Around the Horn: Corner Infielders

Questions lurking around corner for Reds

The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Corner infielders.

CINCINNATI -- Will it be the young guy or the experienced veteran manning the hot corner for the Reds in 2006?

Deciding between Edwin Encarnacion and Rich Aurilia is just one of the decisions manager Jerry Narron will be mulling over during Spring Training.

Encarnacion made his Major League debut last July and played in 69 games after Cincinnati dealt away veteran third baseman Joe Randa. In 211 at-bats, he batted .232 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs.

"Last season was a great experience for him," Narron said. "He did a lot of good things for us. He showed us he can play at the Major League level. He's just got to be consistent."

The Reds feel the 23-year-old Encarnacion has the chance to be a solid offensive player and they like his defensive range. But because his throwing accuracy and mechanics need work, new bench coach and former big league infielder Bucky Dent will be working with him in Spring Training.

"We're very high on Eddie," Reds interim general manager Brad Kullman said. "Hopefully, he'll come to Spring Training and grab that job. It's his to take."

If not, Encarnacion could begin the season in Triple-A Louisville, which would open the door for Aurilia. The 34-year-old returned to the fold as a free agent Jan. 8 after signing a one-year, $1.3 million contract.

"When we bring guys up from the Minor Leagues, I really want them to earn it," Narron said. "I don't want to bring guys out of Spring Training who aren't ready. Having Richie back gives us a lot of options. Eddie's going to have to play well to move in front of him."

Aurilia batted .282 with 14 home runs and 68 RBIs in 114 games last season. He opened the year as the regular shortstop, but ended up spending most of his time at second base and third after the emergence of All-Star Felipe Lopez. Even if the veteran wins the starting third base job, he'll be used around the infield.

"Anytime you have multiple-position guys, it's a big help," Narron said. "Richie did a nice job for us in a lot of different roles. We look for him to do the same thing for us this season."

Cincinnati Reds

Utilityman Ryan Freel, who started at five different positions last season, could also see some time at the hot corner.

Whoever plays third will be throwing the ball to a new first baseman this year, as longtime mainstay Sean Casey was dealt to Pittsburgh in December. It helped clear a four-man outfield logjam, since Adam Dunn will be shifted from left field to first base.

There's no doubt as to what Dunn will bring to the position from an offensive standpoint. The lefty hitter batted .247 with 40 home runs and 101 RBIs in 2005, giving him back-to-back 40-homer, 100-RBI campaigns.

Dunn filled in at first base for an injured Casey at the very end of last season, and he started out as a first baseman in high school, but he doesn't have much experience at the position. The 26-year-old decided to skip playing for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic to improve his defensive abilities

"He's got work to do to get back any skills he may have had," said Kullman, also the Reds director of baseball operations. "Just because he played there in high school before he was signed doesn't mean he's Gold Glove caliber. This will be the focus for him in Spring Training."

Backing up at first base will likely be switch-hitting reserve catcher Javier Valentin. Pinch-hitting specialist Jacob Cruz, who was signed in December to a Minor League deal and invited to camp as a non-roster player, will also see some time at the position.

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.