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Justin Birnbaum

A Homecoming of Sorts for Scooter Gennett

When Scooter Gennett burst onto the scene in 2013, it seemed like the Milwaukee Brewers had finally found an answer to replace their overpaid and underperforming second baseman, Rickie Weeks. By the time Weeks completed the third year of his $38.5 million contract extension he had signed in 2011, the former second overall pick had bottomed out at a slash line of .209/.306/.357 with only 10 home runs and 24 RBIs. From 2005 to 2011, Weeks posted a total WAR of 13.7. Over the next two seasons, Weeks posted an abysmal WAR of -1.5. Enter Gennett.

Hailing from Sarasota, Florida, Ryan Joseph Gennett was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 16th round of the 2009 Amateur MLB Draft. Less than a year after representing the Brewers in the 2012 All-Star Futures Game, Gennett found himself in the Big Leagues, making his debut against the Oakland Athletics on June 3, 2013. Two days later, Gennett recorded his first Major League hit after singling to right-center off of Jesse Chavez. His first Major League home came two weeks later, off the bat of Bronson Arroyo in the very place he was born, Cincinnati. In 230 at-bats in 2013, Gennett posted a very respectable line of .324/.356/.479.

Gennett seemed to be a promising piece in the future plans of the Brewers after he combined with Rickie Weeks to form the most valuable second base platoon in the first half of the 2014 season. The young infielder had finished with a .289/.320/.434 slash line with 9 home runs and 54 RBIs. However, the key impediment in Gennett’s rise continued to rear it’s ugly head, and that was his inability to hit left-handed pitching.

The departure of Rickie Weeks prior to the 2015 season signaled an opportunity for Gennett to seize the primary second base job, but a rough start to the season coupled with a freak injury (cutting his hand in the shower), led to a shortened year and a stint in the Minor Leagues. A full season of playing time in 2016 did not do him any justice, as he posted an 0.1 WAR, which Fangraphs defines as a “Scrub” level player.

In the midst of an accelerated rebuild, the Brewers sought to shed themselves of the mediocre second baseman and placed Gennett on waivers prior to the 2017 season. On March 28, 2017 Scooter Gennett was claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. This proved to be a homecoming of sorts for Gennett as Cincinnati was not only the city where he recorded his first Major League home run, but the place of his birth as well. Still, the odds were not in his favor entering 2017, as Gennett was slotted for a bench role. With Brandon Phillips departing via an offseason trade to the Atlanta Braves, 23-year-old infield prospect Jose Peraza was viewed as the answer at second base. With a Reds team that was not expected to compete, it was the organization’s intention to give Peraza the bulk of the playing time and the room necessary to grow into a serviceable Big League starter. Additionally, with Gennett’s history of struggling against left-handed pitching, it was hard to justify the idea of him being the everyday second baseman.

The acquisition of Gennett paid dividends almost immediately when he launched two-out, two-run homer after pinch-hitting in the bottom of the ninth on Opening Day. The Reds still dropped that game to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it validated that idea that Gennett’s limited power coupled with the short porch in right field of Great American Ballpark would be a match made in heaven.

As the season pressed onward, Scooter Gennett would go on to supplant the struggling Jose Peraza as the starting second baseman to the tune of a .305/.355/.570 slash line featuring 18 home runs and 60 RBIs. In only 293 at-bats, Gennett has already set career highs in home runs and RBIs despite the fact that there is 56 games left in the season. This is all before you consider the remarkable and rare achievement Gennett pulled off this past June.

On June 6, Scooter Gennett launched a Major League record-tying four runs against the St. Louis Cardinals, one of which being a grand slam. The 10 RBIs he drove in during that game would also set a new career high. Gennett became the 17th player in Major League history and the first player in a Reds uniform to pull of this feat. Not to mention, he also became the seventh player to hit a home run in four consecutive at-bats, while setting a club record for the Reds with 17 total bases. You could argue that Aaron Judge playing in Yankee stadium, Giancarlo Stanton, or even Nolan Arenado playing at Coors Field would have better odds of achieving and now repeating this feat, but instead a guy with 35 career home runs coming into this season pulls it off.

So is Gennett for real? It’s hard to say. He continues to struggle mightily against lefties as he is only batting .197 against southpaws in 61 at-bats in 2017. Still, you cannot ignore Gennett’s spontaneous power surge with an Isolated Power (ISO) of .265 in 2017. If he had the necessary at-bats to qualify, he would rank 21st in the Majors in ISO, tied with Cubs’ slugger Anthony Rizzo. Never posting an ISO higher than .154 in Milwaukee, projections accounted for a bit of rise with the move to Great American Ballpark, but I doubt anyone could have predicted a jump of over a hundred points.

The Reds are not a very good baseball team, and the fact that they are not currently fighting for a Pennant, let alone a Wild Card, gives them the chance to see if Gennett is for real. If the 27-year-old can continue to produce, then maybe he’s found a home in the very place he was born, Cincinnati.

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