Kyle Farmer reported to spring camp early with pitchers and catchers but traded in his backup catcher’s number (52) for an infielder’s number (17), part of his campaign to become the Cincinnati Reds’ regular shortstop.
Farmer can play anywhere and hits nearly .300 against left-handed pitching, which has made him a valuable utilityman for the Reds the past two seasons. He let manager David Bell know last spring he wanted a chance to prove himself at shortstop, which is where he played for four years as a University of Georgia star.
The opportunity is here for the 30-year-old Farmer, who may be the Reds’ best option since they let Freddy Galvis leave to sign with the Baltimore Orioles and didn’t splash into the free-agent pool for a replacement. Farmer started 10 games at shortstop last season and another in the playoffs.
“Trust me, I was on Twitter every day seeing if they were going to sign a shortstop,” Farmer said earlier in the spring.
In the opening spring exhibition game Sunday, Farmer started at shortstop along with the Reds infield regulars, going 1 for 3 at the plate with a double off the wall.
“Every spring training, I’ve had to tell myself ‘this is the biggest spring training of your life,’” said Farmer, who played two years with the Dodgers before being thrown into the 2018 trade that brought Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig to the Reds in exchange for Homer Bailey.
“You’ve got to go into it and try to compete every day, make a team and then earn a starting job,” he said. “So I don’t look at it any differently than past years.”
The right-handed hitting Farmer worked hard in the offseason with a coach to tweak his swing, hitting daily from a pitching machine that simulated a right-handed slider.
“He’s just in great shape,” Bell said after Sunday’s game. “He looks strong and lean, and he has a different number, so he looked like a different player.”
But Bell is not ready to name an opening-day starter yet. The Reds have some other options.
Kyle Holder, acquired from the Phillies for cash, will get a look, even though he has yet to play in a big-league game. Former All-Star Dee Strange-Gordon is a non-roster invitee who’s mostly played second base in his career, and utilityman Alex Blandino is in the mix.
The long-term solution at shortstop for the Reds might be 22-year-old Jose Garcia, who was called up from the alternate site for 21 games last season but hit only .194. The Reds will look hard at him in spring training but may determine he needs more minor-league seasoning.
“There’s no question, just to state the obvious, that we rushed Jose to the big leagues,” Bell said.
Cincinnati as a team hit a league-worst .212 in the 60-game 2020 season. Farmer knows the key to being the everyday shortstop isn’t his graceful defense, it will be his bat and whether he can produce against right-handed pitching.
“It’s kind of full circle to me, coming from college then all the way up to 2021,” Farmer said. “I finally had the nerve to go up and tell (Bell) that I wanted a shot last year, to prove myself, and I still have more proving to do. There’s still a lot more work to do and I want to earn that role, so we’ll see how it goes.”