The Cincinnati Reds promoted top prospect Nick Senzel on Friday and gave him a locker between Yasiel Puig and Jesse Winker at Great American Ball Park. They gave him a starting job in center field and a spot in the lineup between leadoff hitter Joey Votto and Winker in the first game of a four-game series against the San Francisco Giants.
The Reds hope Senzel, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft, gives back by providing a boost for an offense ranked last in the National League with a .207 batting average. The rookie has the confidence to just that.
Asked about hitting behind Votto in his first big-league game, Senzel said, “It doesn’t make a difference to me. Joey will just get on, and I’ll hit him in.”
Senzel, 23, learned of his promotion Wednesday. He expected a few close friends and family members to attend Friday’s game. He’s a former University of Tennessee third baseman who grew up in Knoxville, Tenn., so it’s within driving distance for them.
“I’m excited,” Senzel said. “This is a dream come true for me.”
Dick Williams, Reds President of Baseball Operations, said Senzel’s debut is the franchise’s most anticipated since Homer Bailey in 2007 and Jay Bruce in 2008.
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Senzel hit .257 in eight games at Triple-A Louisville after starting the season on the injured list with a sprained ankle.
“If you’re ready, you’re ready,” Williams said. “You don’t bring them up here and keep them on the sideline. We wanted an injection of energy into this team. We wanted to help that outfield defense a little bit. We wanted to help the offense. We think Nick’s ready to do that. He put in some good work in spring training and then in the minor leagues. We would have liked to have seen him get as much experience out there as he could in center field, but we think he was progressing quickly and the situation here created a little more urgency to get him here, so we got a little more aggressive with his promotion.”
Senzel said he was ready last season to play in the big leagues. He suffered a finger injury in June of 2018 while playing with Louisville and missed the rest of the season. Otherwise, it’s likely he would have debuted with the Reds sometime last season.
Earlier in his career, he battled vertigo. It cost him playing time at the end of the 2017 season in Double-A Pensacola and again in May of 2018 with Louisville.
“At the time, it’s frustrating,” Senzel said of his missed playing time, “but when you look back at it, there’s only really good you want to come from it. Mentally, it makes me a stronger person. You kind of get to know yourself a little bit when you’re not playing. The game’s taken away from you, and it makes this moment even more emotional and worth it.”
Senzel hit .312 with 28 home runs in 239 minor-league games. After signing with the Reds in 2016, he spent only 10 games in Billings before moving to Dayton, where he hit .329 in 58 games. He continued to produce at the higher levels, hitting .340 in 57 games with Pensacola in 2017 and .310 in 44 games last season with Louisville.
“Nick’s made progress through the minors about as well as anybody could have,” Williams said. “Unfortunately, the injuries set him back there for a little bit. The situation at the big-league level is such that we asked this guy to do a lot in terms of trying different positions. He answered the call every time, moving over to second, trying some short last year and then moving to the outfield. A very selfless approach to what we asked of him, and I thought he did a great job.”