The offseason wasn’t how Nick Senzel was hoping it would be when 2019 began. Instead of looking back on a rookie season that went well, Senzel was rehabbing his way back from shoulder surgery after an injury cost him the final month of the regular season and was potentially going to leave him unable to play on Opening Day. As it turns out, had the (baseball) world not been shut down in mid-March, the Cincinnati Reds outfielder would not have been ready to begin the season.
But just because he was rehabbing and recovering does not mean that Nick Senzel wasn’t able to use that time to try and improve parts of his game. That carried over into the time off after the shut down, too.
“I would say 100 times more comfortable,” Nick Senzel said about how much more comfortable he was in center heading into this year versus last year. “I was almost kind of thrown into the fire last year, kind of just learning the position on the fly in Major League games and making adjustments. I didn’t really have any knowledge of the position because I had never played in the outfield, but like I said, after spending a full year in the big leagues and then an offseason, spring training, and then quarantine and then getting prepared for my second season – I’m leaps and bounds more comfortable than last year.”
Being able to do some of that stuff while the baseball world was shut down isn’t the easiest thing to do for everyone. Facilities for the most part were shut down, teams couldn’t hold any sort of practices. Players were on their own to find ways to do what they could (teams were helping with coaching/suggestions via meetings/video calls/messages).
“You find ways to get it done,” said Senzel. “Turf fields, back yards, cul-de-sac’s – I mean, you find ways. I wanted to get better. I want to be the best center fielder in the league, so you’ve got to find ways to get better. I shed a lot of weight (later clarified it was 20 pounds), I got a lot faster. That was my goal, to get better at that position.”
The 2019 season saw Nick Senzel as the fastest player on the Cincinnati Reds. Michael Lorenzen was close. Newcomer Travis Jankowski is in the discussion, too. But Senzel ranked 24th (tied) in baseball according to Statcasts Sprint Speed out of 569 players in Major League Baseball. He says that he’s faster now. Statcast’s Outs Above Average defensive metric graded Senzel out as a league average defender. He did very well coming in on the ball, and going to his right, but he really struggled on baseballs to his left according to the data.
A faster version of Nick Senzel in center, and one that has more experience and has been working on technique and route running – that version could be quite good. Brand new to the position, without any outfield experience under his belt, he was already a solid defender. Turning into an above-average one, and getting the Senzel at the plate before last year’s swing change would be a pretty big boost to the Reds.