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Today we round out the infield in the State of the Farm series by looking at the shortstop position. The Cincinnati Reds find themselves in a strange situation where they have two guys who seem to have laid claim to the position at the big league level. Zack Cozart has never really hit in his career, but got out to an outstanding start before cooling off as the season wore on, but still had the best offensive season of his career before suffering a season ending knee injury in June. The Reds then brought up Eugenio Suarez from Triple-A and all he did was hit .280/.315/.446 as a 23-year-old. Where the Reds eventually go with shortstop is still a bit unknown, but there is no immediate need for someone to jump to the big leagues and fill a need at the position in either scenario.

Triple-A Louisville saw a collection of veterans get the bulk of the starts at shortstop after Eugenio Suarez was promoted to the Reds with Kristopher Negron and Hernan Iribarren starting 77 games at the position.

Down in Pensacola the position was split mostly between Zach Vincej and Juan Perez with Alex Blandino getting most of the starts at the end of the season (24 games at shortstop). Blandino is clearly the best prospect among that group, but I’ve listed him with the second basemen as that appears to be his future position.

Zach Vincej is a quality defender at the position where he’s a more of a glove-first guy. The 24-year-old had an up-and-down season offensively as he struggled in April, June and August, but hit quite well in both May and July. His bat doesn’t project much, but he can play defense and he makes plenty of contact, giving him a possible utility role in the future.

Vincej shared the shortstop duties with 23-year-old Juan Perez. Perez spent most of his season in Pensacola, but also saw time in Louisville for 97 plate appearances. He struggled at both stops at the plate, but did hit better in Pensacola where he posted a .236/.304/.338 line. His defense is fringy at the shortstop position, but he does enough that he can handle the position at this point.

Alex Blandino spent much April through June as the Daytona shortstop, but once July rolled around the team made the move to put Carlton Daal at the position moving forward. He played there until he was hit by a pitch in late August and had his season cut short. Like Vincej, he had an up-and-down season at the plate, hitting well in May, June and August, but struggled mightily in April and July. He’s a contact oriented hitter without much current power, but if he learns to pull the ball more often he could begin to show at least a tiny bit of extra-base power. Defensively he’s solid with some range and good arm strength.

Dayton saw a large majority of the playing time at shortstop go to Luis Gonzalez. The 20-year-old struggled at the plate, hitting .245/.270/.306 with 14 walks and 82 strikeouts in 124 games. He was perhaps pushed up a level higher than he was ready for due to injuries in spring training forcing the Reds hand at the position. His bat simply wasn’t ready, but he’s got some offensive tools to work with. His bat is quick and he’s got a little bit of speed. Defensively though is where he shines. While he’s still a bit raw in the field, he made 43 errors on the season, he still posted a .935 fielding percentage due the amount of plays he did make. He’s got all of the tools you want to see from a defensive player, but he’s going to need some time to turn those tools into skills.

The reason that Luis Gonzalez likely started his season in Dayton is because Cory Thompson was injured in spring training and missed the first half of the season. When he came back in July he joined Dayton and took over the duties at second base, but he can handle shortstop. He’s got plenty of range and a good arm to work with at the position. Offensively though, he struggled. He hit just .196/.262/.299 as he struggled with plate discipline, limiting his offensive tools. The 20-year-old has time on his side, and there’s some upside on both sides of the ball for him, but he’s got work to do.

Billings saw 3rd round draft pick Blake Trahan get a majority of the starts at shortstop, but Hector Vargas and Mitch Piatnick both got double digit starts at the position as well. Trahan started 44 games for the Mustangs (and another 11 with Daytona as he filled in for the injured Carlton Daal over the final two weeks) and hit well, posting a .312/.400/.403 line with more walks than strikeouts. There’s not much power in his game, and he’s a fringy defender at shortstop, so a move to the other side of the bag may be in his future. His approach at the plate is interesting though, as a high contact hitter who also draws walks.

