(By Josh Romans/Louisville Bats)
The Louisville Bats featured a franchise-record 79 players during the 2021 season – 10 more than any previous campaign in team history. As the organization shifts into offseason mode, BatsBaseball.com review and highlight each set of positions (infielders, outfielders, catchers, rotation and bullpen) from Louisville’s busy
(By Josh Romans/Louisville Bats)
The Louisville Bats featured a franchise-record 79 players during the 2021 season – 10 more than any previous campaign in team history. As the organization shifts into offseason mode, BatsBaseball.com review and highlight each set of positions (infielders, outfielders, catchers, rotation and bullpen) from Louisville’s busy 2021 roster. Check back each week to read up on key milestones from last year and preview the potential depth chart for the 2022 Bats.
Week 1: Infielders:
[click HERE for Broadcaster Nick Curran's review of infielders]
Bats and Cincinnati Reds fans got a glimpse into the future of the organization with the arrival of highly-touted prospect, 23-year-old Havana native Jose Barrero.
The gifted infielder grabbed a quick cup of coffee with the Reds during the shortened season in 2020 but surprisingly began the 2021 campaign at the Double-A level in Chattanooga.
Over his 40-game stint with the Lookouts, Barrero quickly validated the preseason hype, slashing .300/.367/.481 to earn a promotion to Louisville. Barrero then hit the ground running with the Bats to knock 23 extra-base hits and lead the league with 38 RBIs during his first career Triple-A stint.
The 23-year-old climbed through three levels of Cincy’s organization in a five-month span to return to the Big Leagues in September.
“I’m a fighter,” Barrero said in a Reds’ postgame interview on Sept 10. “I never gave up and I knew that I could get back here.”
And Barrero was far from the only infielder to make waves in Louisville and Cincinnati in 2021.
Perhaps one of the most interesting stories was the arrival of Alejo Lopez, a scrappy 27th-rounder from the 2015 MLB Draft who burst onto the scene in a big way last season. Much like Barrero, Lopez got off to an unbelievably hot start in 2021 and reached Triple-A quickly by becoming arguably the hardest hitter to retire in all of Minor League Baseball.
In his first 49 combined games between Chattanooga and Louisville, Lopez led the Minors with 72 base hits and reached safely at nearly a .500 clip. He also vastly improved his strikeout numbers from 2019, walking more times than he struck out in 2021 after whiffing 80 times with 38 free passes in 2019.
After being called up and making his Reds debut on June 28, Lopez wasted little time tallying his first big-league knock; he lined the very first pitch he saw from Philadelphia’s Bailey Falter into right field for a single. Just a few days later, he also notched a four-hit game against San Diego.
The infield prospect was somewhat of a throwback hitter, collecting his impressive offensive totals mostly on singles and doubles instead of the power surge so commonly featured in today’s age of baseball.
“I just think it’s very cool to hit .350,” Lopez told Cincinnati media after his MLB debut. “I don’t think it’s ever going to get old. I understand that we are in a different era right now and people love the long ball, and rightfully so. It’s fun to see home runs and it’s hard to do but hitting .350 is just a different beast.”
Fellow Cincy infield prospect Max Schrock echoed that sentiment during his solid debut in the Reds organization in 2021. In fact, Schrock was one of only 19 MLB players to achieve a 5-hit game last year, joining teammates Tyler Naquin and Nick Castellanos.
Schrock excelled in the challenging role of contributing while not receiving consistent at-bats on a day-to-day basis. He posted a .350 OBP over his 53 scattered MLB appearance and was clutch off the bench with a .412 batting average as a pinch hitter for the Reds.
“(It’s) pure excitement,” Schrock said of helping spark rallies late in games with the Reds. “(Playing in pivotal situations) is everything you could ever dream of as a kid, you know? Coming out there and winning an extra-inning game and then celebrating with the guys…It’s been a lot of fun.”
Overall, Schrock posted near identical lines with the Bats and Reds, slashing .289/.333/.461 in 38 games with Triple-A Louisville and .288/.328/.448 in 53 games with Cincinnati.
The Bats infield was also anchored by a pair of mainstays in the bat-flipping Michael De Leon and quietly consistent Alfredo Rodriguez. De Leon delivered three separate walkoff hits for Louisville in 2021, highlighted by the walkoff grand slam on Re-Opening Night. Rodriguez, on the other hand, finished eighth in Triple-A East in total hits, first in hits at home and first in hits with runners in scoring position.
Barrero and Lopez have Minor League options remaining on their contracts, while Shrock used his final option year in 2021, according to FanGraphs, meaning he must clear waivers to join the Bats if he remains in Cincy’s organization in 2022.
Rodriguez’s future will be settled in the coming weeks as the Reds set their 40-man Roster for the Rule 5 Draft in December.
De Leon elected free agency earlier this week.