Reds' infield puzzle has one piece in place: Elly at shortstop

February 13th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The Reds have more everyday-type infielders than everyday positions for them to play. Because of that, moving around will be the norm this spring for several of them, but not for Elly De La Cruz.

De La Cruz, 22, will be more fixed at shortstop. Matt McLain, who played both shortstop and second base last season, is targeted for second. The incumbent second baseman, Jonathan India, will need to be flexible.

“Going into it, Elly is going to play a lot of short," Reds manager David Bell said. "Matt's going to play a lot of second, and then everything else we got to kind of let it play out a little. We've already talked to Jonathan about playing multiple positions. Matt would be more mainly second, a little bit of short.”

Defensively, India has ranked poorly in advanced metrics since his debut in 2021. Having a middle-infield combo of De La Cruz and McLain should be an upgrade.

The 6-foot-5 De La Cruz has extended range and a powerful throwing arm. McLain has plus fielding tools and a strong arm as well.

Besides second base, India is expected to see time at first, third and the outfield. He missed 39 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot last season and was using the offseason to strengthen it, so he didn't get as much outfield or first-base work in.

Much of the offseason discussion about the Reds centered around an infield rotation, with potentially six players being used across four positions plus designated hitter.

The club also has corner infielders Jeimer Candelario – who was signed to a three-year, $45 million contract in December – plus Christian Encarnacion-Strand and rookie Noelvi Marte, who can play third base and shortstop.

But De La Cruz arrived with the most buzz last June and delivered some of the Reds' most electric moments of 2023, although most of them came during his first month in the big leagues.

De La Cruz batted .325 with an .887 OPS over his first 30 games and then .191 with a .627 OPS over the final 68 games. Overall, he struck out 144 times in 427 plate appearances (33.7 percent) but led the team with 35 steals. The switch-hitting De La Cruz batted .256 with 11 home runs left-handed and .184 with two homers as a right-hander.

The fade was more pronounced towards the end of the season, both offensively and defensively.

“He was gassed. You could see he was gassed," president of baseball operations Nick Krall said. “Elly is a good example of what happened towards the end of last year with guys. Guys got tired at the end of last year. They didn't understand what it was like to play more than six games without an off-day because they didn't have to do it in the Minor Leagues.”

De La Cruz did not play winter ball, but the Reds did send hitting coach Joel McKeithan to his home in the Dominican Republic to work on mechanical changes for both sides of the plate.

“We've lessened some of his leg kick at the plate," Krall said. "We've made a couple changes like that.”