Cincinnati Reds: Grading Nick Senzel’s rookie season

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 31: Nick Senzel #15 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a sacrifice fly for an RBI in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Great American Ball Park on May 31, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Washington 9-3. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 31: Nick Senzel #15 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a sacrifice fly for an RBI in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Great American Ball Park on May 31, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Cincinnati defeated Washington 9-3. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images) /

It’s time to grade Nick Senzel’s rookie year. How did the Cincinnati Reds 2016 first-round pick fare during his first season in the big leagues.

Looking back at Nick Senzel‘s 2019 rookie season as the starting center fielder for the Cincinnati Reds, it was a season of highs and lows, with a few educational moments mixed in between while facing many of baseball’s elite starting pitchers. This year set the stage for a nice career as a Major League Baseball player who, hopefully, will spend many seasons in a Reds uniform.

The University of Tennessee product made his major league debut a month or so later than what most, if not, all Reds fans would have hoped for. Whether you buy into the theory that the front office was playing games by sending Senzel to Louisville to begin the season, Nick certainly was a breath of fresh air when he made his debut on May 3rd.

For Senzel, spring training began well before February, as he was spotted at the Reds complex in Goodyear, Arizona in January with the likes of Jesse Winker, Alex Blandino, and Hunter Greene, all of whom were rehabbing from injuries that prematurely cut their 2018 campaigns short.

B -. . CF. Cincinnati Reds. NICK SENZEL

For Senzel, he was being tutored by none other than former Reds center fielder, Eric Davis, as Nick’s quickest path to Cincinnati would come as the everyday center fielder due to the Reds non-tendering speedy Billy Hamilton during the offseason.

Senzel answered the call and by all accounts had an exceptional spring in Arizona, yet Dick Williams and Nick Krall made the decision that he would start the season at Triple-A Louisville. Shortly thereafter, the oft-injured Senzel, suffered a severe ankle sprain while sliding into second in a minor league contest in Arizona. Once recovered, Senzel appeared in just eight games for the before being promoted to Cincinnati.

It seemed that Senzel was headed towards instant success in Cincinnati as he was praised early on by the experts, pundits and his teammates. Many people made early comparisons to the likes of Jay Bruce‘s 2008 rookie season. Joey Votto was reported to have told Senzel that he was the best athlete on the Cincinnati Reds roster.

Senzel hit well during the first month of the season, appearing in 26 games, collecting 31 hits, including four home runs and 12 RBIs, with a .279 batting average, .468 slugging percentage, and a .347 on-base-percentage. Senzel was very steady in the center field, at times a natural, as his time with Davis in Arizona was certainly paying dividends.

Nick Senzel seemed to come back down to earth the following month, batting just .256 in June. While his slugging percentage remained consistent at .488, Senzel’s OBP fell to .304. To his credit, as opposing scouting reports made their adjustments to him in June, Senzel appeared to make his adjustments at the plate and rebounded with a tremendous July, slashing .333/.397/.470 before slumping again in August and early September.

Reds manager, David Bell seemed, at times, unsure where to place Senzel in the batting order. Initially used as a leadoff batter, Bell tinkered with the lineup frequently, as Senzel fell into the six-hole on a number of occasions.

For the season, Senzel had 285 plate appearances in the leadoff spot along with 63 in the No. 6 spot in the batting order. Senzel also found at-bats in the No. 5 hole as well. Point being, it seemed, just like where to play Senzel in the field, that the Reds management struggled with where to slot him in the order.

As a result, Nick finished the 2019 campaign with a slashline of .256/.315/.427 with 96 total base hits, 12 homers and 42 RBIs. He did swipe 14 bases. However, his WAR was an underwhelming .06. In addition to shoulder surgery ending his 2019 season a month early, there were a few scares that saw Senzel out of the lineup, sometimes due to due to dizzy spells.

Having a history of vertigo, many throughout Reds Country wonder aloud if this was going to be a constant concern throughout Senzel’s career. The injury bug and medical history are definitely areas of concerns; there’s certainly no denying that fact.

In spite of the aforementioned health issues along with a modest slash line, the 2019 rookie campaign for Nick Senzel was a time of growth. He certainly proved to be very consistent in patrolling center field with a .978 Fielding Percentage, ran the bases with vigor, and certainly had moments where his bat carried him; particularly against left-handed pitching.

Senzel hit .316 off southpaws versus .236 when facing a right-hander on the mound. Senzel faced the likes of Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Nationals, the buzzsaw of the New York Mets starting staff, along with the pitching staffs of both the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians. Those tough matchups early in his career will help him down the road.

Much more will be expected from Nick Senzel in 2020, including a probable move to back to the infield to be the everyday second basemen. There is so much potential and talent and he’s is only 24-years old. However, with an ongoing injury bug still haunting him, one has to wonder what the longevity of his career will be.

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Personally, I look forward to Nick Senzel continuing to grow and mature as a Major League Baseball player. The baseball IQ, work ethic, and natural ability are all present with this former No. 2 overall draft pick. If the Cincinnati Reds are going to continue to take steps forward and attempt to be a contender in the NL Central, it will require Senzel, and a few other young players, to be better at the plate.