Ask BA: Can Nick Senzel Stick At Shortstop?
Q:What is the percentage chance that Reds third baseman Nick Senzel can stick at shortstop? And if he can, would that increase his prospect ranking? -Paul Erskine, @Ersky44
BA:The Reds have announced that they will try Senzel, their top prospect, at shortstop in spring training games to see if it is a possibility. He will also play his primary position of third base.
If Senzel can play shortstop, it would help the Reds in a multitude of ways. The Reds have a perfectly respectable third baseman in 26-year-old Eugenio Suarez, who hit .260/.367/.461 last season. The Reds' situation at shortstop is much less stable. The expected starter, 23-year-old Jose Peraza, hit .259/.297/.324 last year for Cincinnati, and scouts have questioned in the past whether he can stay at the position, mostly because of his arm.
Behind Peraza, the Reds have few options close to the big leagues. Cliff Pennington, a 34-year-old utility infielder, is the likely big league backup. The Reds' most promising shortstop prospects—Jeter Downs, Jose Israel Garcia and Alfredo Rodriguez—are likely several years away.
That’s vital to note because Senzel’s likelihood of sticking at shortstop has as much to do with his competition as it does how well he plays the position.
If Senzel were being asked to beat out a plus defender at shortstop, the path would be much more difficult. But his situation mirrors that of the Cardinals' Paul DeJong a year ago.
Prospect Pad Retrospective: Reds 3B/OF Nick Senzel
Senzel was in the middle of his first full season of pro ball when he talked at the Baseball America Prospect Pad in 2017.
Like Senzel, DeJong was not primarily a shortstop in college. He played second base, third base, right field and catcher as an Illinois State junior, though he had played shortstop earlier in his college career. Senzel was primarily a third baseman as a Tennessee junior, but he also played some shortstop that year and had played second base earlier in his career.
DeJong moved to shortstop in the 2016 Arizona Fall League on a trial basis, because the Cardinals had a clear need. He then became St. Louis' everyday shortstop in 2017 after just 39 games at the position in Triple-A. He’s proven to be roughly average defensively, but his offensive prowess has made him a valuable player, and he got the chance because the Cardinals didn’t really have another option.
Senzel could follow a similar path. He runs well, he’s sure-handed and he has an accurate arm. Even if he’s a fringe-average defender at shortstop, that may be the best option for the Reds by midseason. If he could stick there for the next couple of years before sliding back to third base, it may fix a dire need for the Reds.
However, it's important to note that DeJong appears to be more of an exception to the rule that players don't typically assume more difficult positions as they age. Still, if any prospect third baseman were to successfully make the switch to shortstop, Senzel is as good a candidate as anybody.