Dissecting the battle for the Cincinnati Reds' starting centerfielder

Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Senzel.
Cincinnati Reds outfielder Nick Senzel. / Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Once spring training begins, there will be plenty of position battles to be won. Jose Barrero and Kyle Farmer will be going toe-to-toe o determine who'll be the Cincinnati Reds starting shortstop. Top pitching prospects Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo will be duking it out to see if either one can crack the starting rotation.

But for me, the most intriguing position battle may be in the outfield. Left field belongs to Jesse Winker, and provided Cincinnati doesn't make any significant signings, one would assume that Tyler Naquin will be the Reds Opening Day right fielder.

But what about center field? By my count, there are at least three and possibly even five players who'll be in camp that will be competing to be the Cincinnati Reds Opening Day starter in center field. Let's dissect the ensuing battle, shall we?

Who will be the Cincinnati Reds starting CF in 2022?

If he's healthy, it's Nick Senzel's position to lose. But that's a big 'if'. The former first-round pick has shown time and time again that staying on the field is a struggle for him. Senzel has immense talent and was once compared to the Houston Astros' Alex Bregman. Right now, I'd be happy if Senzel was able to suit up for 100-plus games in 2022.

Forget the notion of Senzel returning to the infield. That ship has sailed. With Jonathan India firmly entrenched at the keystone and third baseman Eugenio Suárez returning to form September, those two spots are spoken for. Mike Moustakas can fill in at either position, and Kyle Farmer may well return to his former utility role in 2022. There's no room on the infield dirt for Nick Senzel.

So it's center field or bust for Senzel in 2022. Senzel showed, during his rookie season, why he was taken with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft. The 26-year-old has all the tools to be an effective major leaguer. Senzel is one of the fastest players on the Reds roster, has a good eye at the plate, an possesses enough power to crank out 15-20 home runs in a season.

This could be the end of the road for Nick Senzel's time in Cincinnati. If the former University of Tennessee star can put it all together and stay on the field, I believe Senzel can be a key contributor for the Reds this season. If the injury bug bites him once again, Cincinnati may have no choice but to move on from Senzel during the offseason.

Besides Nick Senzel, who can play CF for the Reds?

In addition to Nick Senzel, the Cincinnati Reds have at least two other options to line up in center field on Opening Day. Former Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama and longtime prospect TJ Friedl will undoubtedly be given reps in center field this spring as well.

With Senzel being right-handed, it stands to reason that Reds skipper David Bell may look to go with a platoon in center field this season. Both Akiyama and Friedl are left-handed hitters. Akiyama has yet to show that he has what it takes to go toe-to-toe with major league pitchers, while Friedl has seen just 31 ABs in the big leagues.

Oddly enough, Friedl has more home runs (1) in his 31 career at-bats than Akiyama has in his 317 career ABs. Friedl more upside and comes at much cheaper price than Akiyama who's in the final year of a three-year/$21M contract. Akiyama is slated to take home $8M this season.

Thinking outside the box, Aristides Aquino could see time in center field as well this spring. While right field is more likely home for The Punisher, Aquino does have six career starts in center field. If Aquino is still on the roster come Opening Day, I think it's more likely we see him garner playing time in right field versus left-handed starting pitchers.

One last piece of the puzzle is Jose Barrero. The youngster is more likely to be competing with Kyle Farmer for the starting shortstop job, but the Cincinnati Reds did experiment with Barrero in center field last year. Barrero appeared in seven games with five starts in center field.

With several young shortstop prospects in the Reds farm system and the unexpected play of Farmer last season, there is a method to the madness. Matt McLain may be just one year away from the big leagues, and the Redlegs don't have any elite-level centerfielders coming up through the farm system.

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I think it's a bit of a stretch that we'll see Jose Barrero playing center field in 2022, but the option is certainly there if the Cincinnati Reds want to exercise it. The battle for the Reds starting centerfielder will be an intriguing one to watch.