Ochoa-Walker trade creates job for Dunn

By Jim Callis

July 19, 2001

The Reds and Rockies exchanged three players Thursday, with outfielder Alex Ochoa going to Colorado for second baseman Todd Walker and outfielder Robin Jennings. The trade should have no effect on the National League playoff race, as both teams occupy last place in their divisions. The biggest impact from this deal may be felt by Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year race, because Cincinnati promoted leading candidate Adam Dunn to take Ochoa’s spot in the lineup.

Dunn, 21, has destroyed pitching in the upper minors this season. A former University of Texas quarterback who decided to focus on baseball in spring training 1999, Dunn hit .343-12-31 in 39 games at Double-A Chattanooga and .329-20-53 in 55 games at Triple-A Louisville. He showed off his prodigious power with a homer in the Futures Game and two in the Triple-A All-Star Game. Dunn also understands the value of a walk, having drawn 62 this year. He didn’t join the Reds in time to play in Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Braves.

Ochoa, 29, came into his own in 2000. Previously known mostly for having one of the strongest outfield arms in the game, he batted .316-13-58 with a .586 slugging percentage in 244 at-bats. That enabled him to claim a starting job this year but he hasn’t shown the same power. He hit .289-7-35 with a .430 slugging percentage in 90 games with the Reds. His numbers obviously will get a boost from Coors Field as he’ll become Colorado’s everyday left fielder.

Walker, 28, has had his moments in the major leagues, but the 1994 Twins first-round pick never has hit as consistently as he did at Louisiana State. Arguably the greatest second baseman in the history of college baseball, Walker batted .316-12-62 in 1998, his first full season in the majors, but fell into Minnesota manager Tom Kelly’s doghouse soon thereafter and never escaped. Traded to the Rockies last summer, he has been their starter at second base for most of this year. On first glance, his .297-12-43 numbers in 85 games appear solid, but they break down to .355-10-33 at Coors and .230-2-10 elsewhere. With future Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin injured, Cincinnati has moved Pokey Reese to short and used journeymen such as Juan Castro, Wilton Guerrero and Bill Selby at second. Walker will replace them, and he could be the Reds’ long-term option should they trade Reese, as has been rumored. The Rockies will choose between Brent Butler and Terry Shumpert as Walker’s immediate replacement.

Jennings, 29, has had success in Triple-A but never has been able to stick for long in the majors. He may be destined to be remembered as the only big leaguer ever born in Singapore. The Athletics traded him to the Rockies on July 3 for outfielder Ron Gant and cash, and Colorado didn’t call him up until July 17. In 136 at-bats over four seasons with the Cubs, A’s and Rockies, Jennings has hit .221-0-10. Cincinnati immediately designated him for assignment, and he’ll probably head to Louisville to replace Dunn.

Ochoa is the best player in this deal, and it’s almost certain that with the aid of Coors Field he’ll put up better raw numbers than Walker. But the Reds needed to create an opening for Dunn, who had nothing left to prove in the minors, and they may improve themselves by making a subsequent deal involving the vastly overrated Reese.