Evaluating the Reds center field options for the 2022 season

Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Shogo Akiyama (4) scores.
Cincinnati Reds centerfielder Shogo Akiyama (4) scores. / David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports
facebooktwitterreddit

The Cincinnati Reds have experienced a veritable revolving door in center field since Billy Hamilton was non-tendered after the 2018 season. Since then, we've seen Nick Senzel, Scott Schebler, Aristides Aquino, Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Tyler Naquin, and others try to lock down the position.

Heading into the 2022 season, there's no clear cut favorite on the roster to take the reins and become the Reds everyday centerfielder. There's also no one in the Cincinnati farm system, unless you view Jose Barrero as an outfielder, who's primed to take over in center field next season.

Who will be the Reds centerfielder in 2022?

Senzel ended the 2021 season the same way he ended his rookie campaign in 2019; on the injured list. Akiyama was reduced to a part-time player who was used primarily as a defensive replacement late in games. Naquin was solid, but I could very easily see him playing right field with the likely departure of Nick Castellanos.

Let's assume that Naquin slides over to the corner and occupies right field on Opening Day next season. Who will be the Cincinnati Reds starting centerfielder on March 31, 2022 versus the Chicago Cubs?

The most likely candidate, despite his injury history has to be Nick Senzel. The former first-round played just 36 games last season for Cincinnati and started 21 of those games in center field. Senzel's biggest problem is his inability to stay healthy.

Given his injury history, there's no way David Bell can consider Nick Senzel an everyday player. So regardless of whether or not Senzel suits up as the Reds starting centerfielder on Opening Day, the Cincinnati skipper will need a backup plan.

Senzel is a right-handed batter, and given Bell's penchant for lefty/ righty platoons, you'd have assume that both Shogo Akiyama and TJ Friedl might draw consideration to rotate with Senzel in center field.

Akiyama has not lived up to the hype after the Cincinnati Reds signed him to a three-year/$21M contract prior to the 2020 season. But I tend to be a bit more lenient with Akiyama than others. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted spring training in 2020, and abbreviated the baseball season to just 60 games.

I would make the argument that no one on the Reds roster was more affected by the delayed and shortened season than Shogo Akiyama. Coming to the United States, adapting to the American way of life, adjusting to the speed of Major League Baseball, all amid a global pandemic. That is far from an ideal scenario for the former Japanese star.

Couple that with his absence from last year's spring training while tending to his injured wife in Cincinnati, and a hamstring injury that robbed him of some games during the early going of the 2021 campaign, and it's easy to see why Akiyama has struggled so mightily in his first to major league seasons.

But no one is going to shed any tears for Shogo Akiyama. He's occupying $8M worth of the Cincinnati payroll and has yet to develop into more than just a slap hitter. Akiyama has not even recorded a home run in the majors despite three straight seasons of 20-plus round trippers while playing for the Seibu Lions in Japan.

TJ Friedl is an underrated prospect who finally made his major league debut last season at the age of 26. Friedl should hardly be viewed as an everyday outfielder heading into spring training, though his limited at-bats, the UNLV product posted a 100 OPS+.

If the Cincinnati Reds do invest in a right fielder once the MLB lockout is over, it's easy to see Tyler Naquin gaining a lot of starts for the team in center field. If Naquin is, however, the Reds starting right fielder by default, the three aforementioned players are the most likely candidates to be in the lineup on Opening Day.

Next. The Reds should fast-track Andrew Abbott to the majors. dark

The Reds could choose to head into the 2022 season with Kyle Farmer at the team's starting shortstop and give Jose Barrero an opportunity to be Cincinnati's centerfielder on Opening Day. That, in my opinion, is a mistake. Let's hope Nick Krall and David Bell share my sentiments.