CINCINNATI -- One of the most anticipated prospect callups for the Reds in several years, Nick Senzel's rookie season did not disappoint. But there was also a sense that it could have, or perhaps should have, been better.
Despite a good Spring Training, during which he learned how to play center field after being a lifetime infielder, Senzel was sent down because the club chose Scott Schebler to play the position. A sprained right ankle in a Minor League scrimmage late in camp also delayed the start of Senzel’s 2019 campaign.
Senzel, 24, batted .256/.315/.427 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in 104 games this season after his May 3 promotion from Triple-A Louisville. He often batted from the leadoff spot, with 62 starts as the first batter.
“I thought there were a lot of learning moments,” Senzel said on Sept. 21. “There was some adversity to the season, obviously, as a team and as an individual. It wasn’t up to my standard, not even close. But I thought I showed some signs of good things.”
As part of our MLB.com exit interview series, here’s a look back at Senzel’s season:
What went right?
A whole lot. Although a younger player, Senzel appeared to have an advanced approach to the game, both on the field and behind the scenes in the clubhouse, where he wasn’t afraid to let his voice be heard. He already knew how to take productive at-bats while working counts and looking for his pitches.
Perhaps the most surprising part of Senzel’s first big league season was how natural he looked in center field as he made the transition to a new position. While not above average defensively, he also wasn't a liability in the outfield. He was usually fundamentally sound with his routes and cut-off throws.
“He’s done really well this year for his first year in center field. Much better than we probably should have expected. He’s been really good,” Reds manager David Bell said.
What went wrong?
During the second half, while working with then-hitting coach Turner Ward and assistant hitting coach Donnie Ecker, Senzel overhauled his hitting approach even though he was producing. He switched to an open stance, stood taller and added a leg kick as he started his swing. It helped him see the ball better, but it hurt his numbers in a big way.
Senzel was batting a season-high .285 on Aug. 2 before he made the changes. He batted .188/.242/.313 over his final 34 games before his season ended with a labrum tear in his right shoulder that required surgery.
“I tried to make an adjustment in August. You look at it stats-wise, it doesn’t reflect,” he said. “I feel like I contributed to the club. It’s one of those things on paper. It was a learning experience. I can’t wait to rehab, to get back out there and be ready to go.”
Between the ankle injury before the start of the season and the shoulder injury that ended it, Senzel was banged up too often. He fouled a ball on top of his right eye and sprained his right ankle a second time. There were also migraine headaches and allergies that caused him to miss some time. All of that came after he was limited to 44 games in 2018 with Triple-A Louisville because of vertigo and a fractured right index finger.
In a 10-2 Reds victory over the Cubs at Wrigley Field on May 26, Senzel reached safely four times with three hits and a walk, scoring four runs. He also recorded his first big league outfield assist that saved a run. Statcast data showed that the throw to the plate topped out at 96 mph.
The Reds expect Senzel’s shoulder to be healed and ready either on or near Opening Day on March 26. In the meantime, there is some amount of fluidity to his situation. Cincinnati is looking to add offense to its lineup, especially in the outfield. The club also has a vacancy at second base. If there is an acquisition that can play in center field, returning Senzel to second base would be an easy option.
“The advantage for him and for us is that we know he can play infield, too,” Bell said. “Who knows what happens? I think it’ll depend on how the whole roster comes together. As of right now, he’s a center fielder unless something changes."