GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Reds prepare to employ a rotating four-man outfield that gives everyone playing time, right fielder Scott Schebler will be the only one from that group that gets to play center besides Billy Hamilton.Schebler will man the middle of the outfield on days Hamilton doesn't play
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- As the Reds prepare to employ a rotating four-man outfield that gives everyone playing time, right fielder Scott Schebler will be the only one from that group that gets to play center besides Billy Hamilton.
Schebler will man the middle of the outfield on days Hamilton doesn't play for a system that has them splitting time with Adam Duvall and Jesse Winker. Considering that Hamilton is one of the best defensive center fielders in the Majors, it's a big ask.
"I played there enough," Schebler said. "In all honesty, and it may sound cocky, I enjoy center more. It's easier for me. I've played them all. I think center is easiest. You get the truest read. In right and left, you get all these nasty curveball-slider top spin. I'm used to all of them. Center field is not an adjustment at all for me."
According to advanced defensive metrics, Schebler wasn't a liability in the limited games he played in center field last season. FanGraphs rated him with two Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) over 15 games (13 starts), compared to nine for Hamilton. Schebler also did not commit an error.
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Reds manager Bryan Price acknowledged the importance of Schebler being able to man center field defensively. Price also has realistic expectations.
"Any time Billy Hamilton is your starting center fielder and you're giving him a day off, it would be hard to find a comparable player to defend the way Billy does," Price said. "But Scott, I think, has good instincts in center field. He's not Billy Hamilton, but it's not like we're putting some rookie kid out there that doesn't know the routes and hasn't played the position. I think he'll do a fine job there."
Of course, ballparks have different sizes, and not all outfield dimensions are the same. Great American Ball Park provides much less ground to cover than Colorado's Coors Field, for example.
"I can't commit completely to how the rotation will go based on the fields where we're playing," Price said. "However, that will certainly be a consideration."
Also under consideration for Price is offense. Who gets to play on a given day could be determined by who has the hot hand.
Schebler, 27, batted .233/.307/.484 in 141 games for Cincinnati last season but slugged a career-high 30 home runs with 67 RBIs in his first full Major League season. He spent Aug. 1-17 on the disabled list with a left shoulder strain after slumping for an extended period while playing with soreness that came following a diving play in June.
Admittedly, Schebler wasn't sure how this system would work itself out.
"Personally, I would say it scares you when it talks about taking away your playing time," Schebler said. "I'm a rhythm player. I like to be in the lineup every day. But Winker obviously played really well last year, and we could definitely use him. There's no doubt about that. His bat is really strong. I want to show I can play all of the fields, and I believe I am an everyday player."
On Tuesday against the Tribe, Schebler went 2-for-2 with two doubles. As the center fielder on Wednesday against the White Sox, he finished 4-for-4 with a two-run homer and raised his spring average to .579. The lefty hitter spent his offseason adjusting his swing to keep the bat in the strike zone longer and return to hitting to the opposite field so he can prevent right-side shifts
"The swings have been good and the at-bats have been good," Schebler said. "The takes have been good. That's more of what I am pleased with than the results."
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.