Reds: Injuries will thrust Shogo Akiyama into the spotlight

CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 31: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds warms up before the start of the sixth inning. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - MAY 31: Shogo Akiyama #4 of the Cincinnati Reds warms up before the start of the sixth inning. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

Tyler Naquin left Sunday’s game with tightness in his left hamstring, and Nick Senzel is already out for at least a month following knee surgery. While it’s not yet known how many games Naquin may miss, it’s a good bet that he will find his way onto the 10-day injured list. This will force the Cincinnati Reds to rely on Shogo Akiyama to be the team’s primary centerfielder.

If there’s one thing the Reds have, it’s an excessive amount of talented outfielders. Nick Castellanos is leading the way in the NL MVP race, but his teammate Jesse Winker may have something to say about that. While the corner outfield has seen consistent play from both Castellanos and Winker, center field has seen its fair share of turnover this season.

The Reds have seen more than just Shogo Akiyama play center field this season.

Senzel was Cincinnati’s Opening Day starter in center field, and was declared by David Bell before the season to be the team’s everyday centerfielder. Senzel was injured in the first game of the season, but thankfully it was nothing serious.

Senzel’s brief absence allowed Naquin to showcase his abilities, and the former Cleveland Indians outfielder displayed his power early and often. Akiyama, who was recovering from a hamstring injury of his own, didn’t make his 2021 debut until May7th.

Of the 22 games Shogo Akiyama has played in this season, he’s only drawn six starts. It’s hard, however, to blame David Bell for rolling the hot-hitting Tyler Naquin out on a regular basis. Naquin is in the Top 20 of the league in slugging, OPS, home runs, and RBIs.

Akiyama is not the player that Cincinnati thought they were signing when they inked the Japanese star to a three-year/$21M contract in December of 2019. Akiyama struggled early and often in 2020, but a lot of that can be attributed to the abbreviated spring training and 60-game season.

In game that relies so much on power, Akiyama just doesn’t have it. The left-handed hitting outfielder has yet to record a home run his 195 career at-bats. This is after three consecutive seasons of 20-plus homers while playing for the Seibu Lions in Japan.

Shogo Akiyama may be the Reds best defensive outfielder.

While Shogo Akiyama may have a fringe arm in center field, he reads the ball well off the bat, and makes timely plays in the outfield. I think most big leaguers would have no problem testing Shogo’s arm strength, but his speed and ability to track the ball make him an above-average defender.

With Senzel out and Naquin’s possible trip to the IL, the Reds are not void of players who can play center field. Both Scott Heineman and Mark Payton can play up the middle of the outfield as well. But, unless there’s a lefty on the mound, the smart money is on Shogo Akiyama getting the start in center field.

Next. 3 offseason moves the Reds should've made

Akiyama certainly will not be sitting in the No.4 hole like Tyler Naquin. More than likely, we’d see Akiyama hitting in the bottom of the Cincinnati Reds batting order; likely behind Tucker Barnhart in the No. 7 hole.