Dragons 2017 Preview, Part 5: Third Basemen
By Tom Nichols / Dayton Dragons
This is part five of an eight-part series previewing the 2017 Dragons. Players listed here are candidates for positions on the 25-man Dragons season-opening roster.
This preview is an unofficial projection of possible roster candidates. Minor League rosters are not established until April 3. Spring training variables including performance, injuries, trades, and additional player acquisitions will impact the roster accordingly.
News and Notes: This past weekend, the Reds played a pair of split-squad games, creating a need for twice as many active players on those two dates. The four-games-in-two-days weekend allowed several players to be called up from Minor League camp, including some that have been (or will be) previewed as possibilities for the 2017 Dragons. In Saturday's big league game vs. the Giants, when the game ended, the Reds had an outfield of Taylor Trammell in left; T.J. Friedl in center; and Jose Siri in right. That same outfield group could be standing on the grass at Fifth Third Field on April 6 when the Dragons open their season against Lake County. In the same game, two other members of the 2016 Dragons, catcher Chris Okey and third baseman Gavin LaValley also saw action for the Reds. Friedl, who we will discuss in greater detail in our outfield preview, blasted a home run in his only at-bat on Saturday. On Sunday, Friedl again got some playing time and had a single and walk in his two plate appearances. Siri and catcher Cassidy Brown also played for the Reds on Sunday.
Candidates: John Sansone, Colby Wright.
John Sansone was an eighth round draft pick by the Reds in 2016 following his senior season at Florida State University. He spent his first year in professional baseball at Billings and played in 50 games, splitting his time almost equally between second base and third base. He is expected to be the Dragons starting third baseman in 2017.
Sansone is a native of New Castle, Pennsylvania, a city located about 15 miles east of Youngstown, Ohio. He was a multi-sport star at Neshannock High School, earning four varsity letters in both baseball and basketball along with one in football as a quarterback. He was a star guard on the basketball team and led his county in free throw percentage at 86 percent. As a baseball player, he was a one-man wrecking crew in high school, batting .661 as a junior and .597 as a senior while belting 22 career home runs. He was named the area Player of the Year by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2012. He elected to attend Florida State rather than sign with the Tigers.
In one of nation's premier college baseball conference, Sansone earned the Seminoles starting second base job from day-one of his freshman season. Amazingly, over his four-year career, he started 251 of a possible 254 games, including every game of his last three years at FSU. He had a breakthrough season as a senior when he batted .370 and was named 1st Team All-Atlantic Coast Conference as well as 3rd Team All-American. In 63 games, he had 26 doubles and nine home runs, posting a slugging percentage of .576 with an OPS of 1.031. Florida State finished the year as the #13 team in the nation with Sansone as the team leader in most offensive categories. He was a second baseman for all four seasons in college.
After signing with the Reds, Sansone went to Billings and served as the Mustangs starting second baseman for the first half of the 2016 season. He got off to a slow start and was hitting just .136 with no extra base hits after his first 10 games. But from that point forward, playing in 40 more games, he batted .329 with five home runs, 12 doubles, and one triple. His slugging percentage over those final 40 games was .523. His final batting average was .285 with a with a .435 slugging percentage and a .772 OPS.
Defensively, Sansone did not see action at third base until his 27th game of the year, when the conversion from second base began. From that point, he appeared in 20 games at third and only two at second. He committed just four errors at third base, posting a .938 fielding percentage. That number would have led the Pioneer League over a full season. Third base is a very difficult position to learn in a short time, as instinctive decisions must be made on how to get the most convenient hop to field while still having time to throw out the hitter. His work at third base in 2016 convinced the Reds that his best position with the 2017 Dragons is at the hot corner.
Colby Wright saw an equal amount of action at third base and first base with Billings in 2016, and he also played in five games at second base. Wright was the Reds 25th round draft pick last summer out of the University of Kansas. He is a native of Castro Valley, California.
Wright was an All-Big 12 2nd Team as a senior at Kansas in 2016 when he batted .341 with six home runs and a team-leading 41 RBI. He was also a 2nd Team selection as a sophomore in 2014. Wright was 1st Team Academic All-Big 12 as a senior and Academic 2nd Team the previous two years.
After being drafted by the Reds, Wright went to Billings and was a part-time player in the infield, finishing the season at .225 with five home runs and 32 RBI. He improved dramatically after a slow start, hitting .186 in the first half and .262 in the second half. For the year, he hit .298 with runners in scoring position, always a tell-tale statistic in the low-minors because pitchers work much differently in clutch situations, using all of their pitches to bear down and get a key out.
Wright will likely get an opportunity in Dayton at some point in 2017, either at first base or third, and he will try to build on his second half in 2016 at Billings.
Next up: Outfielders