Both Hector Vargas and Mitch Piatnik fall into the category where they are probably future second basemen, but can handle shortstop for the time being. Both played the 2015 season as 20-year-olds, but Vargas held his own as a hitter far better than Piatnik did. Vargas posted a .296/.306/.414 line in 52 games with just 16 strikeouts. He made a ton of contact, striking out just 8.1% of the time he stepped to the plate, but he also drew just three walks on the season. Piatnik played a little bit of everywhere up the middle, also seeing time in center and at second. He struggled to hit in his debut, posting a .210/.265/.258 line.

In Arizona there were several players who saw action at shortstop, including three teenagers. 19-year-old Alberti Chavez saw a majority of the time at the position. He would hit .276/.321/.370 on the season in 44 games, mostly with Arizona but also seeing time in three games with Dayton to end the season. Blake Butler hit well for the AZL Reds, posting a .319/.350/.472 line in 45 games and spending 17 games at shortstop, the most of any position he played. He profiles more as a possibly utility player with the ability to move around the field than a pure shortstop.

19-year-old Alejo Lopez was a late round signing, drafted in the 27th round but was viewed as a top 10 round pick coming into the draft. He’s defensively oriented, but had a good debut in a limited sample size, hitting .419/.526/.484 with five walks and no strikeouts in 12 games played. 17-year-old Nadir Ljatifi only appeared in eight games, but the German performed well at the plate in his professional debut, posting an .859 OPS in 19 plate appearances.

Overall Thoughts

There is some depth at the position, at least in terms of sheer number of players. Several of the guys even have some upside to work with, but no one stands out as a premium prospect at the position and the two guys with the most tools are very raw and still several years away at best.

Grade: C-

Top Shortstop Tools


Hitting  Hector Vargas
Power  Cory Thompson
Speed  Mitch Piatnik
Range  Luis Gonzalez
Arm  Luis Gonzalez

There aren’t really any big offensive tools among this group. Mitch Piatnik has plus speed to work with, which is the best rated offensive tool among the group. Defensively though, Luis Gonzalez stands out. He’s got big range and a big time arm. He’s still pretty raw defensively, but he makes plays that no one else in the system comes close to making.


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25 Responses

  1. MK

    Have see them all but Piatnick and Trahan. To me the best of whom I have seen, who I could see as a major league defensive shortstop are Luis Gonzalez and Carlton Daal. I am not sure the Reds view him as a prospect but the current shortstop who could be an effective mlb Bench player is Sammy Diaz. Cb lay all 4/ infield positions and has even played some outfield. Has a potential .270 switch hitting Bat.

    • Jim H.

      Any one of those 3 OFs mentioned would be a decent 1-year flier. They get the opportunity to establish value in a hitter-friendly environment, Reds hopefully get their best. If not, it is one year, then Winker & Y-Rod could be ready for everyday roles. Regardless of these 3 or another similar option, this is an action that has more upside than down for 2016.

    • Doug Gray

      I tend to avoid reading things at Bleacher Report. Seriously, if I’ve got to click 57 times to get through your article, it’s not worth it.

  2. Colt Holt

    Just saw that AA has left the Blue Jays. I would love to see him brought into the President of Baseball Ops role with Jocketty shown the door.

    Jocketty’s performance in 2015 was probably overall better than any single year in his past with the Reds, although I was disappointed to see Chapman on the team on August 1st. Unfortunately, Jocketty just doesn’t fit the Reds with an unwillingness to trade controllable players (ie Frazier) when there value is high or extend young players to team friendly deals until it is too late. The big flaws on his resume are less about the contracts he gave to Votto and Bailey, and more about his failure to extend Votto, Bruce, Bailey, Cueto, Frazier, Mesoraco, etc when they were breaking through. He wants to see them as starts before they extend them, but then the concept of a team friendly contract is out the window.

    • Doug Gray

      I think it is more that Castellini isn’t willing to trade guys.

    • MK

      Had anyone other than Walt been the head of baseball operations with the resources available to him they have would have still have traded a Leake, Simnon, Cueto and whether some one else had gotten the return is an still questionable. Not a big Walt fan either but looking at Mets starting eight not sure I would trade one or two even up to
      With them .

  3. Tom Gray

    I think Blandino winds up at 2B as he goes higher into AA and AAA for the Reds.

    Suarez is a good hitter but not a good fielder. Cozart the reverse of that. Neither is long term answer at SS.

