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Reds look to sort outfield during Spring Training

@m_sheldon
February 7, 2020

CINCINNATI -- That’s one crowded outfield for the Reds, especially when you consider that 25 percent of the 40-man roster is currently held by a player whose primary position is in the outfield. That’s 10 outfielders in total. Obviously, not all of them will be on the 26-man roster and

CINCINNATI -- That’s one crowded outfield for the Reds, especially when you consider that 25 percent of the 40-man roster is currently held by a player whose primary position is in the outfield.

That’s 10 outfielders in total. Obviously, not all of them will be on the 26-man roster and some familiar players from last season may not make the club. It will give manager David Bell, the coaches and the front office plenty to chew over throughout Spring Training, from doling out playing time in camp to deciding who will be with the club when camp breaks on March 23.

“I’ve never seen it not work itself out,” Bell said. “Maybe there will be surprises but I’m confident we’ll just figure it out. And when you have the guys that we have, it makes it a lot easier. They want to win and are willing to do what it takes.”

The Reds went into the offseason with several outfielders already, but each brought a level of uncertainty to the mix. There was also a need for more offense on a club that could not support quality pitching performances. Cincinnati had a minus-10 run differential while finishing fourth with 75 wins in the 2019 National League Central division race.

That prompted the front office to seek players with more established track records. The biggest move was to sign power-hitting corner outfielder Nick Castellanos to a four-year, $64 million contract. In December, Japanese star Shogo Akiyama was signed to a three-year, $21 million contract. A smaller move in the fall brought in speedster Travis Jankowski, formerly of the Padres.

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The new players joined a group that already included Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, Josh VanMeter and Scott Schebler. There is also Rule 5 player Mark Payton.

“We’re not just looking at, ‘Hey this is our lineup on Opening Day, and this is what we have to go with.’ It’s how you can be the best possible team over the course of a full season,” general manager Nick Krall said.

Senzel and Winker had their seasons end early each of the last two years because of injuries. As a rookie, Aquino had two months of extremes in 2019, with 14 homers and 1.158 OPS in August before he struggled while hitting only five homers with a .619 OPS in September. Both the lefty-hitting Winker and righty-hitting Ervin have splits more fitting of a platoon.

VanMeter spent the previous Spring Training in Minor League camp but came up after a strong month in Triple-A and became a versatile role player. Schebler hit 30 homers for the Reds in 2017 and missed time with injuries in ’18. He endured a brutal year last season, first struggling and losing his roster spot to Senzel, then struggling for Triple-A Louisville before finishing the season on the affiliate’s injured list because of shoulder surgery.

Even with the full squad due to report on Feb. 16, specific outfield spots still have yet to be assigned. Versatility will definitely be key.

Castellanos could appear in left field or right field -- but has below-average defensive ratings. Akiyama -- a five-time Gold Glove center fielder over nine seasons in Japan -- will be used in all three spots and likely serve as the primary leadoff hitter.

Senzel, a natural infielder who learned on the job in center field last season, could be used there or at second base. Winker, Ervin, Jankowski and Schebler can play all three spots as well. The outfielder who could get squeezed most is Aquino, who has a Minor League option and solely played right field last season.

“We have a lot of options and that’s what you need. It’s like a dream come true for any team, manager, players, fans or city where you have a team that has depth and a lot of guys that are going to contribute," Bell said. "It’s a great situation. This is a kind of situation that you want to be in in any organization, on any team.”

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.