Cincinnati Reds: Who’s the odd-man out when Shogo Akiyama returns?

Mar 9, 2021; Goodyear, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Shogo Akiyama (4) looks on prior to a spring training game. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 9, 2021; Goodyear, Arizona, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Shogo Akiyama (4) looks on prior to a spring training game. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Shogo Akiyama is recovering from a hamstring injury the Cincinnati Reds‘ outfielder suffered during spring training. Over the weekend, it was revealed that Akiyama is headed to the team’s alternate site. Though a return date has yet to be announced, there’s chance Akiyama returns later this month. Who’ll be the odd-man out in the Reds outfield?

Cincinnati has seen production from every outfielder on the 26-man roster during the first series on the 2021 season. Nick Castellanos has started reed-hot, hitting .545/.583/1.364 with two home runs and five RBIs. Castellanos is a force atop the Reds batting order and will be a fixture in the lineup this season. So who could be on the chopping block?

Who’s the odd-man out in the Reds outfield when Shogo Akiyama returns?

Despite failing to snag a hit in the opening series versus the St. Louis Cardinals, Nick Senzel’s spot on the 26-man roster is all but assured. That is, of course, if he can stay healthy. Senzel left the field on Opening Day with a shoulder injury, but returned on Saturday as a defensive replacement and was in the starting lineup yesterday.

Senzel’s track record is shaky, but when he’s on the field, he’s a difference maker. David Bell has already proclaimed Senzel as the team’s everyday centerfielder, so if he’s healthy, expect to see the former first-round pick in the lineup on a regular basis.

Jesse Winker, another former first-round selection of the Reds, left Saturday’s game with an illness and was not in the lineup on Sunday. I’d expect Winker to be back in the Cincinnati lineup during the upcoming series with the Pittsburgh Pirates and hitting in the leadoff spot.

Shogo Akiyama will likely replace one of these two Reds outfielders.

And then there were two. Aristides Aquino and Tyler Naquin both enjoyed a nice opening series against the St. Louis Cardinals. Aquino hit a solo shot in Saturday’s game and Naquin went 2-for-10, hit a round tripper, and drove in five runs. In the end, there’s two reasons why Aquino is likely to stay and Naquin is likely to go.

Aquino is out of minor-league options. While his flash-in-the-pan success was over a year ago, there’s no denying the power that resides in The Punisher’s bat. If Cincinnati were to designate Aquino for assignment, another team is likely to pick him up via waivers.

I can’t see Cincinnati giving up on Aquino at this stage of the season. Naquin has two minor-league options remaining, and could be sent down to Triple-A Louisville without being exposed to waivers.

Furthermore, Tyler Naquin is a left-handed hitter and so is Shogo Akiyama. Aristides Aquino bats right-handed. Like Naquin, Akiyama is capable of fielding all three outfield positions. While he may not possess Naquin’s power, Akiyama’s on-base skills are a tremendous asset.

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We’re likely a couple weeks away from Shogo Akiyama making his 2021 debut, but when he’s healthy and ready to return, someone in the Cincinnati Reds outfield will lose their spot. If everyone is healthy, I’m thinking Tyler Naquin is the odd-man out. However, a lot can happen in the coming weeks.