Last July, when the Reds signed Xavier Paul to a minor league deal after he was released from the Nationals, people in Reds country shrugged it off as a depth signing. After all, he was a 28 year old journeyman with no real apparent upside, so this makes sense. He had a pretty bad 2011, hitting .255/.292/.346 in 243 at bats between the Dodgers and Pirates. Paul was hitting the cover off of the ball in the minors, hitting .332 between the Reds’ and Nationals’ AAA teams, so he was called up on July 18th to replace Todd Redmond (aka, the pitcher who the Reds gave up Paul Janish for 3 mediocre innings of, who is now on the Orioles.) Paul was called up to beef up the Reds bench, which was one of the worst in the majors. Last year, the Reds’ bench featured the likes of Miguel Cairo (.187/.212/.280), Wilson Valdez (.206/.236/.227), Willie Harris (.114/.170/.205) and Mike Costanzo (.056/.096/.056) so it made sense for the Reds to look for a solution in the most unlikely of all places…
And it worked, Paul contributed at the major league level in a nice way. In 55 games, he hit an impressive .314/.379/.465, with 2 homers and 7 RBI. I know that’s an incredibly small sample size, but it was still a refreshing change of pace from the rest of the bench. Along with Chris Heisey, I think Paul should be a lock for the Reds’ outfield backup.
My reasoning for this isn’t that Paul is a great player or anything. As clutch as Paul was in 2012, we still have to take the rest of his career into account. His career .259 average and .305 OBP are uninspiring, but at the same time we have to consider that Paul really did figure it out in 2012. But, my reasoning for him being one of the outfield backups is simply a lack of great competition. The Reds are carrying 8 outfielders as of right now- Jay Bruce, Ryan Ludwick, Shin-Soo Choo, Chris Heisey, Xavier Paul, Billy Hamilton, Denis Phipps, and Derrick Robinson. Of those 8 outfielders, 5 of them (Bruce, Ludwick, Choo, Heisey, Rodriguez, and Paul) are 40 man roster players, while the rest are non-roster invitees. Bruce, Ludwick, and Choo are virtual locks for the starting positions, while Heisey is obviously going to be one of the backup outfielders. Paul has the advantage of being a 40 man roster player.
We know the Reds want to wait at least one year on Billy Hamilton, which is why they signed Shin-Soo Choo to fill the gap in center (although, Walt has discussed a multiyear deal for Choo, and some think the Reds plan on keeping Hamilton in the minors for another year, and taking Choo’s place in center when he comes up, with Choo taking Ludwick’s spot once his 2 year deal ends, but that’s just speculation.) Paul’s only real competition now would have to be Denis Phipps and Derrick Robinson. Phipps is a career .262/.321/.406 minor league player who has shown above average power. He did struggle at the plate in 2012, however, hitting just .221/.293/.401 with 15 home runs in his first full (well, almost- about 400 at bats) season of AAA ball. For reference, Paul hit .332/.388/.529 in AAA last year, and is a career .294/.362/.455 hitter in the minors. He’s even shown some unexpected power (13 home runs in 2006, 9 in 2012 in just over 230 at bats.) While Phipps definitely could be an MLB contributor at some point in his career, Paul is clearly the more polished player as of right now.
Derrick Robinson is even more uninspiring than Phipps. He spent last year in Kansas City’s AAA system, hitting .268/.344/.325 with 2 home runs in just under 500 at bats. Robinson is a career .255/.321/.324 hitter in the minors, with virtually no power to speak of. He did step up his game a bit in 2012, and has been hitting well in Spring Training so far- hitting .333/.360/.333 (7.9 OppQual) but I do not believe that he is ready for the big leagues yet.
In conclusion, I think that Xavier Paul will win this roster battle because of his hitting prowess in the minors, his success for the Reds in 2012, and the lack of quality competition. The fact that he, unlike Phipps or Robinson, is already on the 40 man roster is just the icing on the cake.