The Reds infield has been a story as far back as last summer, as opposing teams have tried to leverage Cincinnati’s depth in that regard in trade discussions. GM Nick Krall and his front office have resisted that kind of move, maintaining they’re happy to stockpile position player talent which they can rotate through the outfield and/or keep in Triple-A.
Manager David Bell addressed the infield mix this afternoon, again pointing to an expectation they’ll bounce players to various positions (relayed by Mark Sheldon of MLB.com). That’s particularly true of Jonathan India, who has played exclusively second base in nearly 3000 career innings on defense. Krall suggested earlier in the offseason that Cincinnati could get India work at first base, while Sheldon writes that the 27-year-old could also see some left field reps.
Bell affirmed today that India is on board with a multi-positional role. “He just wants to be on the field and in the lineup as much as possible,” the manager said. “Obviously as a second baseman, but depending on how things shake out, to be able to get him on the field as much as he wants to be and as much as I want him to be, there may be other positions that he’ll need to play.”
India has graded as a below-average defender at the keystone over his three MLB seasons. Seeing increased action at first base or in the corner outfield could improve his defensive metrics, although more frequent work at a bat-first position would put additional pressure on him to rebound at the plate. India hasn’t taken the expected step forward since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2021. He owns a league average .246/.333/.394 slash over the past two seasons.
While India’s mediocre defensive grades are a factor in potentially moving him to a bat-first utility role, the bigger driver is Cincinnati’s glut of young middle infield options. Matt McLain, Elly De La Cruz and Noelvi Marte all debuted last season. McLain was excellent, hitting .290/.357/.507 over 89 games while splitting his time between the middle infield positions. De La Cruz flashed the massive physical tools that made him a top prospect, but he ultimately struggled to a .235/.300/.410 line while striking out more than a third of the time in 98 contests.
Marte had the least amount of experience of the group. He played in 35 games after being promoted in the middle of August. He made a strong first impression, running a .316/.366/.456 slash while playing mostly third base. He’s in the mix for the Opening Day job at either shortstop or the hot corner. Marte’s winter ball season was cut short by a hamstring injury, but Krall said this morning that the young infielder is recovering well and remains on track for Spring Training (relayed by Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer).
While the Reds weren’t generally expected to pursue infield help this offseason, they bucked expectations by adding Jeimer Candelario on a three-year, $45MM free agent deal. Unsurprisingly, Bell stated that the veteran switch-hitter will be in the lineup on an everyday basis but could see action at a few different spots. “Between DH, first base, third base — he’s going to be an everyday player,” he said of Candelario. “There’s plenty of playing time to go around there.”
Christian Encarnacion-Strand also finds himself in the corner infield/DH mix. Spencer Steer impressed as the primary first baseman a season ago, hitting .271/.356/.464 with 23 homers in his own rookie campaign. The Candelario signing is expected to push Steer to left field on most days, although he’ll likely pick up stray DH and first base reps as the season goes along. There are a lot of options at the organization’s disposal, at least so long as everyone is healthy.