GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Reds consider their regular center-fielder options, they are not just humoring career infielder Nick Senzel by letting him compete for the spot. Senzel believes he can do it. Perhaps more importantly, so does new manager David Bell.Bell was at the Reds' spring complex during the
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Reds consider their regular center-fielder options, they are not just humoring career infielder Nick Senzel by letting him compete for the spot. Senzel believes he can do it. Perhaps more importantly, so does new manager David Bell.
Bell was at the Reds' spring complex during the offseason and saw Senzel, Cincinnati's No. 1-ranked prospect per MLB Pipeline, taking fly balls and performing other drills.
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"Having never seen him on the field, my first impression was, 'This guy can really move. He's an athlete. This is more than possible,'" Bell said. "Not to say it's easy. The transition he'll have to make to become a regular center fielder, it's going to take a lot of work, a lot of dedication. But just the way he reacted, the way he moves, his athleticism, led me to believe it's very possible."
Throughout the offseason in Arizona, Senzel worked with roving instructor and former Reds great Eric Davis to learn the ins and outs of the position. He'll continue to work with Davis and outfield coach Jeff Pickler in Spring Training.
"They've made it as simple as possible for me," Senzel said. "Run, catch the ball and throw it in. That's about it. It's fun learning a new position. I'm just excited to get to work, start games and see how I go out there."
Senzel, 23, was a third baseman when he was drafted No. 2 overall by the Reds in 2016. He was given a chance at shortstop last spring, more just to learn the position, and then played second base for Triple-A Louisville. But he's currently blocked by veterans, with Eugenio Suárez at third and Scooter Gennett at second.
When former center fielder Billy Hamilton was non-tendered, Senzel immediately saw the opportunity to compete. After the Reds did not acquire a natural center fielder in the offseason, Senzel became an in-house candidate along with corner outfielders Scott Schebler and Yasiel Puig.
Now Senzel, a non-roster player in camp, is learning a position and competing for it at the same time.
"I'm just learning it every day, making sure I'm fresh and not overworking," Senzel said. "It seems a little more real because I can break camp with this club. Last year, there really wasn't a shot. I know this year that if I go out and play ball, and do what I know how to do, show that I'm healthy and stuff, there's a legitimate chance that I can start day one here and help this club win games."
Being healthy is no small concern since Senzel was limited to 44 games with Louisville in 2018. He missed time with vertigo in May, and a fractured right index finger in June required season-ending surgery. During instructional league in mid-October, there was another surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow.
The finger and elbow are healed completely. Senzel has been symptom-free of vertigo after undergoing rehab similar to that of a concussion.
"I just have some exercises that I do at home here and there. I don't ever really think about that anymore," he said.
If Senzel succeeds, the Reds would have to weigh bringing him up versus keeping him in Triple-A a few weeks so as not to start his service-time clock -- thus buying an extra season of club control before free agency.
"I anticipate putting the best team out there that we can," said Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams. "We want to get off to a good start, and we'll try to put the best team on the field."
With Senzel in center field, the Reds would have found a solution for their best prospect. But it would create a log jam for players like Schebler or corner outfielder Matt Kemp to get at-bats. If Senzel isn't ready for center field, Bell could use him in a utility role.
"[We're] letting him get the majority of his work and really focusing on being the center fielder, and give him every chance that way," Bell said. "He's played enough infield that we're confident he can go back to that if things change; we can make that work. For now, we're really in the mindset to give him his best chance, just make his priority center field."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.