COMMENTARY | Just when it looked like the Cincinnati Reds wouldn't be able to pull off another blockbuster offseason deal like the team has in recent years with the international free-agent theft of Aroldis Chapman, the daring trade for Mat Latos, and the brilliant one-year rental acquisition of Shin-Soo Choo, general manager Walt Jocketty and company struck with precision by signing utility infielder Chris Nelson to a minor-league deal.
The signing definitely doesn't move the media needle the way the signing of a battered Grady Sizemore would have or even more so like the big free-agent splash of signing another Nelson, as in outfielder Nelson Cruz, but it does smack of potential brilliance.
The Final Roster Spot
Spring training for the Reds will mainly feature unknowns centered around the development of center fielder Billy Hamilton and the health of rotation studs Johnny Cueto and Mat Latos. However, the Reds still have one key roster spot to fill -- that of backup shortstop.
At first glance, Nelson doesn't seem quite the right fit at short for the Reds, who have preferred all-glove, no-hit backups like Paul Janish, Cesar Izturis and Wilson Valdez in recent years. Nelson would fit more like Edgar Renteria, who was signed more for his bat than his glove to play short for the Reds in 2011.
Nelson has virtually no big-league experience at short (just 24 innings) but was drafted as a high first-round draft pick to play short. Nelson played 532 minor league games at the position, but fielding woes (.935 minor league career fielding percentage) short-circuited his shortstop future.
Despite his fielding flaws at short in the minors, Nelson did register some improvement at the position once he was converted into a utility infielder capable of also playing second and third. Since 2011 in the minors, Nelson has fielded .964 in his last 52 games at short, which included 220 chances.
Pop in the Bat
Nelson was selected ninth overall in the 2004 draft (just two picks after Reds pitcher Homer Bailey) because he could hit. In four seasons at Triple A, Nelson has hit .320 with an .883 OPS over 869 plate appearances.
Nelson has hit .268 in 761 big league at-bats, but that number was dragged down by a poor 2013 season in which Nelson hit at just a .227 clip combined for three teams -- Colorado Rockies, New York Yankees and Los Angeles Angels.
With a chance to rejuvenate his stalled career, Nelson just might rediscover the pop in his bat enough to be a valued pinch-hitter as well as a spot starter and insurance at second and short.
Dat Dude 2
If Nelson can win the final roster spot on the team, he'll help bolster the chemistry in the clubhouse and dugout through his affinity and friendship with Reds lightning-rod second baseman Brandon Phillips. Nelson graduated from the same Stone Mountain, Georgia high school as Phillips and has worked out with Phillips during the offseason.
Nelson may have pop in his bat comparable to that of the one-and-only Dat Dude, but his glovework can only be a shadow of the wizardry displayed nightly by Phillips. Regardless of his on-field production, Nelson may have his biggest impact on the 2014 Reds if he can mesh with Phillips and the rest of the team well enough to become an asset in terms of chemistry.
It's all up to Nelson. All he has to do is to convince the Reds that he belongs back in the bigs.
Robb Hoff has worked as a freelance researcher for ESPN's production and news departments for the past five years and maintains the Football Nostradamus website. You can read his articles about the Reds here.
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