No rest for Reds’ versatile Negron
GOODYEAR, Ariz. – It’s 6:15 in the morning. First things first for Kristopher Negron: coffee.
Negron then grabs some breakfast before stretching and getting his work day started. He heads out to one of the half fields the Reds have set up at their spring training complex to take ground balls, then to the batting cages. He’s not the only player who shows up early for work – manager Bryan Price says only a few aren’t in the facility by 7:30 even though official dressed and on-time isn’t until an hour later – but it’s a routine Negron won’t break away from.
He turned an injury call-up last season into his first extended stay in big leagues. The 29-year-old played the entire infield except first base for the Reds last season and spent time in the outfield while at Triple-A Louisville. His versatility is his trademark, the proverbial Jack of all trades who is mastering that role.
"When I come into the clubhouse I look at the lineup and that’s how I know where I’ll be," said Negron, who on this particular day is scheduled to be a replacement for Billy Hamilton in center field. There are days he’ll be starting somewhere in the infield or the outfield. Somewhere. Anywhere. It really doesn’t matter to Negron.
What matters is keeping his routine, earning a spot on the Opening Day 25-man roster and proving every day he deserves to be playing in the big leagues.
"I’m approaching it like any other spring training," said Negron. "I’m not the person who’s going to count their chickens before they’re hatched. I approach it the same way whether it’s my first spring training or my fifth, or sixth right now. It’s just going about the business the same way and trying to leave it all out on the field."
Negron was briefly up with the Reds in 2012, playing in four games. He got the call to join the team from Louisville last July when Brandon Phillips tore a thumb ligament. Negron started 12 times at second base while Phillips was out of the lineup. He made 36 starts in all in 49 games, committing just one error. His batting numbers were better in Cincinnati than anything he’d shown in the minors. He hit .271 with 10 doubles, one triple, six home runs and 17 RBI with an on-base percentage of .331 and slugging percentage of .479.
This spring, Negron has hit safely in four of his last six games and has two two-hit games and a three-hit game while having played second base, shortstop, third base, left field and center field. Against San Francisco earlier this week he made two defensive gems playing third base and scored the first run of the game after going first-to-third on and single to left field by Joey Votto.
"He was moving on the pitch but still it was a ball that was taking the left fielder to the line and towards third base. He busted his tail to get to third," said Price. "Spring training gives your bench guys the opportunity to kind of play regularly and find their swing and settle in and it’s that type of energy that we expect from Kris coming off the bench or giving a guy a day’s rest. We really expect that from him, and it’s what he did so well for us last year."
The Reds starting eight is set, barring injury. That leaves four, maybe five, spots on the bench depending on how deep the pitching staff goes. Negron’s versatility in playing multiple positions is a plus. He’s shown a knack for being able to come off the bench, a quality and mindset not every player has.
It’s a mindset that starts early in the morning with coffee.