7 reasons to be excited about Senzel

May 3rd, 2019

Is 2019 the Year of the Top Prospect in Major League Baseball? If the season’s opening month is any indication, it certainly seems that way.

The top three prospects in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis Jr. and Eloy Jimenez, are all in the big leagues (though Tatis and Jimenez are on the injured list). Victor Robles, who started the year at No. 4, recently graduated off the list. And now it’s time for the current No. 5 prospect, Nick Senzel, to join the fun, as he will make his MLB debut tonight at 7:10 ET, playing center field and batting second, when the Reds host the Giants in MLB.TV’s Free Game of the Day.

Senzel, the top prospect in the Reds system, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 Draft out of the University of Tennessee. With that came a healthy heaping of expectations and excitement. Maybe it’s taken a bit longer than anticipated, but there’s still plenty to be excited about regarding the new Reds center fielder.

1. Many scouts thought he was the best offensive player in his Draft class.

Senzel’s selection wasn’t some kind of stretch or the Reds being creative with bonus pool money. He could have easily been the top selection of the Draft (Mickey Moniak went to the Phillies) as an advanced college bat who could really, really hit and play third base. Now everyone will begin to see if he can meet those lofty expectations. Those in the scouting industry love this because it gives them feedback on their evaluations, even if it’s been delayed gratification in this case.

2. His tools were under-reported coming out of the Draft.

This may sound a bit odd given that we just described him as the best offensive player in the class, but it’s true. The bat wasn’t undersold by much: We gave him a 55 hit grade and 50 power on the 20-to-80 scouting scale in his Draft report in 2016. Now he’s 65 and 55, respectively, with a career .312/.388/.508 line to back it up (and he’s just growing into his power).

Where evaluators missed was his overall athleticism. Yes, he had worked hard to turn himself into a solid third baseman, but he had an average run grade as a corner infielder who people didn’t think was overly quick. He now has a 60 run tool and has stolen 40 bases in 55 tries in his Minor League career. He has the chance to be a much more complete player than amateur scouts may have anticipated.

3. How many third basemen do you know who can play center field?

Sure, we’ve seen middle infielders turn into center fielders, guys like Adam Jones (or, to keep it Reds focused, Billy Hamilton) whose athleticism played much better in the outfield. There’s that one time that a catcher became a second baseman and then a center fielder, but that guy (we’re looking at you, Craig Biggio) is in the Hall of Fame. But a corner infielder-turned center fielder? That’s pretty rare.

It speaks to Senzel’s athleticism that he can handle the switch. And it’s not even the first time the organization has asked him to try something different. He mixed in second base during the 2018 season and then he even tried shortstop on for size, and it didn’t look terrible. Then, when they felt Eugenio Suarez was locked in at third and the now-injured Scooter Gennett was entrenched at second, the Reds staff thought Senzel could handle center.

And you know what? He’s looked pretty good there, especially considering he’s played eight regular-season games at the position as of Thursday. He’s not Hamilton or former Reds center fielder Drew Stubbs with his glove work, but he’s solid and he’s going to get better. Speaking of those two ...

4. The Reds aren’t used to a good center fielder who can hit.

Stubbs had a .704 career OPS; Hamilton is currently at .630. Senzel’s Minor League career OPS is just shy of .900. And that’s not an aberration or a plateau he can’t reach at the highest level. He’s not yet reached his offensive ceiling and seeing him put up very good numbers across the board in Cincinnati is extremely reasonable.

5. He would’ve been in the big leagues last year if he hadn’t gotten hurt.

It’s true. Had Senzel not fractured his right finger late in the year, he was going to get his first callup last year. But instead of the September audition, baseball fans had to wait until now to get him to Cincinnati. And he might’ve been up sooner had he not gotten hurt this spring. Like we said: Nothing like delayed gratification to build anticipation.

6. He’s the least-seen top 5 prospect in memory.

Senzel has had some unusual setbacks along the way. He had a bout with vertigo. Then the fractured finger. Then, because of his ridiculous work ethic, he hurt his elbow trying to stay in shape and get back to the field (and play in the Arizona Fall League) after said finger injury. And then this spring it was an ankle sprain.

As a result, he has just over 900 career at-bats since signing with the Reds in 2016. By comparison, the 20-year old Guerrero Jr. had 1,075 before he got called up, while the 20-year-old Tatis Jr. had 1,059. The baseball world made a big deal of how fast those phenoms got to the big leagues, but they still got more time in the box than Senzel. Even Robles, who has had to deal with his share of missed time, compiled more than 1,400 Minor League ABs. So even though Senzel came from an SEC school and was an advanced bat, there’s a little bit of mystery behind him. Everyone thinks he’s going to hit, and he’s hit when he’s been on the field, but it’s not a huge sample size.

7. If you type in Senzel’s name on your phone, it auto-corrects to Denzel.

And who doesn’t love Denzel? And if that’s not cool enough, check this extremely appropriate quote attributed to the award-winning actor: “I say luck is when an opportunity comes along and you're prepared for it.”