Suarez.SGThe most important part of building a winning team the way the Reds are trying to is the part where the young guys start panning out. Certainly, you need some youngsters to pan out. If no prospects pan out, well, then you’re bad for a long, long, long time.

I’m optimistic about the Reds’ chances and today, I thought we’d talk about who’s most likely to be a breakout player for the Reds in 2017. You’ve seen his name before, but lots of people are still figuring out how to say it.

Eugenio Suarez.

Last year, as a 25-year-old, Suarez was given his first full season in the big leagues. He produced 1.7 WAR according to FanGraphs and 1.5 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. Those numbers mark him as an adequate, but nonetheless slightly below average player. I think that’s about to change and there are a variety of reasons.

2016
Consider this: you are a baseball player given your first everyday job in the majors. The only problem is, you have to do it at a position you’ve pretty much never played before. At first, you are awful. Yet somehow, you improve quickly enough to provide positive defensive value over the course of the season.

Oh, and while learning this new position, you have the single worst hitting slump of your professional career. And yet, you still manage to have a pretty okay year. That’s Suarez last year. His first half was brutal in nearly every way you can imagine. As late as mid-July his season totals had him as basically replacement level. But he rebounded. And the Reds stuck with him. This tells us something.

I’m not big on character in terms of performance, but I do think it matters when players are willing to do whatever the team asks. It shows evidence of someone who’s willing to listen and work and improve. Suarez fits this mold, and I think it makes him a good candidate to build on the progress he made in the second half.

Track Record
In the minors Suarez hit. He hit and hit and hit. And he took walks while doing it. In his first two partial major league seasons, the plate discipline wasn’t what you’d have hoped, but in 2016, we saw evidence that he was getting comfortable. This is especially true if we give him a bit of a pass on his horrible May, which was uncharacteristically terrible and came while struggling at third base (hard to imagine he wasn’t in his own head a bit). This is a player who was going to hit, and now he’s started to.

Expectations
Here’s what I think will happen:

  1. Good fielding at 3rd, all year. Good for 5-10 runs above average in the field.
  2. 20-25 HRs (we’ve already seen this).
  3. A walk rate around 10 percent, which probably puts his OBP in the .330-.350 range depending on his BA (it was .344 in the 2nd half).

The result: I think Suarez’ floor this year is about 3.0 WAR. His ceiling is probably around 5.0 WAR.

Eugenio Suarez is a player entering his prime years coming off a difficult season in which he still managed to progress and provide value. He’s shown a willingness to work and an ability to adjust. And I think he’s done taking his lumps. Third base is a crowded position in the NL right now (2016 annihilated 2006 for most WAR by third basemen and the wRC+ at 3rd was in the top-10 in the history of the game), and so Suarez might, at times, seem not to measure up, but when it all shakes out, I think 2017 is the year we’ll look back and see that he emerged as an excellent player.