On July 11, 2014, Brandon Phillips dove to his left for a ground ball and came up writhing in agony. A torn thumb ligament would sideline the Reds Gold Glove second baseman for over a month. Two days later, Kristopher David Negron filling in for the injured Phillips in his first MLB start launched his first Major League homer. The three run dinger proved to be the difference in a 6-3 Reds victory over the Pirates and kicked off three months of unexpected brilliance from the career minor leaguer.
Negron first came to the Reds in a 2009 swap that sent Alex Gonzalez and cash to the Red Sox. Already three years into his professional career at that point, Negron had never played above Class A Advanced. After the trade, Negron was initially sent to Advanced A Sarasota Reds before being promoted to the AA Carolina Mudcats after just eight games. But before the Mudcats, before Alex Gonzalez, and before the Red Sox, Negron was just a community college shortstop from Northern California with great hands and a spotty bat.
Born in New Jersey but raised in Vacaville, California, a decent sized city midway between San Francisco and Sacramento, Kristopher Negron was a three-sport athlete at Vanden High School graduating in 2004. Negron played varsity all four years of high school and ended his senior year being named league MVP. He was also a selection for both the All Sac-Joaqin Section team and the All Capital Valley Conference team.
From Vanden, Negron went to UC Davis to start his collegiate career. Redshirting his freshman year, Negron ended up being deemed academically ineligible. In an interview with RedSox Nation in 2006, Negron explained, “My mindset was baseball, baseball, baseball and because of that I paid the price for not spending enough time on academics. That really disappointed my parents, and it disappointed me.
Shortly thereafter, Negron dropped out of UC Davis and went to Cosumnes River College, pulling up his grades and declaring for the draft after just one season. Taken by the Red Sox in the 7th round of the 2006 draft, Negron shipped off to Fort Myers and began his professional baseball career.
So who is Kristopher Negron the baseball player, besides a 29-year-old Major Leaguer with only 53 games under his belt? In short, Negron is excellent defender with a bat full of holes. Remind you of anyone?
Lets play the age-old game of Player A versus Player B. Both players stats represent a season at Reds affiliate AA Carolina.
Player A: 131 Games, .262/.360/.398, 10 HR, 23 errors in 567 chances
Player B: 120 Games, .272/.361/.409, 11 HR, 19 errors in 550 chances
Just from the stats provided, the players are nearly identical with Player B maybe being slightly better in a slightly smaller sample. Player B is 2010 Kristopher Negron. Player A is the 2009 version of the Reds current starting shortstop, Zack Cozart.
Where this comparison sharply diverges, however, is Cozart hit AAA pitching whereas Negron production took a dive when he went up a level. After just two seasons in AAA where he hit .275/.327/.435, Cozart was promoted to the bigs and dazzled for two weeks before hyperextending his left arm. Negron meanwhile toiled for five seasons at AAA, slowly improving his stats every year and adjusting to more polished pitchers.
Ignoring his four game blip in 2012, Negron finally arrived in the majors last season and proceeded to go on a Zack Cozart like tear over the next 49 games. Hitting .271/.331/.479 during that stretch, Negron gave Reds fans like myself hope that we finally had a decent utility man to replace the void Walt Jocketty refused to fill. Negron brings excitement to the field, sprinting around the bases after home runs a la Adam Rosales and diving all over the field for groundballs much like the second baseman he replaced.
So what will Kristopher Negron do now that the calendar has flipped and the cruel clutches of regression come for him? While Negron hasn’t proven his bat and likely never will, his minor league track record indicates that he will probably hit around .250 with an OBP around .320. Over his nine seasons in the minors, Negron has only failed to hit .250 for a season four times and failed to reach .320 OBP three times. Those three seasons were also his first three in Triple A, where he struggled but also made up the difference in his final season.
While a .250/.320 hitter is nothing to praise, it is still much more than the Reds have gotten from their utility men in at least the past few years. Consider the chart below, which tracks the AVG and OBP of the primary utility man the Reds have employed over the past five years. (For the purposes of this chart, the primary utility man is the player who played multiple positions with the bulk of bench plate appearances)
Ever since Miguel Cairo’s production dropped off in 2012 before his retirement, the Reds have not had a decent utility man to come off the bench. While Negron won’t put up Cairo numbers, he should provide adequate production and excellent defensive support.
Kristopher Negron won’t be the Reds next second baseman. He’s too old and not good enough to stick around in anything more than a bench role. However, the kid is passionate and has dedicated himself to becoming a better hitter as evidenced by his AAA progress. Cautious optimism is the best approach for Reds fans concerning Kristopher Negron in 2015. He may not have turned a corner, but he can’t be worse than his predecessors, right?