'He’s going to play a lot': Reds call up Matt McLain, club's No. 5 prospect

Shortstop starts, doubles for his first Major League hit in 3rd inning vs. Rockies

May 16th, 2023

DENVER -- 's offensive numbers for Triple-A Louisville already spoke volumes this season. It was the quality behind the numbers, and behind the scenes, that told the Reds that the shortstop was ready for the Major Leagues.

Cincinnati called up McLain on Monday to make his big league debut vs. the Rockies at Coors Field and he batted second in the lineup. The organization's first-round pick in 2021 and its No. 5-ranked prospect according to MLB Pipeline (95th overall), he was slotted into the second spot into manager David Bell's lineup. In the third inning, McLain ripped a double for his first MLB hit and later scored on a Jake Fraley RBI single. He finished 1-for-4 and scored two runs in the Reds' 9-8 loss to the Rockies.

"We’ve also gotten to know Matt over the last couple of Spring Trainings. He fits right into our team, plays the game the right way, plays hard. He works hard," Bell said. "He’s here for one thing, to go out and win a baseball game so he’ll fit in beautifully to our team. It was determined that he was ready for it and he’s going to get an opportunity to play.”

To make room on the roster for McLain, the team placed outfielder TJ Friedl on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Friday, with a left oblique strain. was transferred to the 60-day IL to clear a 40-man roster spot. Left-handed starting pitcher Brandon Williamson, the Reds' No. 10 prospect, was added to the taxi squad and is expected to debut on Tuesday.

McLain, 23, was slashing .348/.474/.710 with 12 home runs and led all of Triple-A in OPS (1.184) while leading the International League in RBIs (40) and total bases (98).

“That was always the goal, to play in the big leagues for me personally," McLain said. "To get that opportunity, is just awesome. It was a great feeling. It was a good feeling of accomplishment but at the same time it’s like, ‘OK now you’re here, let’s go play. It’s baseball.’”

Bell stopped just shy of saying that McLain was the Reds' new everyday shortstop.

“He’s going to play a lot. There’s no way we would bring him here if the plan wasn’t for him to play a lot," Bell said. "It was determined he was ready for that. He’s going to play short quite a bit. He can play second base too."

As for the previous shortstops, Jose Barrero and Kevin Newman, they will be taking on different roles. Barrero will get some time at shortstop and center field while Newman will be used as a utility player around the infield, including the possibility of playing first base -- which he has not previously done in the big leagues. 

"I spoke to them both last night. They could not have handled it any better," Bell said.

McLain hit 17 homers last season at Double-A Chattanooga but batted .232 with an .816 OPS and a 28.1 percent strikeout rate. This season, he has dropped his strikeout rate to 19.7 percent while having a walk rate of 15.8 percent.

In the offseason, McLain worked on going back to what he called his "bread-and-butter," hitting to the opposite field more often and seeking line drives. Cutting down on strikeouts was also a goal.

“I think it’s understanding my game a little better and just understanding this level of baseball a little bit better," he said. "Obviously now, I’m at a new level and I’m going to have to learn this game again and continue to get better and build myself as a player and just continue to learn the game and be better."

A Southern California native, McLain estimated that he would have around 20 friends and family in the crowd for his debut -- including his parents, grandparents and one of his two brothers. His brother, Sean, who plays in the Dodgers' organization, was on hand. His other brother, Nick, currently plays college baseball for Arizona State. 

McLain didn't sense he was close to a callup to the Reds, despite his strong performances all season.

"I didn’t know when it was going to come. I knew it was out of my control," McLain said. "I was playing well but I knew at the end of the day, I’m just going to be me every single day and whatever happens, happens. That was my mentality going into it.”