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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Doug Gray is the owner and operator of this website and has been running it since 2004 in one variation or another. You can follow him on twitter @dougdirt24, contact him via email here or follow the site on Facebook. and Youtube.

15 Responses

  1. The Duke

    I’ll never have a problem with a minor league deal, and this one has at least some possibility of upside. Good signing.

  2. Kris

    I like anything that gives us a bat off the bench with a little bit of pop. I think that’s something the team was really lacking last season.

  3. Foxred

    Not much on the open market for this type of role. Can’t complain about this. Just can’t get excited about it either.

  4. Krozley

    He has an opt out at the end of ST, so he will probably either be the backup SS or go elsewhere. One other thing I noticed about him was good pinch hitting numbers (.931 OPS in 39 PA). I’m guessing he didn’t get much SS time in Colorado due to their need of him at 3B in 2012 and in 2013, the Angels having Aybar. He is probably at least adequate there in limited duty and seems to me an upgrade over the likes of Izturis and Valdez.

    • Doug Gray

      His pinch hitting numbers don’t do much for me. In that sample size there simply isn’t enough to tell us much. One home run instead of fly ball caught at the track can swing OPS about 140 points in that sample size. I am with you on his shortstop time though. Circumstances haven’t allowed him to play at shortstop in the Majors, but he has plenty of time there at the minor league level over the last several seasons, leading you to believe he can at least back up every now and again.

  5. Mauired

    I always liked this guy. I remember when he was a top ten pick by the Rockies. Seems like he never got a shot at any real playing time. Last year must have been tough for him. Designated for assignment by three teams. But I think not only can he make the team, but if Cozart doesn’t hit again, he could steal playing time from him. Why did the Rockies move him off short? Too many errors or just the fact they already had a great shortstop? Btw one cool thing he did was steal home against the Reds.

    • Doug Gray

      In the minor leagues over the last four years (I didn’t look back beyond that), he didn’t really have any issues with errors, posting fielding percentages of .938, .955 and 1.000 at shortstop (he didn’t play shortstop in 2012 at the minor league level).

  6. MK

    Doug your theory that he can play shortstop as a stop gap for a couple of days is valid. But if their is an injury to Cozart what is the long term alternative.

    Would love to see them try to sign Paul Janish on a minor league contract. I also like Justin Turner but he would just be a day or two stop gap at short as well (although he has 30 games there in the big leagues).

  7. Norwood Nate

    Janish just signed with the Rockies I believe. I’m surprised Turner has not received more attention, not just from the Reds, but other teams in general. Maybe the Reds are holding out to sign the Cuban SS that becomes available in February. I’d be in favor of that.

  8. Norwood Nate

    If Nelson out-performs Hannahan in ST, but the Reds are not convinced he can be the back up SS, do they let him go into FA because of Hannahan’s contract? I think I know that answer already, and that’s unfortunate.

    • MK

      I think Hannahan has more to show than he was given the opportunity by Dusty. He and Izturis were under utilized and I think that is one thing the helped the whole team under perform.

  9. Thomas Felsmaier

    I believe the last bench spot is Nelson’s to lose. Pena is obviously the backup catcher. Heisey is the 4th OF. Hannahan maybe gives Votto one game off plus he should get time at 3B to play match-ups with RHPs. I think Schumaker is CF/LF insurance (Hamilton struggles/Ludwick injury) and an extra LH bat. Nelson should get the last spot as the infield utility guy unless something clicks with H-Rod.

    • Alan Horn

      That makes sense. I still think we need to sign a strong defensive SS for AAA in case Cozart is injured.

  10. Little Earl

    Keith Law at ESPN ranked all the teams minor leagues.

    16. Cincinnati Reds

    Plenty of outfielders and power arms here, light up the middle and possibly light on starting pitching candidates after Robert Stephenson. At worst, they’ll put a pretty good bullpen together on the cheap from all of those A-ball starters, a group that includes 2012 first-round pick Nick Travieso.