CINCINNATI -- After a couple of seasons with the Reds as a utility player assured nothing but a chance to compete for his roster spot each spring, Kyle Farmer moved into a regular role as their shortstop this past season.
But becoming an everyday player in 2021 hasn’t changed the fact that Farmer will have to battle again at camp for his position in 2022.
“It won’t stop me from competing and getting the spot,” Farmer said. “I’ve spent my whole career just competing, but it makes me a better player. I feel like if I was given something, I would just be lackadaisical. If it’s not given to me, I’ll earn it.”
Farmer, 31, batted .263/.316/.416 and set career highs with 16 home runs, 63 RBIs and 147 games.
At Spring Training, after the Reds didn’t fill a hole at shortstop in the last offseason, Farmer competed for the spot and had a good spring. He appeared to be the leading contender to win the job before the club decided to shift Eugenio Suárez over from third base.
Suárez struggled defensively -- and offensively -- and eventually moved back to third base. By May, Farmer was installed at shortstop and cemented himself nicely on both sides of the game.
“I feel like I’ve kind of made a statement at shortstop, which was good,” said Farmer, who missed the last three games with abdominal soreness. “I proved myself. I proved to myself that I could do it. My Dad said it best when people come up to him and say it’s awesome what Kyle is doing. He was like, ‘I expect him to do this.’ So I expected myself to do this. I had a high bar for myself coming into this year trying to play short. I achieved my goal. I’m very happy with that. Going into next year, I can build off of it and hopefully come out and do better.”
Farmer established Reds’ single-season records for shortstops with the fewest errors –- five -- at shortstop and with a .988 fielding percentage. According to Fangraphs, he was worth 1.6 WAR and had one defensive run saved. Basically, he made all of the routine plays but could also dazzle with excellent ones that tested his range.
Through most of the second half, Farmer kept performing at a high level despite playing with a painful sports hernia. Earlier this month, he learned he did not require surgery.
“What a great season he had,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He has been on our team for three years and he’s definitely at the center of our team from a heart and soul. He has been a great example, an incredible teammate, really hard worker.
“During the time when he wasn’t playing, which was a lot over the last couple years, he kept staying ready and he continued to believe in himself and wait for the opportunity. It’s nice when you handle that the right way and you get the opportunity and see a player like Kyle make the most of it like he has.”
Farmer will have to compete against rising star Jose Barrero to continue as the regular shortstop. Barrero, who turns 24 next season, has been groomed to be the club’s future shortstop but also showed last month that he could play center field. If Barrero becomes the regular center fielder, Farmer could return to shortstop.
Or Farmer could return to being a utility player.
On May 7 at Cleveland, as Wade Miley tossed a no-hitter, Farmer finally had the feeling of being an everyday shortstop. Pitchers were letting him know they wanted Farmer behind them when they were on the mound.
“[Luis] Castillo wanted me at shortstop when he’s pitching,” Farmer said. “I’m like, ‘dang if he’s saying that, a bunch of other guys want me at shortstop because they want a good defender out there, especially Luis who gets a lot of groundballs. I think that’s probably when I kind of knew I proved to myself, I was like, ‘They trust me out there.’
“When a pitcher wants you out there or a pitcher wants you catching him, it’s the biggest compliment because you have gained your teammate’s respect and their trust. That’s the biggest thing in baseball, getting people’s trust and respect.”