don't know about you, but when a team does something right — any team — I think it's pretty neat. Take for instance the Cincinnati Reds. Blessed with a ton of young outfield talent, they are in danger of having perfectly decent ballplayers rotting away on the bench. Instead, they have taken a step that will allow one of these players, Brandon Larson, to become a full-timer in 2003.
John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that Aaron Boone will be shifted from third base to second so that Larson can have that job. Larson made a great leap forward at Triple A last year and now appears — at age 26 — to be ready for the show. With Austin Kearns and Adam Dunn holding down the corner outfield positions, there would have been no room there for Larson without some shell gaming in the infield.
"We wanted to improve our range at second," said general manager Jim Bowden. "Aaron's willingness to do it was a factor. We have a proven player at third in Brandon Larson. We were pleased with the year he had in Triple-A and the adjustments he made when we brought him up to the big leagues."
Boone has not played second in the major leagues since 1998, but has been called on to play shortstop 25 times — a good indicator that he can handle second. There was some talk of moving him to shortstop and Barry Larkin to second base when the Reds traded Todd Walker to Boston. Larkin is set to stay put right now, although he needs to rebound from what was probably the worst year of his long career. (Actually, it was pretty similar to his first full year in the bigs: 1987.) Larkin has reached icon status so it won't be easy to phase him out, but if he keeps going like he did in 2002, the shortstop job will have to become Felipe Lopez's sooner rather than later.
Boone had an interesting season in 2002. It was only the second time in his six-year career that he played enough to qualify for the batting title and he logged the most plate appearances of his career. Because of this, his counting stats were all the best of his life, save for triples. What catches the eye is that a substandard batting average dragged down his OPS to a career-low .753. However, this belies the fact that his isolated power (slugging average minus batting average) and walk rates were actually the best he has ever produced.
The Reds have a lineup brimming with the potential of being downright scary. However, a number of players have to reverse recent trends. Larkin, of course, needs to prove the end is not at hand. Ken Griffey, Jr. has seen his slugging average drop five years running. It is time for him to arrest that trend and send it back upward. Ditto for Sean Casey; a first baseman who hit like a shortstop in 2002. His slugging average has dropped three straight years and he reached the point last year where he cannot justify his position in the lineup. With Dunn and Kearns both reaching base 40 percent of the time, there is an opportunity for somebody in this lineup to drive in a gondola-load of runs.