After watching the Cincinnati Reds play in person at Wrigley over the weekend, I finally became convinced that the door to the 2011 playoffs for the Reds has been slammed, sealed shut and possibly boarded up until Spring Training of 2012. Part of this realization came from Yonder Alonso’s one-man circus in left field and the continuing inconsistency of hitters to come through with runners in scoring position.
First, I don’t want to get into the team’s struggles at the plate with runners on base because ultimately the Reds score enough runs to win ballgames. Cincinnati is ranked sixth in all of baseball in total runs with runners on base (MLB.com).
Now,Yonder can’t be blamed entirely for his less-than-flattering footwork in the outfield. It is a night and day difference when adjusting from first base to left field especially at the major league level. Some blame goes to the coaching staff and management for sticking Alonzo in a position where he clearly isn’t suited to play. Sure, the kid has a steady, powerful bat, but the way that he misplayed routine balls on a routine basis cost the team the first game and arguably cost the second game as well.
Alonso played 62 games in left field for AAA Louisville but after watching his embarrassing performance over the weekend no one would believe it. No matter what kind of potential a hitter has, there is no way that any player should be tried out at a position at the major league level during an important series to revive the team’s playoff hopes. Management seems to agree with me that the Reds are not in the playoff hunt and evidence supports that theorem.
More importantly, the inability to define a position for Yonder Alonso indicates the state of the team in general. This team doesn’t have an identity, which is confusing. Their 5-5 record over the past ten days defines the season: mediocre. They traded away the only player who showed emotion outside of Brandon Phillips (Jonny Gomes) and the Reds are not aggressive on the base paths.
Cincinnati played poor defense before August. Mix untimely hitting with inconsistent bullpen pitching and you have a recipie for a third place team falling 9-1/2 games out of first place - despite having arguably the most potential of any team in the NL Central. I hate to be cliché, but too bad baseball is not played on paper in Cincinnati.
In my opinion, General Manager Walt Jocketty should have sold Yonder in some kind of a deal for James Shields. Yonder would be the perfect designated hitter for the Rays while Shields could get away from pitching against Boston and New York. Obviously, Jocketty and the Reds still value Yonder too much to let him go and he should establish himself as a big leaguer in Cincinnati. Now that the playoff hopes are over, there is still time for Alonso to learn a different position other than first base and acclimate to the Majors.
Where could that defensive position possibly be? The only two plausible options would be left field or third base. Yonder Alonso made 62 starts in left field at AAA Louisville before being summoned to the big leagues. During those starts he had a perfect fielding percentage with 88 putouts and three assists.
However, Alonso was working out at third base before the Red’s home game against the Colorado Rockies on Monday. This is an apparent sign that Manager Dusty Baker has already given up on the left field “experiment.” Why would you start the kid in left field for 62 games and then move him after he makes one error? Big leaguers don’t make errors? Isn’t looking ridiculous sometimes the definition of a rookie? The Reds should not give up on Yonder in left field yet.
Left field is crowded since fellow prospect Dave Sappelt was just called up to replace Chris Heisey’s roster spot. Heisey, Sappelt and Fred Lewis are all above average defensive outfielders who can all contribute at the plate.
Third base? With Scott Rolen currently on the disabled list, this poses an interesting situation. In high school, Alonso played third base and says that he feels the most comfortable there. He went into the University of Miami as a third baseman, but switched to first base after the ‘Canes fielded two future major leaguers at third (Danny Valencia – Twins & Ryan Braun – Brewers).
“You don’t want to do this in the big leagues, but that’s his natural position,” said Baker “Third base is a mirror image of first base, actually. Most first basemen, if they’re not left-handed and have the arm, can play third. We’ll see. We’re trying to figure out the best place to get his bat in the lineup.”
However, the hot corner is still crowded behind Rolen with rookie Todd Frazier and a top prospect Juan Francisco down in AAA. Reds management must believe that their future third baseman is either Frazier or Francisco. The problem with that logic is that both have yet to prove themselves as everyday players in the majors. Management knows that Alonso can already produce at the plate, but need to be careful before they turn to him to take over a position he hasn’t played for years in favor of Frazier and Francisco.
Ultimately, the Reds will most likely use Yonder, who is signed through 2012, in a platoon situation in left or at third. Baker prefers to play matchups. Alonso can give guys like Heisey, Frazier, Sappelt, Rolen and even Joey Votto some days off against unfavorable pitching matchups. Unfortunately, the kid is too good of a hitter to be a part-time player.
About the Author
Written by Derrick Blyberg
Heading into my senior year of college at Taylor University located in rural Upland, Indiana. Sport Management major, Public Relations minor. Born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio. Former high school athlete. Writing experience in baseball game recaps, press releases, feature stories, and player interviews. Other work experience includes sports information and managing intramural sports. Aspiring a career in sports public and/or media relations. Follow me on twitter @DBLY4 or email me DBlyberg@gmail.com.