Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 29

Zach Vincej has not been a highly-heralded prospect since entering the Cincinnati system at the tail end of the 2012 draft. That hasn’t kept him from building on a successful collegiate career by performing consistently as a professional. This season will give him an opportunity to prove he’s ready for a future middle infield utility job at the major league level.

This is the third year that Zachary Vincej has made an appearance barely inside this list of top Cincinnati prospects. The late-rounder originally was a nice candidate for an off-the-radar player that could make a splash after he torched Pioneer League pitching over the short season that was his professional debut. Since then he’s steadily climbed up the organization and is ready for another promotion. Actually, he might have moved higher this season had not the Reds added some outside talent by trading for some prospects this offseason.

Vincej has continued to hit, coming off a season at Bakersfield with a slash line of .271 AVG/.342 OB/.333 SLG. Of course California League offensive stats are always suspect because of the high-altitude venues. That’s something that Cincinnati won’t have to deal with in the future because they’ve moved their high-A affiliate to Daytona Beach. However, Vincej’s move to the Sunshine State will probably land him in the panhandle at Pensacola where he’ll have the opportunity to prove his bat against higher level pitching.

The odds were stacked against Vincej after the draft because the only investment his employer had in him was a draft pick occurring in what is sometimes called the “nepotism rounds”. Three years later the big question is how he could have waited so long to hear his named called. He played for a top-notch program at Pepperdine where he won the Brooks Wallace Award in 2012 given to the top collegiate shortstop in the nation and was named the West Coast Conference’s Defensive Player of the Year.

One concern at that time was his ability to stick at shortstop defensively because his 5’11”/177# frame doesn’t project the power desired for other positions. Thus far he has stuck just fine, with a range factor of over four opportunities per game with a nifty .963 fielding average at that position. All of his minor league appearances have been at shortstop, giving good reason to believe he can play second base too which projects him as a middle infield utility man at the MLB level.

He did have one season close to sea level at Dayton in 2013 where he acquitted himself well with a .263 AVG/.333 OB while making an appearance in the Midwest League all-star game. He’ll turn 24 years old next season which makes him a little older than much of his competition, but in his defense there’s not much pressure on an organization to fast-track a 37th round selection. The Cincinnati organization has been lacking high profile middle infield prospects at the higher levels of their system and a strong campaign by Vincej in 2015 will do a lot to move him into discussions for a future debut with the Reds.

The first thing on Vincej’s agenda is to take care of business in the upcoming season…..again, and force another promotion. Last year’s Pensacola shortstop, Devin Lohman will turn 26 soon after opening day and he’s failed to crack the AAA level despite spending two full seasons with the Blue Wahoos. Other competition will come from Juan Perez who Vincej pushed over to second base at Bakersfield last year. He’s a year younger and showed more pop in his bat by hitting 13 HR’s last year, but he’s not shown the plate discipline of Vincej and he’s also a candidate to see his slugging percentage slip back down below .400 after leaving the Cali League.

Regardless of what happens in Vincej’s future, he’s already been an interesting prospect after considering how late he was selected on draft day in 2012. Perhaps prepping at a good college program caused him to arrive more polished, but he’s used that to his advantage earned a shot at the AA level. Continued success will make people focus less on his draft selection and more on his ability to man a AAA position and await a MLB call. Give the guy credit, one prolonged slump might have been enough to wash him out but instead he’s shown consistency and even finished strong last year by hitting over .300 in August. Now his task is to show that he can sustain success against Southern League pitchers.

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