I know what you are thinking: ANOTHER article on Nick Senzel and the Cincinnati Reds and service time games. And yes, technically this is another one of those articles. With that said, this isn’t going to really focus so much on Nick Senzel, but more on the recent decisions made by the Reds and some of their prospects.

Today we’re going to look back at some of the more highly rated prospects that ultimately made it up to the Cincinnati Reds and how they did, or didn’t “manipulate” their service time. Let’s go all of the way back to the 2008 season – when the Reds had four top 50 prospects in baseball with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Johnny Cueto, and Homer Bailey.

Joey Votto had been up with the Cincinnati Reds the previous September. Keeping him down to “get the extra year” would have required keeping him down until mid-May. That, however, was an option. If you recall, despite everyone and their mother believing that Votto was the answer at first base, he entered 2008 splitting time with Scott Hatteberg at the position. It didn’t take but a few weeks to end that ridiculous concept – but the team could have gone about sending Votto back to Louisville and having Hatteberg play things out until May-something before calling Votto up. They didn’t do that, though.

Much like Joey Votto, Homer Bailey had been up in 2007. To gain the extra year of control with him would have taken quite a bit longer as he had accrued more than a months worth of service time. It didn’t matter, though – he simply wasn’t ready to begin the year in the Majors and was in Triple-A until June. When he came up he struggled and was sent back down. You know the story – but the Reds, in both 2007 and 2008, didn’t seem to be playing service time games with Bailey.

Johnny Cueto was a 22-year-old with four entire starts in Triple-A under his belt. Heck, he only had 10 Double-A starts to his name. Cincinnati could have easily justified sending Cueto to the minors to begin 2008 to “get the extra year”. But they didn’t. Instead he made the team as a 22-year-old out of spring training and started 31 games for them and never looked back.

Jay Bruce, in terms of prospect rankings, is the closest guy we’ll be looking at today when it comes to a Nick Senzel comparison. Bruce was rated as the #1 or #2 prospect in all of baseball entering 2008 depending on which place you wanted to look. Unlike Senzel, he was very young – just 20-years-old when the 2008 season began. But like Senzel, in limited time in Triple-A the year before, he beat up on the pitching with an OPS over .900. The Reds opted to go with Corey Patterson as their main center fielder to start the season. Bruce would head to Triple-A to start the year, murder the baseball in 49 games (1.023 OPS) and be called up in late May. Not only did the Reds gain that extra year, they also beat the Super 2 clock.

In 2009 there was only one Top 100 caliber prospect on the verge of the Major Leagues – Drew Stubbs. He had played in 45 total games above A-ball. 26 of those in Double-A and another 19 in Triple-A. The big league outfield was Jay Bruce and a group of guys like Jerry Hairston, Darnell McDonald, Chris Dickerson, Willy Taveras, Jonny Gomes, and Laynce Nix. The team could have used Stubbs, but he also wasn’t exactly ready. The team wasn’t contending that season, either – but they still called Stubbs up in August. Keeping him in the minors the rest of the year would have been easy. Keeping him down for two weeks to start the 2010 season would have been easy, too. They didn’t.

Mike Leake was drafted in 2009. He signed late and didn’t play until the Arizona Fall League in October and November of 2009. With next to no minor league experience at all, the Reds handed him a spot in the rotation out of spring training in 2010. They could have, very easily, kept him in the minor leagues and not a single person would have batted an eye. He had literally never made a start outside of the Arizona Fall League as a professional.

Later that season the team would also bring up Aroldis Chapman on the final day of August so he could be eligible for the playoffs. They had yet to clinch, but they could see themselves making a run and chose that over “getting an extra year”. The following year they could have sent him to the minor leagues to get back into a starters role, and then called him up in May and still gotten that extra year. They didn’t. Cincinnati chose to play for wins.

After missing the playoffs in 2011, the Reds went into 2012 hoping to get back where they were in 2010. After a breakout 2011 in the minors, the Cincinnati called up Devin Mesoraco in September while not being in the playoff race. In 2012 they called him up from the beginning despite making him the backup catcher. It would have been easy to say “Ryan Hanigan is the starter and we’d like Devin to play every day for now and that’s only available in Triple-A”. That’s not what happened.

