An excellent rookie season for Reds infielder Matt McLain was brought to a sour end by an oblique strain. He didn’t play after August 27, missing the final month as the Reds came up a little shy of the postseason.
That injury is now behind him. McLain told reporters (including Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer) that he is working out and swinging without issue. The 24-year-old said he’s preparing for a defensive role at either middle infield position.
McLain split his rookie year between those spots. He saw a little more action on the left side, playing 465 innings at shortstop and 296 at second base. As things stand, McLain projects as Cincinnati’s starting shortstop. Arguably the most impressive of the Reds’ strong rookie class, he cemented himself as an everyday player with a .290/.357/.507 slash through his first 89 MLB contests.
Whether McLain sticks at shortstop likely depends on how Cincinnati proceeds with Jonathan India. The latter’s name has again come up in trade rumors since the offseason got underway. President of baseball operations Nick Krall pushed back somewhat on that possibility, categorizing any openness to dealing India more as general diligence than an indication they’re trying to subtract from an infield surplus.
Elly De La Cruz, Noelvi Marte, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Spencer Steer are all options for the left side of the infield. De La Cruz and Marte can handle either shortstop or third base. Encarnacion-Strand might be better suited at first base; Steer has third base experience but could play a bat-first utility role between the corners and designated hitter. It’s a strong collection of talent that allows the front office to consider swapping an infielder for pitching help even after the free agent additions of Nick Martinez and Emilio Pagán.
Marte hit a minor snag while playing in the Dominican Republic. Krall told reporters the 22-year-old strained a hamstring and will be shut down from finishing the winter ball season (relayed by Mark Sheldon of MLB.com). The issue isn’t expected to affect his readiness for Spring Training. Marte hit well following a late-season MLB debut, putting together a .316/.366/.456 showing in his first 35 big league games.
In additional injury updates, Krall said pitchers Nick Lodolo and Graham Ashcraft should be full-go for Spring Training (Goldsmith link). The former’s season was wrecked by recurring stress reactions in his left tibia. He didn’t pitch in the majors after May 6. Ashcraft sustained a stress reaction in the big toe on his right foot. He underwent season-ending surgery in the middle of September.