When the Cincinnati Reds selected Mark Payton in the Rule 5 Draft back in December, he, nor the Reds, saw 2020 playing out the way that it has. Payton was coming off of a huge, breakout season in Triple-A with the Oakland Athletics organization where he hit .334/.400/.653 with 30 doubles, three triples, and 30 home runs in just 447 plate appearances. He was a bit older than the normal player in Triple-A at age 27, but he tore through the Pacific Coast League in a big way for Las Vegas. The left-handed hitter really did damage against right-handed pitching, too, where he posted a .357/.409/.697 line.
On one hand, the expanded rosters early on may help a guy like Mark Payton, who even in a shortened, weird 2020 season, must still remain on the big league’s active roster or injured list all season or be offered back to the Athletics, he’s not ready to take anything for granted.
“Obviously, I’m very excited about it,” said Payton. “It’s a great opportunity, it couldn’t be a better time for the rosters to expand. I still want to go out there and not take anything for granted and make sure I find a way to earn a spot on this roster.”
Mark Payton took some time during the shut down to try and give himself another reason to show the coaches that he belongs on the team in Cincinnati.
“We started doing a Driveline program, and throughout the whole quarantine – started doing it at the end of spring training. The arm feels good, some strength is back, and looking forward to throwing to some bases here shortly,” said Payton. “I stayed out in Arizona most of it (quarantine). Just kind of thought outside the box, whatever I had to do to keep my body in shape. I’m ready to go at a times notice, like I said I don’t take anything for granted and I’m very fortunate for the situation I’m in right now.”
The outfield spots are still very tough to come by for players. It seems that everyone has accepted the idea that if everyone is healthy that Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, and Nick Castellanos are going to get almost all of the time in the outfield. Phillip Ervin is out of options, and he can’t be sent to the minors. He also crushes left-handed pitching and can cover you in all three outfield spots. Payton is the opposite of that at the plate in the he seems to crush right-handed pitching. He, too, can cover all three outfield spots – and is considered to be a better defender than Ervin. That’s six spots on the roster before even considering that a guy like Josh VanMeter can play outfield and infield, or that Aristides Aquino was basically the best hitter on the planet for August last season.
Manager David Bell had noted that it’s possible he could use reliever Michael Lorenzen as a pinch runner to start extra-inning games with the new rule that will have the last batter of the previous inning start at second base. That same thinking could give a guy like Mark Payton an edge, too, as someone who has some wheels. Unlike Lorenzen, who wouldn’t be eligible to come in for that role if he’s already pitched and left the game, Payton would likely find himself as an option for that more often with all of the outfielders on the squad.