by Matt Wilkes

It’s time to shake up the Reds’ bench

It feels like low-hanging fruit to pick on the last two players on the bench. But when there are clearly better replacements waiting in the wings, it’s worth writing about.

To put it bluntly: It’s time to move on from Christian Colón and Travis Jankowski.

Bench players are, of course, bench players for a reason. Whether it’s subpar offense, lackluster defense, extreme platoon splits, or something else, there’s a reason they aren’t starting. Compared to a starting player, they’re far less important. They still have value, however. And with the way David Bell likes to play matchups, the Reds can’t afford to carry dead weight — and that’s, unfortunately, what Jankowski and Colón have been at the plate.

For a slumping star player like Eugenio Suárez, this 18-game sample size is far too little to make rash conclusions over.

For end-of-the-bench players like Jankowski and Colón, it’s further confirmation of what we already know: they’re well below-average MLB hitters.

While Jankowski has largely been limited to pinch running and defensive replacement duty, Colón has been forced into the starting lineup three times since Mike Moustakas landed on the injured list with a strained quad. In addition, he’s inexplicably appeared twice as a designated hitter. Minus Moustakas, Reds second basemen are batting a paltry .143/.225/.188 in 71 plate appearances. With the starting second baseman out until Sunday at the earliest, the Reds could probably get by with Kyle Farmer and Josh VanMeter (who finally broke through with his first home run of the season on Wednesday night). Colón, though, has proven to be a liability at the plate throughout his big-league career. As the end of Wednesday’s heartbreaking loss showed, it wouldn’t hurt to have a better option off the bench.

If there’s an argument for Jankowski, it’s that he’s fast, a solid defender, and seldom needed at the plate since the Reds have four starting-capable outfielders on the roster already. There’s not much of an argument for Colón outside of his positional versatility.

Making the decision easier is that the Reds have two viable replacements waiting at Prasco Park in Alex Blandino and Aristides Aquino.

Everybody knows what Aquino did at the plate last August before floundering in September. The jury’s still out on what kind of player he can be at the major-league level. There is little debating that he’s a better hitter than Jankowski, however. Aquino is also a capable defender (4 Outs Above Average in 2019) and has well above-average speed (28.7 ft/s, 89th percentile), meaning he can easily replace the value Jankowski brings to the team.

The difference is a bit closer between Blandino and Colón, but it’s still notable. Both are considered average at second base and third base and below average at shortstop. Neither hits for much power, though Blandino does at least have a 31.9% hard-hit rate in his brief big-league stints while Colón is at 22.6%. Blandino has a clear edge when it comes to getting on base. He’s had an excellent eye at the plate throughout his professional career, maintaining an 11.4% walk rate across all levels and an 11.7% mark in the big leagues. Colón is at 8.4% and 7.4%, respectively. Blandino’s .349 on-base percentage in limited big-league action far outpaces Colón’s .313 mark, as well.

To be clear, this column isn’t a mere knee-jerk reaction to Colón grounding into an inning-ending double play on Wednesday evening. This is correcting the mistake of including him (and Jankowski) on the roster to begin with. Colón, a former first-round pick who never quite put it together, has a compelling story of persevering to get back to the major leagues. Unfortunately, compelling stories aren’t reasons to keep someone on a major-league roster.

The Reds certainly have larger issues than the last two players on the bench. Suárez is batting .115/.270/.246 after another 0-for-4 game on Wednesday. The catchers are hitting a combined .177/.261/.239, and their only hit since August 2 was a ground ball that hit a baserunner and would’ve been a double play otherwise (where art thou, Tyler Stephenson?).

However, adding Aquino and Blandino to the bench provides an immediate upgrade over Jankowski and Colón without losing much from a baserunning or defensive standpoint. While neither Aquino nor Blandino are saviors by any means, the decision — at least from this author’s view — is a no-brainer.

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Matt Wilkes got hooked on Reds baseball after attending his first game in Cinergy Field at 6 years old, and he hasn’t looked back. As a kid, he was often found imitating his favorite players — Ken Griffey Jr., Adam Dunn, Sean Casey, and Austin Kearns — in the backyard. When he finally went inside, he was leading the Reds to 162-0 seasons in MVP Baseball 2005 or keeping stats for whatever game was on TV. He started writing about baseball in 2014 and has become fascinated by analytics and all the new data in the game. Matt is also a graduate of The Ohio State University and currently lives in Columbus. Follow him on Twitter at @_MattWilkes.

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Mike Bittenbender
Mike Bittenbender
5 months ago

I know Tucker is popular and his wife just gave birth, and Casali is Gray’s buddy / security blanket, but if this team wants to seriously contend, don’t they have to bring Tyler up , even if it is to DH some, catch some, but “play” everyday. I would also be open to getting Garcia up to play SS in place of Galvis, but could live with Farmer for now. I agree on Aquino and would love to see him get some ABs as well. Winker is heating up but this team needs Moose back healthy and either Suarez or Nick C hitting if they are going to seriously contend while they have this rock star pitching rotation.

Steve Mancuso
5 months ago

Suarez’s cold bat really hurts, especially in that part of the lineup. Moustakas will help, especially against RHP which they need. While I favor calling up Stephenson and I’d use him often as Catcher, it’s wrong to think of him as a cure. But Barnhart and Casali have been so bad, I’d be willing to try a rookie and hope he’s an improvement.

5 months ago

If you bring up Blandino, you’re going to have a serious dilemma on your hands. Who gets to pitch in a blowout, Blandino or Davidson?

Sean D
Sean D
5 months ago

I have a tough time just sticking Stephenson in as a catching option. Watching him in Summer camp there was a HUGE difference in receiving between him and the other two catchers. As much as the catching bats need to get going this is a super nasty pitching staff and I’m not sure if you should stick someone in who’s probably a subpar defender (although good arm I believe). I think you have to stick with Barnhart and Casali maybe bring up Stephenson and get him a few games with Miley, Mahle, or Antone pitching and get him
used to being around a big league catchers and scouting reports.