Cincinnati Reds: Shogo Akiyama should be the starting left fielder
While the Cincinnati Reds have described Shogo Akiyama‘s role as being fluid, it seems apparent that he’ll likely settle into a specific position but still maintain the versatility to play all three outfield spots. With the noise having quieted surrounding a potential trade for Francisco Lindor, it appears that Akiyama will likely be the Reds starting left fielder next season.
The Reds signed Shogo Akiyama to a three-year/$21M deal last week, making him the first Japanese player who’ll ever play for the Cincinnati Reds. Akiyama’s signing adds to an already overcrowded outfield. Though his natural position has been center field while playing in the Nippon Professional Baseball league, a position change may be in order.
Nick Senzel, last year’s top prospect, was moved from his natural position from the infield dirt and inserted as the Reds starting centerfielder. While Senzel’s name has popped up in a few rumors of late, I’d still expect last year’s rookie to be on the Reds Opening Day roster. If that holds true, look for Akiyama to find the majority of starts in left field.
This may not be welcome news for Jesse Winker. After ending the last two seasons on the injured list, concern has risen over Winker’s ability to stay on the field. Nick Krall, Cincinnati’s general manager, spoke very highly about Akiyama’s versatility. Check out what he had to say via MLB.com:
“This guy can play center and play left and right. We’ve had injuries in the past. This is a guy who loves to play, who can get on base, who you can put in a lot of different places in the lineup. He can give Senzel a day off. He’s a great piece to work with Aquino. You can mix and match with certain guys. We told him he’d get regular playing time, and he would play all three outfield positions.”
Akiyama profiles very similar to Winker. Both are left-handed hitters with power that also get on base. Winker’s career-OBP is .379. Akiyama’s career on-base percentage during his time in NPB was .376. Before his injury, Winker had sent 16 long balls over the fence. Akiyama hit 20 homers for the Seibu Lions last season.
While it wouldn’t be unexpected to see a platoon of Senzel, Akiyama, Winker, and Aristides Aquino next season, it’s not a slam dunk. Krall has already spoken to the fact that Akiyama will be a regular in the Reds lineup, and you’d have to think the same will be true of Senzel. There exists the possibility of Aquino and Winker platooning in right field, but Aquino was given a lot of playing time last year.
This scenario also eliminates the idea of Phillip Ervin being little more than a bench bat. After he put up quality numbers last season, especially against left-handed pitching, one would think Ervin’s role could expand a bit this coming season.
Adding Akiyama definitely enhances the Cincinnati Reds heading into 2020, but it also brings with it a few questions. There’s still plenty of time left during the offseason for the Reds to make some more moves, but for now, I’d expect Akiyama to be the Reds starting left fielder on Opening Day.