The middle infield is considered the defensive anchor for any team. For the 2017 Cincinnati Bearcats, there was certainly some solid defensive play in that area, but the offensive end of the deal was left wanting. A big downgrade in production from Kyle Mottice and less than a full season from Manny Rodriguez meant the unit was largely a group that did the job defensively, but didn’t help much with the lumber.
We’ll start this look by examining Mottice’s disappointing campaign. The junior second baseman had a very solid 2016 season, slashing .278/.329/.351 with eight extra-base hits and 28 runs scored. He also stole 13 bases. That number was cut by more than half in 2017, while his slash line dipped below the Mendoza Line (.191/.284/.265). He did match his number of extra-base hits from 2016, but the drop in contact rate did nothing to provide encouraging results at the keystone. On defense, Mottice had 116 assists and three errors. His .983 fielding percentage was a career-high, but he also had fewer than 200 chances for the first time in his career.
Mottice’s struggles at second opened up some playing time for freshmen Jace Mercer and Eric Santiago, who got in to play a number of positions throughout the infield. Mercer played in 56 games this past year, doing most of his work at DH. He also played capably at second base, but it was his .273/.345/.358 batting line that made him a valuable bat to get in the lineup in any way possible. Santiago (.234/.308/.305) wasn’t as impressive with the bat, but he did have seven extra-base hits and showed a versatility not seen elsewhere on the roster.
Now its onto shortstop, which was held down by Rodriguez in 38 games or the majority of the season, whichever way you’d like to look at it. Rodriguez did heat up a bit down the stretch, but that isn’t saying much considering he finished with a line of .242/.297/.331. His inability to work counts (six walks) hurt his on-base rate, while he struck out 22 times in 124 at-bats. However, in comparison to his sophomore season, Rodriguez really took a step forward offensively, setting career-highs in batting average, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. What is most important for Rodriguez is defense, however, as he plays the most critical position in that regard. He did fine, recording a fielding percentage around .950 once again, but with nine errors in only 38 games, he still has some polish to put on his glove work.
Overall, the middle infield got some nice production out of two freshman in Mercer and Santiago. If those two can improve on the somewhat successful seasons they’ve already had, then they will provide a nice foundation after next season when Mottice and Rodriguez are gone. However, in the more immediate future, Rodriguez and Mottice both need to hit better, particularly Mottice, who was expected to be a reliable piece of lumber this past season.