Tony Cingrani may be the most dominant player, at least in terms of stats, that’s come through the Reds farm system in a long time. His worst ERA at any level through the minors was 2.12. Prior to reaching the Major Leagues for good, he had a 1.68 ERA with 473 strikeouts in 374.2 innings. Dominant isn’t the right adjective, but I’m struggling to find a better one right now. After crushing the Double-A level in 2013, the Reds called him up in September that season. The next year he began the season in Triple-A, but would need more than more than a month down to “get the extra year”. He was in Cincinnati before the end of April. He would go back down to two weeks later in the season before coming back for good. The Reds could have kept him down longer for service time needs. But they didn’t.

It was that same season, 2013, when the Reds called up Billy Hamilton in September. They used him almost exclusively as a bench player and pinch runner. He made three starts in the month. The next year the team could have easily kept him in the minors. In 2013 he had a .651 OPS in Triple-A. Saying he had things to work on offensively would have been a viable reason to keep him down. But they didn’t. They chose to put the best option they had in center field from the start of the season in 2014.

2015 saw the Reds with several decisions to be made when it came to possibly having to choose between “service time” and winning. Raisel Iglesias began his professional career in Cincinnati. He, however, went to Triple-A following that start and was there for nearly a month. The rotation to start the year included Cueto, Leake, Anthoyn DeSclafani, Jason Marquis, and Homer Bailey. Bailey, though needed two weeks before he was ready to start the season and that’s what led to Iglesias making a spot start.

When Bailey only made two starts before hitting the disabled list in late April the Reds chose to go in a different direction than Iglesias. Instead they chose to call up Michael Lorenzen after just three starts in Triple-A. He stayed in Cincinnati until mid-August when after a stretch of rough starts . He rejoined the Reds at the end of August. You could make the argument that the Reds did, and didn’t, play with the service time situation on both Iglesias and Lorenzen. Your mileage may vary on this.

The Reds began the 2017 season with Amir Garrett in the rotation. They stated the plan was to send him back to the minors at some point, but it was a risk because if he had performed well moving forward there really wouldn’t be a reason to send him back. In his first two starts of May he allowed just two earned runs in each over a combined 13.0 innings – but he began to really struggle with the strikezone and the Reds took advantage of that and sent him back to Triple-A. He only made one start there before returning, but he wasn’t the same after that. Much like with Lorenzen and Iglesias, you can argue in good faith on both sides of this one.

In 2017 the Reds rotation was falling apart at the seams by midseason. The team could have gone to Triple-A and called up any number of pitchers in a season that was going nowhere. Instead they chose to go directly to Double-A and bring up Luis Castillo, who was their top pitching prospect at the time. In a season where competing for a playoff spot was long gone, the Reds chose their best option regardless of service time.

Jesse Winker made his debut in 2017 on April 14th, but his stay was short and he was back in Triple-A a few days later. He stayed there for two months before returning for a few days to join the Reds – playing in two more games. Then he went back to Triple-A for a few weeks. Then he returned to Cincinnati and then went back to Louisville. On August 1st he came back up for good. The reds had a bit of a yo-yo thing going with Winker during the season. A lost season. They chose to let him get his feet wet down the stretch rather than hold out and play games with service time.

Late in 2017 the Reds called up Tyler Mahle and gave him four starts. In a season that was lost, even with a pitching need, the team could have gone with anyone. Instead they went with their top pitching prospect at the time. Out of the gate in 2018 they would have needed to keep him down until about mid-May to gain that extra year. They went ahead and gave him a rotation spot out of the gate. They chose to try and win over playing the service time games.

