Called Up: Nick Senzel

Nick Senzel burst onto the national scouting scene with an MVP campaign in the Cape Cod League in 2015, hitting .364 with 21 extra base hits in 40 games. He steadily rose up boards throughout the spring when it became clear his raw tools were better than many had thought at first blush, with above average raw power, speed, fielding, and throwing tools, and a 1.051 OPS, 40/21 BB/K, and 34 extra base hits in 57 games. Senzel’s baseball skills (specifically a 60-or-better hit tool with at least above average plate discipline) along with being young for his class (he didn’t turn 21 until after the draft) came together to make him a complete package as the top hitting prospect in the 2016 draft for most clubs.

The Reds took him second overall and we ranked him as the top prospect in the Reds’ system and 30th best prospect in baseball that winter after a loud pro debut, mostly in Low-A:

Senzel has above-average bat speed and bat control. His swing can get long at times and, despite simple hitting feet, his front foot sometimes gets down late which causes the rest of his swing to be tardy, as well. He was getting that foot down earlier during instructional league. He has above-average raw power, which should grow to plus as Senzel reaches physical maturity (he was only 20 on draft day and is well built), though it doesn’t play to that level in games because Senzel doesn’t incorporate his lower half into his swing especially well. If Senzel reaches a point when it would be useful to alter some aspects of his swing to generate more game power I think he’s athletic enough to make the adjustments.

As that list was being written, Eric caught him on the backfields in Arizona:

Senzel had a huge 2017 season, continuing to put up monster numbers split between Hi- and Double-A. He again was the Reds’ top prospect and was now the seventh best prospect in baseball as we entered the 2018 season:

Senzel had a spectacular season, slashing .321/.391/.514 between High-A and Double-A in his first full pro season. He’s one of the toughest outs in the minors, combining a patient, discerning, offensive approach with a simple swing, superlative hand-eye coordination, and bat control. Senzel doesn’t have monster raw power, nor does he seek to take max-effort swings by utilizing a big stride or leg kick. Instead, his power comes from precise, high-quality contact. He’s going to be a doubles machine with home runs coming opportunistically rather than as a core aspect of his approach, but he’ll still hit for power.

Senzel wasn’t a good defender as an underclassman at Tennessee. He entered his junior year as an athletic, but somewhat positionless, bat-first prospect who some scouts wanted to see move to second base in pro ball. He’s made significant defensive progress and some pro scouts think he could be a plus defender at peak at third base. Senzel has taken offseason reps at both outfield corners and at second base. He hasn’t been evaluated at any of those spots yet, but if he’s viable at any or all of them, it could accelerate his timetable to the majors, with Eugenio Suarez currently ensconced at third base. Senzel is a potential star, an elite hitter with above-average defense and, perhaps by accident, increasingly coveted defensive versatility.

The stage appeared to be set for Senzel to have one more monster season at the upper levels and possibly get an early promotion to the majors in 2018, especially after a loud spring training where the club toyed with making him the big league shortstop in the short-term. Then, things went a little sideways for the first time since he’d been an elite prospect:

Several freak injuries upended Senzel’s 2018. He missed most of May battling vertigo symptoms for the second time in nine months (they first started in late August ’17), then fractured a finger in late-June and missed the rest of the season. He was supposed to play in the Fall League, but a return of the left elbow pain he had played through during the year became severe enough that he needed an MRI, which revealed bone spurs. He had surgery and was shut down for the year. When Senzel did play, he was very good and slashed .310/.378/.509 in 44 games at Triple-A while playing second base for the first time in affiliated ball…The presence of Eugenio Suarez led to reps at second base, and Scooter Gennett’s emergence led to what was supposed to be reps in left and center field this fall before Senzel needed surgery. The departure of Billy Hamilton leaves an obvious hole that he could potentially fill, but he hasn’t been seen playing center enough to know for sure. At the very least, he has stumbled into defensive versatility.

That selection comes from our Reds’ prospect list from this winter, where Senzel was again their top prospect; he repeated as the seventh-best prospect in the game.

Senzel continued his outfield work in big league camp this spring, but was a late cut, raising concerns over service time manipulation; three days later, he sprained his ankle and missed the first three weeks of the season. He slashed .257/.316/.371 in eight games with Triple-A Louisville.

This brings us to where we stand now, with Senzel playing out of his natural position, though it appears he should be fine in the field until second or third base opens up. One thing that has been consistent in our journey with Senzel, though, is that we don’t doubt that he’ll hit.

We hoped you liked reading Called Up: Nick Senzel by Kiley McDaniel!

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Kiley McDaniel has worked as an executive and scout, most recently for the Atlanta Braves, also for the New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles and Pittsburgh Pirates. He's written for ESPN, Fox Sports and Baseball Prospectus. Follow him on twitter.

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bartelsjason
Member
bartelsjason

Is Bregman a good comp?

Uncle Spike
Member
Uncle Spike

I don’t think Bregman is the best comp. Bregman hits for considerably more power, has much better plate discipline but doesn’t hit for average as well. I’m thinking he’s somewhere between Freeman with a little less power or Merrifield with more power.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

Fangraphs had a different prospect crew in 2016, so it’s not an apples to apples comparison, however they graded Bregman with potential 45 power in 2016, and have Senzel at 55. Bregman’s hit tool graded as a potential 65, whereas Senzel is at 70. Bregman did hit the ball in the air more in the minors, so unless Senzel adjusts to put more loft on his swing (which could hurt his average) you’re probably right about Bregman hitting for more power, although I wouldn’t call it considerably more.

Uncle Spike
Member
Uncle Spike

I guess if the question is if Bregman had a similar prospect grade as Senzel than perhaps he’s a good comp but if we’re asking if we can expect Senzel to put up similar stat lines to Bregman, I don’t think it’s a great comp. Bregman hit 31 HRs last year and is on pace to hit 30 this year whereas Senzel has never hit more than 14 in a year and is generally projected to be more of a 20 HR hitter in the pros but to be a doubles machine. Bregman has elite plate discipline (more walks than strikeouts the last two years) whereas Senzel is projected to strikeout 15% more than he walks. Bregman has typically hit in the .280’s (projected to hit .275 this year) whereas Senzel’s consistently hit above .300.

Here’s the 2018 lines for the three MLB players above.

Bregman-.286/.394/.532, 31 HR, 13.2 BB%, 12.1 K%
Freeman-.309/.388/.505, 23 HR, 10.7 BB%, 18.7 K%
Merrifield-.304/.367/.438, 12 HR, 8.6 BB%, 16.1 K%

If the goal is to project who Senzel’s future stat line might compare to, I stand by my original comps. At his peak, I think we’ll see him fall somewhere between Merrifield and Freeman, from a pure batting standpoint.

Larry Bernandez
Member
Larry Bernandez

I like David Wright as a comp. I’ve seen some evaluators mention that as Senzel’s ceiling.

SF 55 for life
Member
SF 55 for life

Wright with less power but more speed.

PC1970
Member
PC1970

I think a stat line similar to Andrew Benintendi is pretty likely. Slash line around .290/.365/.465, lots of doubles, 15-20 HR’s, 15-20 SB’s.