Reds: Tyler Naquin’s power will keep Shogo Akiyama on the bench

May 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Tyler Naquin (12) hits a three run home run. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 10, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds left fielder Tyler Naquin (12) hits a three run home run. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

It may be a tough pill to swallow, but Shogo Akiyama may have to get used to riding the pine. Cincinnati Reds slugger Tyler Naquin is hitting too well to share playing time. While Akiyama’s 3-year/$21M contract would suggest otherwise, David Bell must stick with Naquin until the former Cleveland Indians outfielder stops producing.

It’s every athlete’s worst nightmare; they’ve been replaced because of injury. But, for now, that’s exactly the spot that Akiyama finds himself in. After missing time during spring training and entering the 2021 season with an injured hamstring that required a trip to the 10-day IL, Akiyama has started just one game since returning last Friday.

The Reds must ride the hot bat of Tyler Naquin for now.

We’ve seen David Bell get creative with the lineup. Of late, with Joey Votto now on the 10-day IL after suffering a broken thumb, Kyle Farmer has bumped Eugenio Suarez from shortstop to third base, and Mike Moustakas has replaced Votto at first base.

A bit more intriguing is the move of Nick Senzel from center field to second base. Senzel played the keystone during his time in the minor leagues and looks like a natural fielding the spot that was occupied by Jonathan India on Opening Day.

This has allowed Bell to run out the starting outfield of Jesse Winker (LF), Tyler Naquin (CF), and Nick Castellanos (RF). Honestly, there may not be a power-packed group of outfielders than that trio in all of Major League Baseball.

There’s just no room for Shogo Akiyama in the Reds outfield.

Jesse Winker is the best hitter inn baseball right now. Don’t believe me, just take a look at the statistics. Winker leads hate league in batting average (.359) and OPS (1.052), and is second in on-base percentage (.421).

Winker’s 37 hits on the season are tied with teammate Nick Castellanos for the seventh most in the National League. Speaking of Castellanos, he ranks fourth in OPS (.984) and slugging (.627) and fifth in batting average (.314). Bell has no choice but to play those two outfielders until they force him to make a change. Even then, the duo is too talented to sit for more than just one game.

Everyone knew Tyler Naquin’s background before the Cincinnati Reds snagged him prior to the season on a minor-league deal. Naquin’s presence on the team forced the Reds to contemplate designating Aristides Aquino for assignment, but Akiyama’s absence on Opening Day preserved The Punisher’s roster spot, for now.

Naquin launched his eighth home run of the season last night; a three-run shot that caromed off the foul pole in right field. Naquin’s eight round trippers trail Castellanos (9) for the team lead and Ronald Acūna Jr. for the most in the NL. That said, Naquin’s eight long balls have come in just 90 at-bats, while both Castellanos and Acūna have both 118 on the season.

Next. Winker's long-term future is not at 1B

Despite his $7M salary this season, Shogo Akiyama is little more than a defensive replacement late in games. The lack of power since arriving in the league from Japan has been staggering, and may keep Akiyama out of the starting lineup. Until Tyler Naquin returns to earth, Shogo Akiyama seems destined to be riding the pine.