The history here has been a bit mixed. Overall, though, the Cincinnati Reds have seemingly gone with trying to put the best guys on the field instead of trying to play service time games. But there have been a few times over the last decade plus where you could argue that they did worry about service time and gaining the advantage by keeping a player down. After all of these words, let’s get back to Nick Senzel. What does all of this mean for him? Well, the track record of the organization would suggest that it’s more likely that they’ll go with him on the roster if they believe he’s the best player to put out there. But there’s also enough out there to believe the team could find a reason to send him down to “get the extra year”, too. We will find out in less than two weeks.

44 Responses

  1. Ghettotrout1

    Hahaha I love the opening sentence, because as soon as I opened up the sight and saw the title of this article I thought to myself oh man Doug Gray loves this topic LOL. So bravo on the intro.

  2. Kindell

    Doug, I appreciate the effort to put this article together. I was just thinking about this the other day and trying to recall how the Reds handled these situations even though it was different.

    The best player deserves the to win the spot. That is what sports is about and I want to see the Reds send the message that they will play the best players and try to win every game.

    Nick Senzel is a top prospect who has proven to be athletic enough to handle basically every position, and all he does is hit .300. Chances are, they are going to want to make sure they lock him up before we ever see that year. I am fine with taking the risk though. I want to see the best players in the lineup come 3/28.

    • Oldtimer

      If Senzel is healthy (looks like his is) and adapts to CF (so far he has) he will start in CF on Opening Day.

      • MuddyCleats

        IDK, I think Ervin (a drafted CF) and Schebler (CF capable) have out played him. Likewise, Senzel is having hamstring issues, trying to learn a new position and then the pressure of wanting to put up numbers in ML amounts to a lot of pressure IMHO. Couple all that w/ 14 days or so that gives the Reds an extra yr of control and I think the decision to start him in AAA makes all the sense in the world

  3. Gaffer

    You forgot the dumbest one, they called up Jose Peraza to sit on the bench 3 seasons ago, knowing it would give him super 2. In fact, even a couple of days less and he would not have gotten 2.8 million this year and a jump on future salaries. This was well known at the time and pointless as he didn’t even play!

    You can get too nuts about service time obviously, but if it’s a year of control for 10 days or paying 10-20 million extra in arbitration for a couple days it’s crazy not to. The reds don’t have the luxury of giveaways if they want to compete.

    • Gaffer

      Also, mike leak was sent to the minors his second year for 12 days, but they recalled him before 15 days, so he got his service time back. 3 days!

  4. Cguy

    I continue to see this cf job as not being about Nick Senzel, but about Scott Schebler. Schebler has appeared in 10% of Reds games the last 3 years in centerfield. He has 44 starts in cf over that period. Senzel has no ML regular season experience in cf. Even if Senzel makes the OD roster, it’s highly unlikely he gets the nod as the starting cf every game for the first couple weeks. Schebler will probably get at least 2 starts a week & likely half of the cf starts. 5 or 6 starts & 30 PA just isn’t worth a whole additional year of controlling Senzel. Besides Schebler should get the opportunity to win that job outright in March & April.

    • Reaganspad

      He is winning it in spring. What 9 walks and 2 so

      Schebler with an improved eye is a everyday player for the reds

  5. RandyW

    Wow! No impact players from the farm since 2008. Hopefully, Senzel can change that this year.

    • Michael Smith


      What are you considering an impact player???

      • Big Dan

        I would assume he means a player that makes an impact.

      • Michael Smith


        Then I guess he does not consider Leake, Stubbs, Mesarocco etc… as impact players?

    • Oldtimer

      Billy Hamilton was NL ROY runner-up. Led NL in SB several years. Played outstanding CF defense.

  6. Stock

    Lets extend this a bit.

    Some players need incentive to perform at their top level. I think Puig and Kemp are two of these players. Both players are in contract years. No better incentive in the world. Kemp is tearing it up in Arizona. His OPS is two times that of Winker.

    Kemp: 1.298
    Schebler: 1.202
    Senzel: .748
    Winker: .635

    Schebler has made a point. To assume Senzel is so much better than to waste a year of service time makes no sense.

    The interesting case is Winker. Do you send him down. Kemp is a monster if playing at his peak. This may be a great year for Kemp and playing half his games in GABP it is potentially an opportunity to have his best season. I would hate to miss this.

