11:15am: The Reds have formally selected the contracts of Steer and right-hander Fernando Cruz, per a team announcement. Mike Moustakas and righty Jeff Hoffman were transferred from the 10-day injured list to the 60-day injured list to open space on the 40-man roster.
Cruz, 32, reaches the big leagues in the culmination of one of the more remarkable baseball journeys in recent memory. Drafted by the Royals as an infielder back in 2007, he toiled through four minor league seasons before beginning to experiment off the mound in 2011 and giving up infield work for good by 2012. Cruz still struggled to advance through the minors, however, and after a one-year stop in the Cubs organization, was out of affiliated ball entirely by 2016.
From 2016-21, Cruz split his time between the Puerto Rican Winter League, the Mexican League (both winter and regular season) and the independent Canadian-American Association, where he worked as a starter and closer alike for the New Jersey Jackals. The Reds signed him this past winter on the heels of his latest indie ball campaign, and he’s broken out with 56 innings of 2.89 ERA ball in Triple-A, where he’s punched out 29.3% of his opponents against an 8.4% walk rate.
Whether Cruz is truly a long-term piece for the Reds can be debated, but it’s hard not to be happy for a 32-year-old rookie who was out of affiliated ball for six seasons. A call to the Majors must have seemed like a pipe dream not long ago for Cruz, but that MLB debut could come any day now.
8:27am: The Reds are promoting top infield prospect Spencer Steer to the Majors, reports C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic. He’ll join the big league team today as part of September roster expansion and should get regular opportunities down the stretch.
Steer, 24, came to the Reds alongside left-hander Steven Hajjar and infielder Christian Encarnacion-Strand in the deadline trade that sent right-hander Tyler Mahle to Minnesota. He recently moved into the back end of Baseball America’s top 100 prospect rankings, checking in at No. 98 on this month’s update.
A third-round pick by Minnesota back in 2019, Steer was the headliner in that Mahle trade, due in no small part to the numbers he posted between Double-A (.307/.385/.591, 144 wRC+) and Triple-A (.242/.345/.485, 117 wRC+) during his time with the Twins. Steer has continued at a strong pace with Cincinnati’s Triple-A affiliate in Louisville, hitting at a .297/.375/.467 pace. Between the two organizations, he’s combined for 23 home runs, 30 doubles, a pair of triples and four steals (in seven tries). He’s walked at a 10.4% clip and punched out in 18.1% of his trips to the plate this season.
The Reds have played Steer at all four infield positions, plus one game in right field, but he’s spent the vast majority of his time at second base and third base — both this season and in his professional career. With 2021 National League Rookie of the Year Jonathan India entrenched at second base, Steer seems likely ticketed for the hot corner, at least in the long term. For the short term, however, the Reds could potentially continue to bounce him around the diamond while getting a look at his bat against big league pitching. With Joey Votto out for the season and Mike Moustakas back on the injured list (and clearly not factoring into the team’s long-term plans), Steer should have plenty opportunities for at-bats alongside India and shortstop Jose Barrero, giving Reds fans a potential glimpse of the future infield.
Steer displayed an ability to make consistent contact this year, has steadily improved his power output since being drafted, and is a solid defender at multiple positions. Steer sits outside the top-100 rankings at FanGraphs and MLB.com but ranks ninth and seventh in the Reds’ system on those respective rankings. Scouting reports on him generally agree that he lacks a true plus tool but also lacks any glaring flaws; his blend of defensive versatility, solid bat-to-ball skills, improved power and an at-least average arm give him the potential to be a regular in the Cincinnati infield for years to come.
Depending on how much playing time Steer receives down the stretch, it’s possible he’ll exhaust his rookie status over the next five weeks. He’d need more than 130 at-bats to do so, but regardless, he won’t receive a full year of service in 2022 and won’t put himself on a path to Super Two trajectory, based on this September promotion. If he remains rookie-eligible heading into 2023, the Reds would retain the ability to receive compensatory draft picks based on potential Rookie of the Year voting in 2023.