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.
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.
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.