Candelario fitting in with Reds: 'I feel like I’m in a family'

February 23rd, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- When he arrived at Reds camp last week -- his first with the club since signing his three-year, $45 million contract in December -- veteran corner infielder saw a few other players inside the clubhouse that morning.

Candelario may have a multiyear contract, but you wouldn't know it. Not only did he greet his other big league teammates, but the 30-year-old also made a point of walking over to the high-number section of the room -- where the prospects and non-roster invitees reside -- and introducing himself to each player while shaking hands.

“I’ve been on new teams," Candelario said. "I came in a couple of days ago, seeing the guys’ faces. New teammates and guys that I know here, I feel like I’m in a family. I’m on a team that welcomed me the right way. I’m really excited for this new opportunity and this big journey for us.”

A switch-hitter who debuted with the Cubs in 2016, Candelario has since played for the Tigers (2017-22) and Nationals (2023) before returning to Chicago in a Trade Deadline move last season.

Over 140 games last season with Washington and Chicago, Candelario batted .251 and set full-season career highs with an .807 OPS, 22 home runs and 70 RBIs. With a 3.3 WAR per FanGraphs, he also hit 39 doubles and posted a 119 OPS+.

“I’ve known who he was for a long time. I’ve kind of followed his career," Reds manager David Bell said. "He just seems to have gotten better and better. When I watched him play the last couple of years, it was like, this guy is just a really solid, professional at-bat. I never wanted him to come up to the plate being on the other side. You knew you were going to get a tough at-bat."

Against Cincinnati in 2023, Candelario batted .359 with a 1.160 OPS and three homers.

As the Reds zeroed in on Candelario in free agency, they were also looking for a positive veteran presence for their young clubhouse. With Joey Votto not returning, there was a shortage of veterans for infielders like Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain and Noelvi Marte to follow.

"Then the more we found out about who he was … it added to what we thought he could do for our team," Bell said.

Candelario embraced the idea of being an example for younger players.

"We’ve got guys that know what it takes to get better. For sure, I’m here to help my team win," Candelario said. "That’s what it’s all about. I will be there for my teammates, whatever aspect.”

That became apparent to hitting coach Joel McKeithan on Monday, Cincinnati's first day of full-squad workouts.

“He came up and he was really open with what he’s trying to do. He wants to be connected as a group and talk about things on a regular basis," McKeithan said. "Seeing him and listening to him around Elly and Marte, I think it’s a great fit. They’re learning a lot from him. I think he’s going to help us out a lot and just be a good example for those guys on how to go about things.”

Defensively, Candelario has mostly played third base for his previous clubs, but he played 21 games (16 starts) at first base for the Cubs in 2023 and has had 85 big league games there overall. Depending on the roster setup, he will likely share time at third base with Marte and with Christian Encarnacion-Strand at first.

With several infielders expected to play multiple positions, Candelario will have to get used to things staying fluid on the field.

"Here at Spring Training, we’re going to figure out what’s the best for the team," he said. "Whatever is best for the team, I’ll be here for it, for sure.”

According to FanGraphs, Candelario had one defensive run saved at first base but was -5 at third last season.

“We have to take care of the ball. We have to play clean," Candelario said. "You can’t give chances to other teams."

Candelario looks forward to calling Great American Ball Park home, especially since he's had success there against the Reds.

“It’s a good field. I like the fans," Candelario said. "When we played against them, the fans were supporting the team. I’ve had really good ABs at that stadium. I’ve just got to keep everything simple, not get too crazy and control what I can control.”