Marte, Blue Jays give Reds glimpse into bright infield future

Cincinnati starts four rookies for youngest infield in Majors since Toronto in 2019

August 20th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- If the Reds want to know what the future of their young stars may look like, all they had to do is look across the field to the opposing dugout.

(who was born on Aug. 6, 1999) was the oldest member of the Reds’ starting infield in a 10-3 loss Sunday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. He lined up alongside 23-year-old and 21-year-olds and , the Reds’ No. 1 prospect who was making his first MLB start after being called up on Saturday.

It’s the youngest infield an MLB team has started in nearly four years, per the Elias Sports Bureau. On Sept. 19, 2019, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Rowdy Tellez took the field for Toronto with an average age of 22 years, 275 days.

“They're not only first-year players and rookies, but they're young,” manager David Bell said on Saturday of his infield. “They got here quick. I think it's great. I acknowledge it, but I don't spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, because they're here to perform, and we're here to win. And they don't have to do anything different, other than be themselves and keep working every day to get better.”

The Blue Jays lost 95 games that year. They haven’t had a winning percentage below .533 since (86 wins in a 162-game season), and they've won at least 90 games each of the past two seasons.

The Reds are in a slightly different position than that 2019 Toronto team; at 64-61, they’re already in the playoff race. After years of rebuilding, a young Cincinnati core might be ready to bring on the sustained success it has been looking for, and that the Blue Jays have had over the past four seasons.

“It seems like they're on the right track,” Bichette said. “If you have a group willing to put in the work and willing to push each other, I think growing up together is definitely a good thing.”

Marte showed aggressiveness in his debut by stealing third when he came in as a pinch-runner. On Sunday, he got his first hit in the ninth inning on a ground ball between the first and second basemen. When he made it to first and saw that right fielder George Springer hadn’t collected the ball, he turned on the gas and slid into second with a double.

In Marte's first at-bat, he was already creating opportunities for his teammates to score. In the bottom of the second with Encarnacion-Strand at first and fellow rookie Spencer Steer at third, Marte hit a high popup to shallow left field. Daulton Varsho caught the ball and threw it in, trying to keep Steer at third. Encarnacion-Strand took the opportunity to run to second, and a throwing error by Matt Chapman allowed both runners to score.

“I felt really good,” Marte said via translator Jorge Merlos. “Now I can finally say the dream has come true. ... I really just went out there and competed as best as I could and tried to do as best as I can.”

McLain and De La Cruz played together in the Minors from 2021-23 before they were both called up within a month of each other earlier this season. Encarnacion-Strand, who was acquired by the Reds in 2022, joined the pair at Double-A Chattanooga last season before all three rose to Triple-A Louisville this season out of Spring Training.

Marte was a bit of a different case -- he joined the Reds at last year’s Trade Deadline and played a few games with Encarnacion-Strand with Louisville after McLain and De La Cruz were called up. But that didn’t prevent him from befriending his fellow rookies. De La Cruz considers Marte a close friend and said there are “even better vibes” in Cincinnati's clubhouse after the callup.

“When you come from the Minors with the same group of guys, you feel comfortable with the guys,” Guerrero said via translator Hector Lebron. “Everybody gets to the big leagues all together, it's great. In our case, we had two, three veteran guys that are the leaders of the group for about a year, and then we take over.”

For the Reds, that veteran leader is Joey Votto, who was the DH on Sunday and has a club option at the end of the season. Votto and Cincinnati’s rookies have previously expressed the same sentiment as Guerrero as the likely Hall of Famer’s career winds down.

Beyond age, Guerrero drew comparisons between the Reds' style of play and his rookie season with the Blue Jays.

“What I can see is that they play freely,” Guerrero said. “They feel like there's no pressure, and that's what happened with us in '19, that we would just go out there and play relaxed. Our manager ... he let us enjoy the big leagues. That's a big key.”