This offseason, like last year, one of the few remaining spots speculated as up for grabs on the Reds' opening day roster is a utility infielder. Cesar Izturis, who signed as a minor league free agent nailed down the position. His held onto it all season but his performance was not good enough to prevent Cincinnati from seeking an upgrade for 2014.
A candidate for that job in the upcoming season is Chris Nelson, the ninth overall pick in the 2004 draft. On that draft day the Rockies obviously expected more impact from him when they invested such a high selection, but he did appear to be coming around a couple of years ago when he cracked .300 with a .351 on-base percentage in 111 games. He benefitted from the Coors Field altitude for sure, but he still managed to hit .257 AVG/.292 OB in road games that season including six of his nine homers. Last season he hit .227 AVG/.277 OB while bouncing around with three teams.
Defensively most of his MLB experience has been at third base with some action at second. He was drafted as a shortstop where he spent most of his time in the minors. Nelson is 28 years old and right now is the front-runner for the final infield spot on the active roster. Another Cincinnati reserve, Jack Hannahan hit only .216 in 162 plate appearances but he managed to negotiate a two-year deal that brought him to the Reds as a free agent before last season and nearly all his experience has been at the corner infield positions.
Earlier this month Cincinnati added a couple of other middle infielders to the organization. 25 year-old second baseman John Tolisano was a second round selection of Toronto in 2007 where he made it up to the AA level but was unable to advance after hitting a combined .239 over the past three seasons. Another second base signee, Hernan Iribarren made it up to the major league level for 24 games with the Brewers, but the last one of them was in 2009. He's played the past two seasons for the Rockies AAA team, hitting over .300 with an on-base percentage over .350 while playing in nearly 200 games.
Cincinnati has also added some outfield depth with 26 year-old Thomas Neal. He's a right-handed hitter that has played in fifteen major league games. He shot up through the lower levels of the San Francisco organization after the Giants acquired him with a late-round selection in 2006. Looking at his minor league stats, one would have expected more MLB action as he's hit over .300 the past couple of seasons at the AAA level, including .325 AVG/.391 OB with the Yankees' Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last year. His home run stroke has been less frequent since leaving single A, but he has managed to slug around .400 against more advanced pitching.
They've also added some rotation depth in the organization this month. Jeff Francis is no stranger to Louisville after pitching there in 2012. He left midseason to pursue options with other teams and managed to make it back to the big leagues with Colorado, the organization where he's spent most of his career. After putting up and ERA over mid-five the past couple of seasons, the 33 year-old will again try Louisville as a starting point to get back to the top level again.
31 year-old Bob Keppel signed with the Reds after pitching the past four seasons in the Japanese League. He went 26-14 with a mid-three ERA the first two of those years, but only appeared in ten games over the last two. Before that he made 37 relief appearances with an ernie close to five with Minnesota in 2009. He was a first round selection by the Mets way back in 2000.
Right-hander Sean Black, who will turn 26 during the first month of next season, has signed with the Reds after spending the past six seasons in the Yankees organization. He debuted at the AA level last year for six starts with a low-four ERA. He also went 12-7 with a sub-two against younger competition while pitching at high-A Tampa.
Reds Ink Infielder Nelson
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