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Suarez continues to dominate at hot corner

MLB.com @castrovince

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- You've no doubt noticed the Reds' top prospect, Nick Senzel, playing some shortstop this spring. That the club wants Senzel, a native third baseman, to get some reps at a position with a clearer path to big league playing time is a credit to the quickness with which the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft has put himself on the big league radar.

But it is also a credit to how much Eugenio Suarez, a native shortstop, has solidified himself at the hot corner, where he started Thursday and drove in a run in a 10-6 win against the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- You've no doubt noticed the Reds' top prospect, Nick Senzel, playing some shortstop this spring. That the club wants Senzel, a native third baseman, to get some reps at a position with a clearer path to big league playing time is a credit to the quickness with which the second overall pick in the 2016 Draft has put himself on the big league radar.

But it is also a credit to how much Eugenio Suarez, a native shortstop, has solidified himself at the hot corner, where he started Thursday and drove in a run in a 10-6 win against the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark.

Suarez entered 2017 with no guarantee of sticking in that spot. He left '17 trailing only five other third basemen -- Anthony Rendon, Kris Bryant, Jose Ramirez, Nolan Arenado and Justin Turner -- in Wins Above Replacement.

"Everyone knows now that he was a transplant from shortstop to third base, and he's handled it beautifully," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "He's really taken over that position, and he's a dominant defender."

That sentence would have been difficult to conceive a year ago at this time. In 2016, Suarez, who had been acquired by the club prior to '15 in the Alfredo Simon trade with the Tigers, moved to third out of deference to Zack Cozart and committed 23 errors with just one defensive run saved. There were concerns about his instincts and occasional lapses in focus.

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But in 2017, he knocked the error total down to nine and increased the DRS to five. He was so impressive at the position that Cozart, now with the Angels, said of his move from shortstop to third this year that he's "just trying to be a stud like [Suarez]."

"Playing every day, you get more comfortable," Suarez said. "You are together with that position."

The defensive gains would have been striking enough last season, but Suarez paired them with improved plate discipline. For the second consecutive season, he hit north of 20 homers with 25 doubles, but his on-base percentage rose from .317 to .367 by, simple as it sounds, swinging at more strikes and less balls. His walk rate rose 5.2 percentage points, making him a disciple in the Church of Joey Votto.

"Everybody knows Joey is one of the best hitters in the game," Suarez said. "Playing next to him is really a special blessing. When you're in trouble, sometimes you try to change everything. You try to change how you hit, change your mentality. He never does that. He always does the same routine in the cage, and that's what I try to do all my career now."

Suarez's 117 weighted runs created plus (wRC+) mark last season ranked ninth among qualified third basemen in the Majors, just ahead of Mike Moustakas' 114 mark. But Price thinks there's more offense in the tank for Suarez, who is entering his age-26 season.

"When he gets away from being pull-conscious, he can be one of the better combination offensive-defensive players in the league," Price said. "The sky's the limit for him. … As good as he is, my feeling is he hasn't broken through yet."

There's a chance that, by season's end, the Reds have the former shortstop Suarez at third and the former third baseman Senzel at short. If they do, it will be because they've chosen to shift one of the game's elite young prospects out of respect for one of the game's best third basemen.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cincinnati Reds, Eugenio Suarez