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.
Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1159624545768267776