I believe he could be an asset. He hasn’t shown splits for his career versus lefties and righties, but given his propensity to hit the 4-seam fastball well, getting him starts against pitchers who rely on that pitch in favor of other fastball variations could be rather beneficial. He is limited, but picking and choosing when to use him could work.

What do you guys think?

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