    We will see how bold the Reds are but I could see an opening day OF of Kemp/Schebler/Puig and the probability of this lineup is greater than a lineup of Winker/Senzel/Puig.

    Reserves: Dietrich, Ervin, Back-Up Catcher, Joe and Iglesias.

    With Wood on the DL you can still go with 8 RP until a 5th SP is needed on April 3. At that point you need to make a decision on Joe or cut back to 7 SP.

    For the record, Winker would need to spend 3 months in the minors to gain an extra year.

    • Wes

      I agree with a lot of that. Kemp can’t handle a full season though and he needs tons of rest early in season if he’s going to be productive come August/September. Also not much news on how winkers shoulder recovered- maybe it’s holding him up a bit at the plate ? If he’s healthy though he’s in cincy. He has nothing left to prove in AAA and I highly doubt reds care about his service time.

      With only 25 spots I still see Schebler being the odd man out when that decision has to be made but I don’t see reds rushing that decision by opening day. Reds make it very clear with every decision they make that’s the direction they are leaning. If they were sold on Schebler they would not have acquired 3 replacements for him or make the verbal commitments to winker like they have publically.

      • Oldtimer

        Reds had Robinson, Pinson, Post, Bell, and Lynch as OF in 1961. Won NL pennant. All five got plenty of AB and playing time in OF.

        Puig, Scheeler, Kemp, Winker, and Senzel would do so as well.

      • wes

        OT- Reds said they are going to keep 13 pitchers on staff for most of the year. If that’s the case then there’s not room for 5 pure outfielders.

        Back up catcher
        Kemp or Winker
        and then it’s Dietrich or Schebler. Both same age yet Dietrich is an actual proven major leaguer. You can bring Phil Ervin up and down throughout the season when you need a 5th OF vs not having that luxary with Schebler. His days are numbered.

        To keep it real- I think Conner Joe or Farmer have to be considered real hard too. Barnhart isn’t looking to hot this spring and to let them both walk after spring may come back to bite em.

    • Kindell

      Scott Schebler has always had good Spring numbers. If you base it off of just Spring, he is the best hitter on the team. His OPS drops 200 points in his career when you compare his Spring Training numbers vs his regular season numbers.

      I understand what you are trying to say, but Spring Training numbers do not have a lot of impact on who wins the job. If it did, Phillip Ervin should be starting ahead of Schebler.

      • andybado

        Hot take: Phillip Ervin is better than Scott Schebler.

        Lukewarm take: they will both start the season in AAA, so it doesn’t really matter.

    • Big Ed

      As I said earlier, the only three major leaguers with a higher OBP than Winker last year were Mike Trout, Mookie Betts and Joey Votto. The Reds would be the laughingstock of baseball if they let a small sample from early spring training convince them to send a 25-year-old hitter with a .405 OBP, so that they could play Matt Flippin Kemp.


      • Stock

        Winker had surgery since last year. Is he 100%? I have not seen him play. I do know the ST results are not what you hope for. If he is not 100% I send him to Louisville no doubt. Matt Kemp could have a huge year.

        All I know is I am not touching Winker in my fantasy drafts and I have me some shares of Schebler. I am tempted to add me some shares of Kemp.

  7. Wes

    Reds have done a fantastic job regenerating fan interest into the team this offseason. Coming out hot should be their top priority going into the season. They have enough buzz and quality players to start senzel in minors and I think that’s what they do. Then if they stall in first few weeks they can call up senzel to keep the buzz going while doing the logical management thing and gaining the extra year of control.

    From a fan standpoint though- I’ll love to see senzel get opening day nod. If reds can be competitive out of the gate- just keep it real- more fans will show up every night to see him over anyone else in outfield not named Puig and anyone else on team possibly or atleast in same level as votto and gray. And that’s probably more important than most give credit too

  8. AirborneJayJay

    Wow. Corey Patterson, Willy Taveras, Jerry Hairston, Darnell McDonald, Laynce Nix, Johnny Gomes. What a trip down Nightmare Lane of some Reds outfielders past.
    And those led to others like Lutz, Ludwick, Schumaker and Byrd.
    How long has it been since the Reds started 3 quality outfielders all at the same time?

