Reds second baseman Jonathan India is amidst a bounceback season. The 2021 NL Rookie of the Year had a down ’22 campaign. He spent some time on the injured list with hamstring issues and only hit .249/.327/.378 in 103 games.
The first two months of this season have more closely resembled India’s rookie form. He entered play Thursday with a .282/.369/.426 batting line over 244 plate appearances. His 15 doubles are one shy of last year’s mark in a little over half the playing time. He has a modest five home runs but is reliably reaching base at the top of the Cincinnati lineup. He’s avoided the IL and been in the starting lineup for all but one of the Reds’ games thus far.
While he’s not hitting for a ton of over-the-fence power, India has taken a marked step forward in his strike zone coverage. He’s always been a disciplined, high-contact hitter and he’s taken that to career-best heights. India’s walking at a quality 10.7% rate and has cut his strikeouts to a personal-low 18% clip. He’s chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone than ever and making contact on a career-high 83.7% of his swings. He’s also hitting the ball a fair bit harder than he did last season.
Other clubs have unsurprisingly taken note. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported this morning the Reds are receiving trade interest in India but aren’t anxious to move him. That’s not to say they’re completely opposed to talks — few players around the league are truly “untouchable” in negotiations — but reflects the lack of urgency for Cincinnati to make a deal.
India broke camp in 2021, giving him exactly two years of big league service entering this season. He’ll be eligible for arbitration at the end of the year and isn’t slated to reach free agency until after the 2026 campaign. The Reds have very little money on the books beyond this season and won’t have any issue accommodating India’s arbitration salaries.
There’s a straightforward case for Cincinnati to keep him around. Even in a weak NL Central, the Reds aren’t expected to compete this season. Their 26-29 record is a little better than most outside observers likely anticipated, though they’re still a longshot to hang in the playoff mix all year. Given their post-’23 payroll flexibility and a farm system with plenty of upper minors talent, the Reds could more seriously angle for postseason contention as soon as next year.
As arguably the club’s best position player, India could be a significant part of those efforts. It’s not entirely outlandish for others teams to touch base with general manager Nick Krall and his front office, though. The strength of Cincinnati’s minor league pipeline is the middle infield, leading the Reds to look into trading from that depth to address other areas of the farm system over the offseason.
Former first round pick Matt McLain reached the majors last month after tearing up Triple-A pitching. He’s hit the ground running as the primary shortstop, posting a .361/.426/.541 line over his first 68 plate appearances. Elly De La Cruz, in the conversation for the top prospect in baseball, likely isn’t far behind while carrying a .303/.401/.648 slash as a 21-year-old in his first crack at Triple-A. Noelvi Marte — arguably the next-best prospect in the system — is hitting .295/.369/.500 while playing shortstop in Double-A. Edwin Arroyo isn’t hitting well in High-A but entered the year as a top 100 caliber prospect and is expected to stick at shortstop himself.
India is a productive hitter but has drawn below-average defensive grades from metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast’s Outs Above Average throughout his career. There’s no reason for the Reds to move him off the keystone imminently. Prospect promotions could alter that calculus in the coming months or next year.
Still, the Reds could see any India trade offers as putting the cart before the horse. They opened the season with Jose Barrero and Kevin Newman as their shortstop tandem. Talented as the upper minors options are, none of them have more than a two-week MLB track record.
It’s also common for middle infield prospects to branch out to other positions as they approach the MLB level. McLain played some center field at UCLA and could eventually be an option in the outfield. De La Cruz and Marte are both larger-framed shortstop prospects, leading some evaluators to question whether either might be a better fit for third base down the line.