The Reds announced Wednesday that they’ve acquired minor league infielder Nick Northcut from the Red Sox as the player to be named later in the deadline trade that sent Tommy Pham to Boston. Northcut hasn’t been on a Major League roster or injured list this season, so he’s eligible to be traded now even with the deadline having passed. That allows the Reds to get a late look at him in their system, rather than waiting until the offseason.
It’s a homecoming for Northcut, a Cincinnati-area native and graduate of William Mason High School — which sits just 25 miles from Great American Ball Park. The 23-year-old Northcut was selected by Boston in the 11th round of the 2018 draft. However, he was considered a top-100 talent in that year’s draft and only lasted as long as he did because he was considered a tough sign who was likely to honor his commitment to Vanderbilt. Boston swayed him with a $565K bonus — roughly in line with late-third-round money. (Pick No. 99 that year, the 25th in the third round, carried a $564K slot value.)
The right-handed-hitting Northcut has appeared at the infield corners almost exclusively in his career, though he did log six innings at shortstop earlier this season (likely in something of emergency fashion). That’s been his lone appearance at any position other than either third base, where he has 1580 professional innings under his belt, or first base, where he’s played 605 frames.
Northcut has shown plenty of pop in the minors this season, swatting 30 home runs and 18 doubles in 428 plate appearances between High-A and Double-A. However, he’s also whiffed in 35% of his trips to the plate and turned in a combined .219/.276/.491 batting line. Northcut’s power is evident, but he’s drawn walks at only a 5.8% clip so far in 2022, which hasn’t been enough to offset the pronounced swing-and-miss in his game.
The struggles to make contact have increased in recent years and prompted Northcut to fall out of the top tiers of the Red Sox’ system; Northcut ranked 19th among Sox farmhands at Baseball America and 23rd at FanGraphs back in 2019 but has fallen off the radar on most prominent assessments of their system. He’ll add a project to Reds’ system, but one with local roots and power that draft-time scouting reports graded as high as 70 on the 20-80 scale.
The Pham swap has worked out reasonably well for the Red Sox, who’ve seen the veteran corner outfielder post a .262/.321/.416 batting line with five homers in 162 plate appearances to this point. That’s about six percent better than league-average, by measure of wRC+, but taking a broader look at the team’s deadline maneuverings as a whole, things simply haven’t panned out. Boston traded away catcher Christian Vazquez and veteran reliever Jake Diekman while bringing in Pham and Eric Hosmer and holding onto its most appealing trade candidates (e.g. Nathan Eovaldi). The Sox were 52-52 when the deadline hit but have played at just a 17-21 pace since that time, falling to 10.5 games out of the American League Wild Card chase.