Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect Jose Barrero started practicing in the outfield in August. He had been called up from Triple-A to be a bench player as a few of the big league players dealt with injuries, and the Reds coaching staff wanted to make the most of his time with the Reds.
Infielder Max Schrock has been working out in the outfield for most of the summer because the Reds had a four-man bench.
At the time, the plan likely wasn’t for the Reds to need multiple of those players to start in Cincinnati’s outfield during their most important two weeks of the season. But heading into the end of the year, Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Tyler Naquin and Nick Senzel are all on the injured list.
"If we had Jesse and Tyler Naquin and Shogo, our situation would be different," Reds manager David Bell said. "It's been a bit day-to-day, and it created an opportunity."
It’s possibly the most impacted the Reds have been at any position at any point this season. Aside from right fielder Nick Castellanos, the Reds options in the outfield include starting a converted second baseman, a shortstop prospect or a rookie catcher.
The Reds still have three true outfielders on their bench in Aristides Aquino, Delino DeShields and TJ Friedl. But Aquino is hitting .180, and DeShields and Friedl both spent almost the entire year in the Minors without having standout statistical seasons.
When Barrero started in center field on Sunday and Monday, the Reds showed they’d be willing to try something different with their starting lineup down the stretch.
With the Reds looking to spark their offense, they made Schrock their starting left-fielder against right-handed pitchers in August. They started Barrero at center field on Sunday for his first professional start in the outfield. And catcher Tyler Stephenson had been training consistently in the outfield before Reds games before the Reds placed him on the injured list.
Reds game planning and outfield coach Jeff Pickler is teaching those three players how to play a completely new position, and he is evaluating if they’re ready to do it in a game.
“The number one thing is to not short circuit their athleticism,” Pickler said. “These guys have played baseball for a long time, and they’ve all shagged fly balls for a long time. The natural computer in their head knows what to do, so the first thing is to not overload the system.”
In spring training, Pickler had six weeks to implement an outfield strategy with the players the Reds expected to rely on this season.
But in September, Pickler hasn’t had as much time to show these three players different techniques.
“With a guy that’s new out there, there’s a tendency to brain dump everything you know about the outfield on the new player,” Pickler said. “There will be plenty of time for that. Right now what they need to do is to feel free and confident.”
The Reds three converted outfielders all bring different skill sets. While Barrero has been a standout defensive shortstop for his entire career, he has frequently reminded Pickler that his father played the outfield.
“Jose has a natural movement in the outfield,” Pickler said. “He’s the closest thing to where you would say he’s a natural out there. His confidence and his natural movement are very fluid.”
Schrock played in 11 professional games in the outfield before this season, but Pickler said the habits he built in the infield have helped Schrock play left field.
In the infield, Pickler called Schrock a “sound technician.” Those skills allowed Picker to focus more on Schrock’s strategy in the outfield rather than his technique.
“In the outfield it’s more free,” Pickler said. “It’s freeing him up to just flow, as opposed to worrying as much about technique because he already has technique.”
Stephenson has the most difficult adjustment to the outfield because he has been looking at the game from the other direction throughout most of his baseball career.
Since Stephenson is a catcher, he hasn’t had as many reps tracking the ball the way an outfielder does. But over the last few weeks, Pickler said Stephenson has gained more confidence.
“For him, it’s getting him to see the ball and its flight patterns,” Pickler said. “It’s training his eyes to see the ball in that track because it’s just different.”
The Reds are running short on time to get back in the NL Wild Card race, which places more importance on every spot in the lineup and every defender on the field for the Reds.
“We set up a plan, execute our process and try to put our players in the best position to be successful and then let the chips fall where they may,” Pickler said. “It’s much more about trying as a staff to run the best process to give that player the chance to be the best they can be.”
AKIYAMA UPDATE: The Reds placed Akiyama (hamstring) on the 10-day injured list on Saturday, and Bell said Akiyama’s availability before the end of the regular season is uncertain.
“It’s still early, tough for me to really understand exactly where he is,” Bell said. “It’s tough for all of us. I don’t think it’s serious, it’s definitely not something anywhere near what he dealt with in spring training.”
ROSTER MOVE: Before Monday's game, the Reds placed Stephenson on the injured list without an injury designation and called up caMark Kolozsvary from Triple-A.
Kolozsvary was a starter for Team USA in the Olympics this year and will make his MLB debut in his first appearance. Kolozsvary, a right-handed hitter, hit .219 between Double-A and Triple-A this season and posted a .739 OPS.