    • Amarillo

      I like looking up answers to rhetorical Stats questions so…The last time the Reds had 3 Outfielders with an OPS+ of above 100 was 2010 Johnny Gomes, Drew Stubbs, Jay Bruce. Before that in 2007 Dunn had an OPS+ of 136, Josh Hamilton 131, and Griffey 119.

  9. Cguy

    Like I posted above Scott Schebler has 44 ML starts in cf. Over the last 3 years everybody else even under consideration as active roster outfielders have a little more than half that many-combined (25). To wit: Dietrich(0), Kemp (0), Ervin (10), Winker (0), Puig (2), Peraza (13), Senzel (0), Farmer (0), & Conner Joe (0). If Schebler isn’t the starting cf of this team, he’ll at least be the reserve cf & on the active roster.

  10. Patrick

    I think after missing a lot of time last year Senzel needs to go to AAA. My big concern with him is that he has 0 BB and 8K this spring. He struck out 20% of the time in AAA last year which is higher than I would like to see for a guy who does not have a ton of power. At this time I do not see him as an impact bat.

    You figure his K rate will increase in the majors, his iso will drop, his babip will drop.

    He is likely to be a .270/.330/.440 hitter in the majors this year. As he matures I can see that changing. This is basically what you expect from Schebler. At this point in time I do not see him as an upgrade over Schebler.

    • Bill

      It’s certainly possible. Being injured for so much of last year doesn’t help his cause, nor does learning a new position. Also, the Reds position player roster is pretty competitive–there are more deserving players that openings. I think Connor Joe would have made the last 3 Reds clubs as a Rule 5 and both Ervin and Farmer seem like legit ML players–all likely left off the 25-man. Nice problem to have. Really hope the players and owners fix this quirk in the MLBPA. Everyone should feel like teams are putting their best players on the field.

  11. MK

    Reading a book “The Big Fella” by Jane Leavey. To paraphrase the Introduction Why is there a need for another biography on Babe Ruth. I feel the same way here. All that needs to happen now is for us to wait to see what happens then half of us can say GREAT and the other half can say STUPID both at great length .

    • Cguy

      No matter what moves Reds management make to complete the construction of the active roster over the next 2 weeks, stupid is off the table. Krall & Company have demonstrated expertise in most if not all of their offseason moves. It’s fun to speculate, but I won’t denigrate the Reds- at least not for the first 50 or so games this season (lol).

  12. ohiojimw

    “If’s and buts”, “candy and nuts”, still imagine how the Reds slide downward might have been mitigated if someone would have decided in 2008 and 2010 to stretch their control of Cueto and Leake to gain the “extra year” on them.

      • ohiojimw

        By signing him to 4 year contract when he was first up for arbitration. This included his 1st year of potential free agency (2014) and 2015 as a club option year on the contract.

  13. Simon Cowell

    Should the best player start? Not if a) we have to release another major league talent in or to accomidate him and 2) at the expense of losing him for a year and at a time that will likely have a better team.
    What does having Nick on our team do for us from opening day? How many wins will he personally guarantee us over 2 weeks? Will 2 weeks cost us a playoff run? The answer is probably none and no 2 weeks at the onset of the season isnt going to determine our playoff status. It is short sighted stupidity to demand he start opening day. If we look at who deserves it both Ervin and Schebler have out performed him so far.

    • Redsvol

      I totally agree with this – we’re talking about less than 1 month of the regular season. The regular season is loooooooooong. I wish Doug wouldn’t even give this issue any further “air time” because all it does is highlight how silly the issue is (but I get why Doug).
      Lets see how Senzel handles CF in louisville before we anoint him the best option on the big club. We need to give as many early at-bats to Kemp, Puig and Winker as possible. I also think Schebler is the best option on the 40 man roster but no-one on the roster deserves to start 150 games in CF. I would like to see 2-3 players get games in CF and continue even after its clear Senzel can play it at the AAA level.

