The one thing it feels safe to say is that the Cincinnati Reds have options in the outfield. The team had options to go with before they went out in the offseason and signed Shogo Akiyama and Nick Castellanos to add to the team. With Nick Senzel, the teams former top prospect, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, and Josh VanMeter also in the mix for potential starting outfielders – Cincinnati probably feels quite comfortable on any given day with being able to match up with the opposing pitching staff.
“To begin with, Nick is new to the outfield. He’s also elite with his running speed. We really want to see Nick play center field primarily,” said Reds manager David Bell on Sunday. “It would really be nice to see Nick settle in. Shogo allows us to do that because of his experience as an outfielder. His skill as an outfielder, it’s much easier to move him around the outfield and keep him comfortable and we really believe in his ability to adapt to any outfield position. That makes it nice and it gives us the luxury of allowing Nick to settle in more in center field. Not that Shogo will not play center field, he will, the DH spot really helps me in my position, us as a team, the depth in our outfield is a strength – the DH really allows us to take advantage of that.”
The designated hitter spot certainly gives the Reds plenty of ways to mix-and-match guys into the lineup. There will be extra at-bats to go around among the outfielders now, that likely wouldn’t have been available in a normal season. But with the designated hitter coming to the National League for the 60-game season, Cincinnati may be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
“We looked at the challenges in spring training of getting quality hitters in our lineup, the problem came with our outfield I think more than anywhere else because we had guys we needed to get in there and there wasn’t enough spots to make that happen,” said Bell. “Not to say that our DH spot won’t come from an infield based position player at times, but I’d say the majority of our DH at-bats will come from outfielders on our team.”
On the infield, you may see a guy get a trip to the designated hitter spot every so often – but by-and-large it sounds like those at-bats are going to the outfield grouping. When it comes to center field, the only two options heading into the spring felt like Nick Senzel and Shogo Akiyama. As we learned last week, Senzel said there was no way he was going to be ready to begin the regular 2020 season on time because of his recovery from shoulder surgery in 2019. The additional time, though, got him back to where he needs to be. Bell seems to be giving all of the signs that on most days, it’s going to be the second year outfielder out there in center patrolling the fly balls thanks to his speed.
For Shogo Akiyama, he’s probably the second fastest outfielder on the team – unless we want to really bend the rules and count Michael Lorenzen. He’s not as fast as Senzel is, but he’s gotten plenty of experience in center over his career in Japan and in international competition. But unlike Senzel, Akiyama also has some experience in the corner spots, too. While we don’t know how things will break down in the corners with Winker, Castellanos, and Akiyama – it seems like there could be plenty of moving around between those two spots for the first Japanese player in Cincinnati Reds history, while also getting a little bit of time in center field.
“Shogo looks great. The thing that’s so impressive about him is just his professionalism and his dedication to his craft,” Bell said on Sunday. “This whole time we were off he stayed dedicated and he was still approaching it every day as if he was going to get the call to report. He’s going to be ahead of the game, no question. It just says so much about what we already knew about Shogo. It’s very refreshing how he goes about it, he clearly loves the game but he has a great outlook on not only enjoying the game, but seeing it as a true craft and profession. That rubs off on everyone. “