On a ballclub that will open the 2016 campaign with a 25-man roster that even a devoted fan will need a program to identify some of the players, the Cincinnati Reds have multiple spring training position battles. The outfield is a primary question mark, which is good news for Rule 5 selection Jake Cave.
Plucked from the New York Yankees in the annual December event, the 23-year-old Cave must be kept on the active roster all season or offered back to the Yankees for $25,000. Veteran Jay Bruce, who still could be traded before Opening Day, is currently entrenched in right field. Speedster Billy Hamilton is considered the Reds’ starting center fielder, but he is rebounding from off-season arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. Even if Bruce remains on the roster when Opening Day arrives, and Hamilton is deemed healthy, Cincinnati manager Bryan Price needs a left fielder, and that competition is fierce this spring among Cave, Adam Duvall (who was acquired from San Francisco in last season’s Mike Leake trade), Scott Schebler (who was part of the three-team deal that shipped Todd Frazier to the White Sox) and Yorman Rodriguez.
On a team void of power, it appears that Schebler and Duvall will open the season with the Reds. Schebler can play all three outfield spots while Duvall is a left fielder and a first baseman. A sixth round pick out of high school by the Yankees in 2011, Cave’s natural position is center field, but he has also seen 27 games in left field and 10 in right field while climbing the Yankees’ farm system.
Cave lacks high-level experience, having spent just six games in Triple-A at the end of last season. Yet he has impressed with a .278 average (10-for-36), a .722 OPS, and a knack for hustling and playing hard. The left-handed hitting Cave does have speed, which the Reds will need if Hamilton is sidelined for any period of time this year.
If Hamilton opens the season on the disabled list, Cave could be inserted into the starting center field spot. If Bruce remains and Hamilton is healthy, he could find himself back in a Yankees uniform, or traded to another team.
The Reds’ lack of top talent in the minors, and Hamilton’s questionable shoulder, are positives for Cave’s chances of making Cincinnati’s Opening Day roster.