    McMillan, Cardenas, Concepcion, Larkin were the Reds SS for 50 years. Since Larkin retired, not much continuity.

    • Doug Gray

      Suarez is 23-years-old. It’s a bit early to say he’s not a long term answer at shortstop because he makes a few errors.

      • Tom Gray

        Long term SS are guys like McMillan, Cardenas, Concepcion, and Larkin. Each was an excellent fielder from the get go. McMillan and Concepcion improved their hitting as the years went by. Cardenas and Larkin hit well right away.

        Suarez is a good hitter but the Reds (nor any MLB team) can’t afford lots of errors by SS.

      • Doug Gray

        Your memory must be failing you, Tom.

        Here are the fielding percentages for Concepction, Larkin and Suarez at age 23:


        Concepcion was better at not making errors at age 23. The year before, when he was 22, he posted a .945 fielding percentage.

      • Tom Gray

        Doug, if you think Suarez is comparable to Concepcion as a fielder, God bless you.

        He’s not. Concepcion was a superb fielder at SS. Suarez isn’t.

        Concecpion was the premier SS in NL during 1970’s.

      • Doug Gray

        I don’t think they are comparable, but your complaint was about how those guys stepped in right away and were strong fielders. They weren’t. They became those things, with time. At the same age, Larkin has a fielding percentage .004 better than Suarez did.

      • Tom Gray

        Concepcion was 23 in 1971. He fielded .974 at SS that year.

        Suarez was 23 in 2015. He field .956 this year.

    • Fish

      Somebody has to play there and they aren’t going to pay for a free agent who can hit and field so my guess is Suarez IS the long term answer there until another prospect comes up or they acquire one by trading Chapman and/or Frazier…

  4. RedsFaninPitt

    I have a close friend who knows someone who works in the Yankees org. He got a call from this friend and said the Yanks are interested in Votto.

    I have read that the Yanks are considering trading Texeira. (I don’t know if Votto would ever approve a trade to the Yanks since he has a full ‘no trade clause’.) With Bird “waiting in the wings”, I can’t see how a Votto trade makes sense unless they would consider trading Bird or moving him to the OF. I know they are really high on him. The Yanks have a lot of payroll coming off the books in the next two seasons – Texeira after 2016 and ARod after 2017 – so financially this would make a lot of sense for both teams. I would love to see Bird in a Reds uniform and Jorge Mateo for a future SS. The shortstop and 1B positions are the weakest positions in the Reds system IMO.
    If the Reds do trade one or all of Chapman/Frazier/Bruce/Phillips/Votto, they should focus on SS/1B/3B/OF in that order depending on who they trade. Top SS prospects with teams expecting to compete in 2016 are Mateo (Yanks)/Cecchini & Rosario (Mets)/Robertson & Adames (Rays) and Morgan (Rangers). Top 1B prospects with teams expecting to compete in 2016 are Bird (Yanks)/Smith (Mets)/Bradley (Indians) and Gillaspie (Rays).

    Let’s git-r-done, Walt.

    • RedsFaninPitt

      I should have included A. J. Reed as a 1B with the Astros as another top prospect of a competing te as much to pursue.

    • terry m

      Nice read !! I think everybody should be on the block I also think that Voto and Phillips would wave their rights instead of being on a team that was being rebuilt and might take 2 to 4 years to get there.

  5. Bill

    You may as well retitle this series “struggles with the bat.” It’s a recurring problem position after position. Correct me if I’m wrong, but so far there appear to be very few Reds minor leaguers that project to offer much hope to the big league club in terms of hitting.

    • Tom

      You’re right, Bill — the Reds have plenty of cheap options at the “reserve/bench” position.

  6. Kyle J.

    I wonder what the deal is with SS/2B/OF Josciel Veras? He’s a 30th round pick from 2014 who jumped from Billings in ’14 to Louisville in ’15. That’s a pretty large jump for a player who isn’t highly-regarded at all.

    Was that just due to injuries and the Reds not wanting to disrupt the time-table of players that they value more as prospects?

    • Doug Gray

      Due to injuries and the team not wanting to push other guys into a backup role. Veras could handle shortstop, and they needed someone that could play there in case of an injury, but that’s about it. He didn’t play often, but was there for that reason.