Acquiring a shortstop for the 2021 season was one of the few stated goals in the offseason for the Cincinnati Reds. They did pick up some guys that are going to get a look – Kyle Holder, a Rule 5 pick that was acquired via trade from the Philadelphia Phillies, and they signed Dee Strange-Gordon to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training and he’s going to at least get some looks at the job. Cincinnati is also going to look at Jose Garcia, who they still believe is the long-term answer but probably needs more time in the minors, Kyle Farmer who got a handful of starts there last season, and the forgotten man, Alex Blandino.
Alex Blandino is sort of the forgotten option. There are a lot of reasons for that, probably. First is that he hasn’t played in the big leagues since September of 2019. Out of sight, out of mind. Last year he did spend the season at the alternate training site at Prasco Park, but he never did get the call up to play in any of the 60 games that took place last year. His big league experience has mostly come at second base, where he’s played 154.2 innings. And he’s even for more experience at third base, 113.0 innings, than he does at shortstop – just 60.2 innings. But he split a lot of his time in the minors between second and shortstop, getting 1692.0 innings at short and 1523.2 at second (with some time at third, too).
“I feel great about the options that we have. I’m not ready today to name a starting shortstop by any means, but at the same time we know who we have,” said manager David Bell. “We’re familiar with our personnel and the options we have at the position – we feel great about that.”
Once we get past the idea that you can’t feel great about your options at a position if you don’t know who is going to be the starter and that it’s more manager speak as to not show a lack of confidence in any of your players – which, love it or hate it, a manager isn’t going to do because that would make for a very bad managerial decision – we can look at those options. A lot of the talk has been about Kyle Farmer because he’s the guy that’s returning from 2020 who has been spoken of with more confidence than Jose Garcia, who is also returning but has basically been talked about as the future but not today’s option, probably.
Very little has been said about Alex Blandino. The scouting report on Blandino coming up is that he was kind of stretched at shortstop and was more of a second or third baseman, but could cover short if you needed him to. Ideally, that’s not what you want from your big league starting shortstop. But when you look at the Cincinnati Reds options it seems that right now that applies to all of them except Kyle Holder and Jose Garcia – and again, Garcia’s almost assuredly heading to the minor leagues. Holder has no big league experience and projects to struggle at the plate (ZiPS has a .232/.283/.340 projection).
“Alex Blandino – we know what kind of player he is,” said Bell on Wednesday. “He didn’t get any opportunity last year. To his credit he continued to work, and did everything he could at the alternate site, on the taxi squad when he came over. He’s put himself in a position to get a really solid look at that position.”
Defensively, Alex Blandino probably doesn’t represent much of an upgrade over the other options. But offensively there could be some value he brings over the others. His track record in the big leagues is small – he’s played in just 92 games over parts of two seasons, never been given any sort of consistent playing time. And he’s struggled at the plate overall – but in 2019 he held his own in 23 games as he hit .250/.420/.361 with 10 walks and 14 strikeouts.
Over the span of his six seasons in the minors – though in 2018 he only played in three games – he’s hit .259/.365/.408 with 239 walks and 414 strikeouts. Blandino doesn’t really stick out anywhere at the plate, but he’s solid across the board. He gets the strikezone, has enough power to keep pitchers honest, draws some walks, and his strikeout rate is solid.
Not the ideal candidate for the starting shortstop position in most cases, but the 2021 Cincinnati Reds shortstop situation isn’t most cases. For one reason or another, the Reds are looking at a bunch of options that all have serious question marks on their resume. Why not Alex Blandino? He might be the best hitter among the group and probably isn’t the worst defender among them, either. With a good spring it’s possible that he could win the job over the rest of the group.