Instructional League play is often a time for player development staff to get to know players new to the system, acquired recently via the Draft or internationally. For those involved in Reds instructs this fall, however, roles are somewhat reversed.Instructional league rostersDue to some restructuring of the front office, the
Instructional League play is often a time for player development staff to get to know players new to the system, acquired recently via the Draft or internationally. For those involved in Reds instructs this fall, however, roles are somewhat reversed.
Instructional league rosters
Due to some restructuring of the front office, the Reds have a new farm director. The former head of the player development system, Jeff Graupe, has been bumped up to senior director of player personnel. Stepping in as farm director is Shawn Pender and this is his first instructs running the ship.
The good thing is Pender isn't coming in cold. He's been with the organization for 11 years, working as an advanced scout for seven of them. Pender then spent two years doing Major League work and tracking down/evaluating the organization's top prospects. The past two seasons have been spent as a special assistant and he saw every Minor League affiliate at least once as part of that gig.
"I've got a pretty good feel for what's going on in the Minor Leagues, particularly in Dayton and up, a little less so at the Rookie League level," Pender said. "I know our staff. I have relationships with these coaches and managers already; that's helped with the transition."
• Reds instructional league roster and schedule
Pender and staff aren't reinventing the wheel in terms of what instructs look like, especially from the outside looking in. They have drilled down a bit more to create a more nuanced individual plan for each player in camp.
Take Reds No. 3 prospect Taylor Trammell, for example. The toolsy outfielder and Futures Game MVP isn't in camp solely to tune up before heading to the Arizona Fall League. Like everyone else, Trammell has three or four very specific things he's working on to prepare for the next step up to the upper levels of Cincinnati's system.
One is baserunning, which simply put can be stated as helping Trammell to use his speed better in games. More specifically, he is working on getting better leads and his sliding, to help him avoid future injuries. Trammell is also being asked to focus on his reads and breaks in the outfield, along with learning the nuances of throwing mechanics from all three outfield spots.
"It's more of a non-offensive emphasis," Pender said. "He's had a lot of at-bats this year and we know he's going to get more in the AFL, so we're focusing on things outside of his hitting approach. This kid is some kind of athlete and you want to talk about a great makeup, hard worker? He's so ideal with his non-playing abilities, his approach and how he learns."
Who has joined Trammell in the outfield at instructs might be a surprise. Nick Senzel, the 2016 first-round pick, who is still officially rehabbing a finger injury that ended his season in late June, has been working out in left field. A third baseman in college and the start of this pro career, the Reds' top prospect has also shown he can play second base and has even worked out some at shortstop.
No, this doesn't mean Cincinnati sees Senzel as a future utility man. But since he was already in Triple-A, and showing he could handle the pitching there, this is more a means to making sure they can get his bat into the lineup when he is ready for the big leagues.
"It's the realization that the kid is a very good baseball athlete and he has tremendous baseball instincts," Pender said. "We wanted to put him in a position, because we're confident in his offense and aptitude, if there was an opportunity to compete for a Major League roster spot in 2019, if you give him the opportunity to play primarily left field now, it gives him a better chance to get playing time should the roster remain the same. At the end of the day, where do you use your top prospect so you get him to the big leagues?"
Senzel is still working his way back from the finger surgery that cut his 2018 short and the Reds are understandably not rushing him back. The instructs game schedule starts on Tuesday, and Pender said they'll decide on Monday whether they feel Senzel is ready to see some game action from the outfield.
"We're going to do this in a planned way so we don't re-injure him," said Pender, who added that while he obviously has things to learn, he's looked good in the outfield. "We'll be cautious and smart about how we push him. We're monitoring it closely, just to make sure he's ready. If anything's in doubt, we'll slow him down. The goal is to be completely ready by Spring Training.
"We're trying to give him enough reps here, so when he comes to Spring Training, there's some flexibility to set him up to have an opportunity to be that guy in consideration to make the club in that capacity."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB Pipeline. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.