By Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our 30 Players 30 Days spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Eugenio Suarez, Third baseman, Cincinnati Reds
2015 season (Minors): 57 G, 203 AB, .256 BA, 8 HR, 30 RBI, 3 SB, .786 OPS
2015 season (Majors): 97 G, 373 AB, .280 BA, 13 HR, 48 RBI, 4 SB, .761 OPS
Signed by the Tigers an an amateur free agent out of Venezuela in 2008, Eugenio Suarez has never appeared on any top prospects lists, and he went rather quietly to Cincinnati during the 2014 offseason in a trade for Alfredo Simon. But Suarez made his name known last year by showing surprising pop as the Reds’ shortstop.
In six Minor League seasons, Suarez had never hit more than 10 home runs, and he reached that double-digit mark just once in 136 games in 2013. He did begin to show some of the home-run power in ‘14 when he hit eight homers in 54 games in the Minors, but it was last season where he took the biggest leap.
Suarez began 2015 at Triple-A and hit eight homers in 57 games, showing off a strong .182 ISO. He got the call at shortstop in July after Zack Cozart went down for the season, and he never looked back from there. Suarez compiled 33 extra-base hits with a very respectable .761 OPS. His .446 slugging percentage ranked fifth among shortstops with at least 350 plate appearances, and his ISO was sixth.
The shortstop’s .341 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) means he got a bit lucky last year and could regress, but there are other signs that point toward Suarez being able to sustain and maybe even build on last year’s numbers over the course of a full season in 2016. His HR/FB (home run-fly ball ratio) of 12.1 percent is above average, and he showed pretty good discipline at the plate as well. According to Fangraphs’ PITCHf/x data, Suarez swung at just 27 percent of balls outside of the strike zone, three points below the average.
With Cozart returning this year and Todd Frazier now in Chicago, Suarez will shift to third base for the Reds. He has primarily been a shortstop his entire career, so the move does come with some risk. He probably has enough arm strength to make the move, and based on many of his defensive metrics last season at shortstop (-12.9 UZR, -8 range runs above average), it seems like the move may actually be for the best.
Along with the power, Suarez put up solid contact rates last year, but he could stand to work a few more walks. He also provides a touch of speed, though it looks like the 21 steals he amassed at Class A in 2012 may have been an anomaly. Fangraphs’ Steamer projections have him hitting 15 homers and stealing seven bases with a big drop in batting average (.254) in 122 games. The ceiling for Suarez isn’t quite along the lines of the top prospects in baseball, but it appears his floor isn’t too low and his power should be sustainable over the course of the season as Cincy’s starting third baseman.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.