Cincinnati Reds: Your new favorite player, Ivan De Jesus, Jr.

Jun 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Ivan De Jesus (3) reacts after hitting a double during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 12, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Cincinnati Reds second baseman Ivan De Jesus (3) reacts after hitting a double during the first inning against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

Over the last year, the Cincinnati Reds have gone over a lot of roster turnover as they attempt to rebuild their roster to get back to fielding a competitive baseball squad. While some fan favorites like Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips remain on the team, many others have been traded or chose to sign elsewhere, including the likes of Mat Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Brayan Pena and Aroldis Chapman.

Given that, many fans are understandably frustrated with the state of the franchise and the lack of recognizable players. That will change, of course, as the young prospects make their way to the big leagues and become the new staples of the Reds. But for now, many Cincinnatians are left wondering who they have to cheer for. Look no further than the Reds’ well-traveled utility-man, Ivan De Jesus Jr.

The 28-year-old Puerto Rican is far from a household name and won’t be the next Reds superstar. In all likelihood, he won’t even be a starter unless injuries force him to be. He’s simply one of those bench players who can do a little bit of everything, a component that any team could use. De Jesus’ journey to the majors hasn’t been an easy one, though, and his story makes him worth cheering for.

The son of a former major leaguer by the same name who played in 15 seasons for seven different teams, De Jesus was selected as a shortstop in the second round of the 2005 MLB Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. Known for possessing solid on-base skills and an above-average glove, De Jesus quickly worked his way into the Dodgers’ top 10 prospect list, ranking No. 6 before the 2006 season according to Baseball America. He steadily progressed over the next several seasons, reaching Double-A in 2008, where he had his best season at the plate to that point (.324/.419/.423). .

His stock rising, De Jesus got an invite to spring training in 2009 and seemed destined to grab a starting middle infield spot with the Dodgers sooner rather than later. But that’s when his career took a turn for the worst. In a “B” game on March 2, he suffered a broken tibia on an awkward slide into home plate, ending his season and derailing his fast track to the major leagues.

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With a new position (second base), De Jesus returned in 2010 and spent the entire season in Triple-A, proving he was healthy by hitting .296/.335/.405 in 580 plate appearances. In spite of being on the 40-man roster and still regarded as a top-10 prospect in the Dodgers’ organization, he was not even given a chance via a September call-up, this time due to his perceived attitude issues.

Although he seemed to be falling out of favor with the organization and he didn’t appear to be the long-term solution in the middle infield that he once did, he made the Dodgers out of spring training in 2011 at the age of 24 as a bench player. His playing time in Los Angeles was sparse, however, as he spent most of the season traveling between the minors and the majors, appearing in only 17 big-league games and picking up only six hits in 35 plate appearances.

With another chance to make the roster in 2012, De Jesus tore his left oblique in spring training, which shelved him until May. He would go on to play only 23 games with Los Angeles that year, spending the rest of his time in the minors. On August 25, the organization finally decided to move on from the former top prospect, sending him to the Boston Red Sox in the mammoth nine-player deal that brought Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers.

His time in the American League was brief, as De Jesus was designated for assignment in November and wound up being a throw-in for another big trade in December, this time heading to the Pittsburgh Pirates along with Mark Melancon and two others, while Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt were shipped off to Boston.

After spending all of the 2013 season in Triple-A Indianapolis, he became a free agent and signed a minor-league contract with the Baltimore Orioles. He spent less than a full year with the franchise before finding himself involved in — you guessed it — yet another trade, this time back to the Red Sox in August 2014, with whom he finished out the season before hitting the open market again.

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Trying to find an organization where he’d get a real shot at making it back to the majors, he signed with the Reds that December. Despite an impressive spring training in Goodyear (.400/.475/.600), he was one of the final cuts from the roster and was optioned to Triple-A Louisville, where he was able to carry over his success from February and March.

When Marlon Byrd fractured his wrist in June, De Jesus finally got another shot. This time, he didn’t let his opportunity go to waste. In his first start in nearly three years on June 8, he smacked his first career home run, a two-run shot in the sixth inning off of Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels, which ultimately made the difference in a 5-3 Reds win.

He would go on to hit another big home run two days later and when Zack Cozart went down with a season-ending knee injury, De Jesus’ spot on the roster was cemented. He spent the rest of the season in Cincinnati and proved to be one of the only reliable bench options manager Bryan Price could turn to.

De Jesus finished the season with a slash line of .244/.311/.373, along with four home runs, 28 runs batted in and a 86 wRC+, all while playing five different positions (all four infield spots, excluding catcher, and left field). Though he wound up with a forgettable 0.1 fWAR, much of that was due to his rough August and September along with subpar left-field defense (a position he had played all of two games at during his minor-league career, so you can probably give him a pass on that one). All in all, it was hard to be displeased with the production De Jesus provided in his first year in Cincinnati, especially when compared to the Reds’ other reserves.

Heading into the 2016 season, De Jesus has carved himself a nice role on the Reds’ bench and will be one of the few familiar faces on what will be a very different roster than was seen in 2015. And while he still may not be the first player that pops into your head when you think of the Reds, his long journey to The Show makes him someone easy to root for.