With Zack Cozart out for the year, the Cincinnati Reds have turned to Eugenio Suarez to cover the gap. He's done quite well so far, hitting .284/.320/.473 in 264 at-bats for a wRC+ of 113. His fWAR isn't stellar on the surface at 1.2, although he's played 69 games; if he played the same quality baseball in a full season he'd be in the 2.4-2.5 range, not a superstar but certainly enough to hold a job as a shortstop with a decent glove and a solid bat.
But can he sustain quality play over a full season? And is it possible he could actually improve further?
As you'll recall Suarez came to the Reds system last winter as part of a trade for Alfredo Simon with the Detroit Tigers. He was signed by the Michigan felines as a free agent out of Venezuela in 2008. He spent two seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League then jumped to the New York-Penn League in 2011, earning the following comment in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book:
SLEEPER ALERT!! Suarez is a Venezuelan, signed by the Tigers in the fall of 2008. He hasn’t received a lot of attention, but he played well in his North American debut last year, blowing through the Gulf Coast League in two weeks and earning a promotion to the New York-Penn League. He posted a +10 percent OPS, which is good enough to get you noticed as a middle infielder. Suarez has some sock in his bat, isn’t hopeless with the strike zone, and is young enough to develop substantially. Suarez has played all the infield positions as well as left and center field, but he settled in at shortstop last year, showing good range and arm strength. Keep a close eye on this one: he could turn out quite good. Grade C+, a sleeper.
The sleeper call was based on a local scouting report and his statistics. I got to see him in person in the Midwest League in 2012 where he hit .288/.380/.409 with 34 doubles, 65 walks, and 21 steals. He was impressive in person which led to a boost in the grade entering 2013:
A sleeper alert pick from last year, Eugenio Suarez broke out with a solid campaign for West Michigan in the Midwest League, posting a solid +12 percent OPS and a very strong wRC+ of 126. Signed out of Venezuela in 2008, Suarez can get a little aggressive and rack up some strikeouts, but he has a feel for the strike zone and will take a walk as well. Although not a big home run hitter, he’s not punchless and should be good for doubles power. He is far more reliable than most young shortstops and features a strong arm. His range isn’t spectacular but is good enough for him to stay at shortstop; he’s looked excellent in brief trials at second base. Overall, I like Suarez a great deal, and it would not surprise me to see him take another significant step forward this year. Grade B-.
He played 111 games with Double-A Erie in 2013 and had some adjustment troubles, hitting .253/.352/.387, which wasn't terrible but certainly did not qualify as a step forward. I kept the faith though. Entering 2014:
Suarez had a few problems after being promoted to Double-A last spring and did not take that step forward. He wasn’t bad by any means and clocked in a little above average with a 102 wRC+, but he needs to make some adjustments, likely needing to shorten his swing somewhat. I think he has more in the bat than what he did for Erie and could return to the stronger marks he posted in ’12. I still like him and while this may be a hair aggressive, I’m going to stick with the Grade B-.
Suarez spent much of 2014 with the Tigers, hitting .242/.316/.336 in 244 at-bats, not much of a hitting line (wRC+ 86) but with solid glovework bringing his fWAR to 0.9 in half a season of playing time. It wasn't a great year, but it was fairly credible given that he was a 22 year old shortstop with a grand total of 12 Triple-A games on his resume.
Conveniently between this year and last, he's played 154 big league games, exactly one season, with a combined line of .264/.319/.407, 15 homers, 35 walks, 129 strikeouts in 508 at-bats, wRC+100, and a fWAR of 2.0 on the nose. Based on his minor league track record, what Suarez has done in major league aggregate is exactly what he should have been expected to do. The overall picture here isn't a fluke at all. He's supposed to be a .260ish hitter with occasional power who doesn't draw a ton of walks but does enough to produce offense around league average overall while providing sufficient defense to stay in the lineup. And that's what he is.
If he stays where he currently is, Suarez will make some money and be in the majors for the next decade, seeing some action as a regular but moving into a super-utility role when his defense starts to fade. There will be some ups and downs. As noted he's aggressive and pitchers will work out a plan of attack to take advantage, although he's shown signs of being able to adjust.
A collapse could always happen of course. However, in his case I think it very possible he could have another leap forward in him, maybe not next year or the year after, but say a big breakout in 2018 at the age of 26, a breakout that makes him something like a lower-case Jhonny Peralta.
Is that nuts? We'll keep close track of him.