      We need to build Kemp, Puig, and Schebler’s value to see if they’ll bring anything back at the trade deadline. This team is not going to the playoffs but I am excited to watch them this year as compared to last several. To good health Reds!

  14. Phil

    1. How the Reds handled service time in the past is irrelevant, totally new front office.
    2. Even if it was relevant, those players not sent down were not learning a brand new position.
    3. If Senzel has been far & away the best CF in camp that would be one thing… he has not been. In no way would sending him down appear to be manipulating service time.

  15. sixpack2

    Doug, your lead in shows some of the poor management decisions in the pass. Management today look sharp and it will be Senzel to AAA to start the season, unless there is injury or trade.

  16. cinvenfan

    This issue brings up some interesting questions to the debate:
    1. Did Votto or Bailey or Bruce give ANY kind of “home discount” when signing their extensions with the Reds for not manipulating their service time?. As we all know, it took every single penny and then some to keep Votto and Homer as Reds. Worthy or not -it’s up to each taste- those contracts were a big chunk of the budget and considered by many -especially national media in Bailey’s case- overpaying.
    2. With that in mind, will Mr. Senzel be “nice” and sign a fair but somewhat friendly extension contract if they take him north now instead of gaining an extra year of control or will he make the small market Reds compete against the Dodgers, Yankees, Boston, etc. in the open market?
    3. Worst even, are we sure he doesn’t prefer to play for a team in NY or LA just because he loves big cities, or for his childhood team or whatever?. There is not guarantee that even if the reds put up with the big boys they will keep him here.
    4. Business is ok for players but not for teams? Doug constantly takes the players side -which is fine, especially if it is about minor leaguers- but what about those countless albatross contracts ala Cabrera, Pujols, Homer,and a long etc (not to mention poster child Bobby Bonilla).

    My take is the Reds have small winning windows and need to take every advantage to keep them open. Play the service time game and when time comes and if Senzel is that great, make a fair-market offer to him. Whether he stays or not will be far and beyond of a year of control, especially with a player that got a $ 6 mm signing bonus.

    • Doc

      I have been to three games this past week, including both games over the weekend, and have two more on the schedule. To my untrained eye, Scott Schebler has out-played Nick Senzel offensively and defensively this spring. I recall two balls to CF just in the games I saw in which communication issues resulted in baserunners, but who should have been routine outs. I have read of more than one poor route run by Senzel, albeit saved with a great catches.

      Although spring stats are worth what little they are, Schebler has outhit Senzel by over 100 points, cleaned his clock on OBP, close to matched him in SB, has more HR and RBI, and so on. I have not seen or read of defensive issues with Schebler in CF.

      Comparing Senzel to Puig and Kemp and Irvin yields similar results, with Winker a clear sixth of those six outfielders based on spring. So, for all who say the Reds should take the 25 best players north, or northeast as the geography may be, Senzel is at this point fifth and he has not earned a starting job. His time will come, and it could come in a dramatic final nine days of ST, but performance to date, not service time issues, say he belongs in AAA to learn the position. We might be having the same service time debate this time next year!

      That said, Washington is hurting in the outfield. Any chance that the Reds might swing a deal that sends Kemp to the Nats? The Nats could afford his salary; his last year of contract does not hamstring them for the future; if he only has a great first half that is probably all the Nats really need. Seems a potential win-win scenario.

      Final note- it was impressive watching Trammel score standing up from first on a double down the LF line yesterday. From my seat I could not see the LF corner so don’t know if something happened down there, but that young man was fast rounding third, four rows and a little foul territory, away from me.

    • MuddyCleats

      Would agree – that should be the place to start the yr based on his performance thus far and injury trying to play CF. Let the kid adjust to new position and get healthy w/out the pressure of trying to put up numbers and of course gain an extra yr of control. Ervin & Schebler have earned the spot w/ Puig in RF and Kemp & Winker in LF