Cincinnati Reds: Who Is the Third Baseman of the Future?
Scott Rolen's career is coming to a close. Last year, Rolen was plagued by injury and played in just 65 games.
This year, through 13 games, Rolen is struggling. In 43 plate appearances, he's batting just .170/.228/.226 with three doubles and three RBI.
Should Rolen continue at this rate, he may not finish out the season. Even if he does, this year is likely to be his last.
Should that turn out to be the case, the Reds will be faced with the task of replacing a big part of their team. Below, you will find several options who might step in for the longtime third baseman.
You may notice players missing like Mike Costanzo, Travis Mattair, Jason Christian and Chris Valaika. That's because they don't look to be viable options.
Costanzo is 28 years old and has yet to crack the major league roster. Christian is 25 and is in High-A Bakersfield. He's yet to repeat his solid 2009 season and is a 25-year-old backup in High-A ball.
Valaika is a converted shortstop. This is his first season where he will see more time at third than short, therefore it's impossible to evaluate him as a third baseman. Mattair is 23, but hasn't showed much promise in the minors.
With that said, here are the Reds' best options to replace one of the position's all-time greats.
Todd Frazier is the most known, in-house option on this list. He's been ranked as one of the team's top prospects for a few years now.
With his recent call-up, it seems that Frazier has finally been given his chance to prove himself at the big league level.
In 42 games with the Reds, Frazier has shown great pop but his batting average is clearly holding him back. In those 42 games, Frazier has 121 plate appearances and owns a .224/.280/.422 slash line with six home runs, 15 RBI and 17 runs scored.
In the minors, Frazier has put together some impressive 162-game averages.
|162 Game Avgs.||600||167||93||90||40||22||18||131||.280||.353||.475|
One thing that should be noted about Frazier, is that his batting average has been in relative decline since his breakout season in 2007.
In any event, Frazier seems to be the closest thing to Rolen's replacement that the Reds have right now.
David Vidal is at High-A Bakersfield right now and is having an excellent start to the year. He's only 22-years-old, but has shown some great raw power, especially last year.
In 2011, Vidal was at Low-A Dayton and absolutely punished the ball, going .280/.350/.498 with 20 home runs, 37 doubles, 85 RBI and 85 runs scored.
His 162-game averages through his first few seasons look like this:
|162 Game Avgs.||587||163||107||111||24||46||3||137||.277||.348||.488|
Not only can he hit, but he is also a very capable fielder. Vidal finished the 2011 season with a .965 fielding percentage in 124 games at third base.
Those are great averages for a young third baseman. It will be interesting to see what he does this season.
Gabriel Rosa is only 18 years old, however, he's very talented and has a very high ceiling. At 6'4" and 184 pounds, Rosa is still filling into his frame and is likely to end up in the 200 to 210-pound range.
As a 17-year-old, Rosa performed well in the Arizona Rookie League. In 28 games, Rosa had 106 at-bats and went .245/.314/.406 with two home runs, five doubles, three triples, six steals, 10 RBI and 17 runs scored.
Projected out over 162 games, his offensive numbers look like this:
|162 Game Avgs.||613||150||98||58||12||29||35||162||.245||.314||.406|
Asking a 17-year-old to step in and play professional ball is a tall order, but Rosa proved to be up to the task.
Unsurprisingly, his defense needs work. In those 28 games last season, Rosa had 71 chances at third, made six errors and posted a .915 fielding percentage.
As I mentioned earlier, Rosa is very young. At just 18-years-old, he's likely to need at least four more years in the minors.
He'll have plenty of time to iron out his fielding troubles.
Junior Arias is a 20-year-old prospect out of the Dominican Republic. He's 6'2", 187 pounds and still has a little filling out to do before he's major-league ready.
Not only does his frame need some development, but so does both his offensive and defensive game.
Arias showed some promise offensively in the 2010 Arizona Rookie League season. He went .287/.336/.482 with six home runs, 10 doubles, three triples, 25 RBI and four steals.
2011 showed regression in a few areas for Arias. He increased his home run, double and stolen base totals, but saw substantial regression in his batting average and slugging percentage.
2011 was Arias' first season at third base, and it showed. In 37 games, Arias had 125 chances, made 17 errors and finished with a .864 fielding percentage.
Arias is now at Single-A Dayton, and he's started off very slow offensively, batting just .185/.228/.259 with one home run, eight RBI, nine runs and two steals.
His defense has showed slight improvement as well, and he's raised his fielding percentage to .897.
Projecting his career numbers over 162 games, Arias still looks impressive.
|162 Game Avgs.||617||153||121||82||19||33||21||195||.249||.311||.424|
The only area of his game he really needs to work on is his plate discipline. In 162 games, Arias would strike out 195 times. If he can decrease his strikeout totals, Arias will undoubtedly hit for a higher average, and get on base more.
Hopefully, his offensive struggles this season are just the result of a young player in the early stages of his first season at a new level.
Sean Buckley's father, Chris Buckley, is the Reds' senior director of amateur scouting. One would assume some sort of nepotism, but even if that were the case, it seems well justified.
Buckley is 22 years old and has the prototypical third baseman's build. At 6'4", 220 pounds, Buckley is well filled out and possesses the power you look for in a corner infielder.
Buckley spent his first 59 games in the Pioneer Rookie League and played outstanding baseball. In those 59 games, Buckley hit .289/.372/.551 with 14 home runs, 11 doubles, three triples, 41 RBI, 38 runs scored and six stolen bases.
Defensively, Buckley struggled in the Rookie League. In 61 chances, Buckley made seven errors en route to a .885 fielding percentage.
Buckley's played eight games in 2012 for Single-A Dayton. To this point, he hasn't done much to speak of (.250/.273/.344 with one home run), but Buckley has performed well at every level he's played, so A-ball should be no different.
Buckley's defense seems to have improved greatly. In 2012 he's seen 75 chances and has yet to make an error at third. His range-factor per game is an impressive 9.38.
Projecting his career totals over 162 games, he looks to be a pretty complete offensive player who just needs fine tuning:
|162 Game Avgs.||621||177||99||106||36||27||15||201||.284||.361||.525|
Buckley is another talented Reds prospect who should figure into their plans at some point. Should he pick up the pace this year and decrease his strikeouts, he will earn himself another promotion. It's not out of the question to think that he could be with the team in two years' time.
The Reds could look elsewhere to fill the coming vacancy at third base. As I mentioned in a previous article, Kevin Youkilis is a very real possibility for the Reds. His problems in Boston run deeper than his offensive struggles and it's possible his team option for 2013 will not be picked up.
Other free agent third basemen include: former Red Jorge Cantu, Eric Chavez, Maicer Izturis, Jose Lopez and Mark Teahen.
The Reds could also look to trade for a third baseman. However, this option would require shipping off more prospects, and I doubt the Reds will do this unless they can land a big name.
The long-term answer will likely come in the form of an in-house player. My money's on Sean Buckley, but the Reds could bring in a free agent to fill the void until Buckley, or another prospect is ready.