GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The Cincinnati Reds are hoping Scott Schebler is at the center of their resurgence.
Following an offseason that saw a lot of turnover for the last-place Reds, they’re beginning this year with Schebler in center field, taking over after the departure of Billy Hamilton.
Schebler doesn’t have Hamilton’s range or speed. Few players do.
But Schebler has played 49 games at the spot over the last three seasons. New manager David Bell has given Schebler the job, eager to see it he can make the transition from right field — by far his most familiar spot — and give Yaisel Puig a chance to settle in somewhere else in the outfield.
“Schebler is going to play all over this spring, but I’m interested in seeing him in center field,” Bell said. “It’s valuable that he can play all three positions in the outfield. There’s no question he can play at this level.”
The question is how the Reds’ new components fit together. They let Hamilton leave after years of trying unsuccessfully to improve his hitting. They got Puig and outfielder Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers in a trade that provided Bell with several new options.
“It is kind of like going to a new school,” Schebler said. “The first couple of days I was meeting people for the first time. It was like you’re in a brand new clubhouse. You’ve kind of seen them play. You wonder what they’re like.”
The Reds got the 28-year-old Schebler from the Dodgers along with shortstop Jose Peraza after the 2015 season as part of a three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox. During his time in LA’s farm system, Schebler got to know starter Alex Wood, who came to the Reds as part of the deal for Puig and Kemp.
All the new players have brought as sense of optimism to a team that has lost at least 94 games for four straight seasons.
“There is a lot of energy here,” Schebler said.
Injuries have slowed Schebler the last two seasons. He missed 43 games last year with two stints on the disabled list. He suffered a bruised right elbow when hit by Sean Doolittle’s pitch in April. He sprained his right shoulder when he ran into the outfield wall in July. He batted .255 with 17 homers and 49 RBIs.
“He has the ability to do a lot of damage,” Bell said. “We see him as a big part of the team.”
The Reds don’t have a prototypical leader off hitter. They spent four seasons trying to get Hamilton to fill that role, without success. Schebler hasn’t stolen more than five bases in a season. Outfielder Jesse Winker didn’t steal a base in 89 games last season, but he batted first Monday in a game against the Cubs.
Given all the last-place finishes in recent years, players are willing to try new things under the new manager.
“We’re willing to sacrifice all the individual stuff just to win,” Schebler said.