The next face (and hair) of the Reds: Jonathan India has arrived
With a Rookie of the Year award in hand, India is about to become the most popular player in town
Last year, with the entire minor league season canceled, hardcore observers of the Cincinnati Reds had plenty to ponder. Like every other team, the Reds operated an “alternate site” where they worked out top prospects along with a number of other players, but without minor league games, we had no data to gauge the progression of the aforesaid prospects. How was Hunter Greene progressing from Tommy John surgery? How did recent #1 picks Nick Lodolo and Austin Hendricks look? Is Tony Santillan bouncing back from a rough 2019?
While we ultimately got brief glimpses of young guys like Tyler Stephenson and Jose Barrero at the big league level, no one outside the Reds’ facility had seen Jonathan India in action since he finished up the 2019 season at Double-A Chattanooga. I kept hearing whispers that India was looking really good, and had made real progress, but I needed hard data.
After all, Cincinnati’s first-round pick in 2018 hadn’t exactly distinguished himself since arriving to pro ball from the University of Florida. In the SEC, India had mashed the ball to a tune of .350/.497/.717 with 21 home runs in 68 games as a junior to earn his selection as the 5th overall pick in the MLB draft. But he hit only .240/.380/.433 with little power in his first pro season (in rookie ball and Low-A), and though he made real progress the next season — the on-base percentage was certainly encouraging — India wasn’t exactly bowling people over like he did at Florida. In particular, the power seemed to be lagging, with only 11 homers in 512 plate appearances in that second minor league season.
So when I heard the rumors that India was much improved, I naturally wanted to see it with my own eyes. Well, this spring, what I saw from India was pretty good. His defense at second base was stellar — despite being a third baseman by trade — and he pounded the baseball to the tune of .313/.441/.604.
Still, I wasn’t yet convinced. After all, it was only 48 at-bats for India, and we’ve seen big spring training performances before, right? If you’re a big league team, you never want to make roster decisions based solely on spring training performance. That’s how you get Josias Manzanillo and his 12.66 ERA on your Opening Day roster. (Sorry, I’m having 2003 Reds flashbacks.)
Well, the Reds were convinced that India was the real deal, and he was named the starting second baseman on Opening Day. Before long, no one doubted whether that was a good decision. Here’s what I wrote two weeks into the season:
When the 24-year-old started at second base on Opening Day—a position change necessitated by the lineup shuffling caused by the Reds refusing to obtain a shortstop in the off-season—he became the first rookie position player to start the first game of the season since Chris Sabo back in 1988. The last second baseman to make his debut on Opening Day for the Reds? You have to go back to Pete Rose in 1963.
Pretty good company India is keeping, no? Well, he immediately set out to prove that he belonged in a group with those Reds legends, hitting safely twice on Opening Day, twice the next day, and collecting hits in seven of his first eight games. India leads all National League rookies in hits and runs batted in. It has been a storybook start to what we hope is a long, productive career.
As it turned out, India would continue to keep good company, ultimately becoming just the eighth Reds player (including Sabo and Rose) to win the National League Rookie of the Year award when it was announced this week. And what an announcement it was, with Reds legend Johnny Bench delivering the news. Seriously, check out India’s emotion:
I love it. A fitting end to a storybook season for India (at least, on a personal level; the season didn’t end so well for the Redlegs). India ended up grabbing the second base spot and never letting go, hitting .269/.376/.459 with 21 home runs in 150 games. In early June, manager David Bell moved the rookie into the leadoff spot, and India responded with aplomb. After 19 games atop the order, India was hitting .301/.420/.452; he finished the season with a .275/.383/.482 slash line in 101 games.
And now it looks like India will be Cincinnati’s leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future. He plays with fire, has an excitable personality, and that hair…oh, what can we say about those dazzling locks. Sure, I’m jealous. I admit it.
The Reds have an exciting young core that has either already debuted, or will be hitting the big leagues soon. Stephenson, Greene, Lodolo, Barrero, etc…. the ceiling is the roof for all of these guys. Jesse Winker is still relatively young and an All-Star, and Nick Senzel only needs to stay healthy to reach the heights that were predicted for him as a first round pick.
But now, all of a sudden, India is poised to become the face of the franchise for the Cincinnati Reds. Sure, it’ll be Joey Votto for a while longer, but with Nick Castellanos likely leaving for greener pastures, no other player in the Reds organization has the personality and, yes, the performance to justify being the centerpiece of Cincinnati’s marketing for the next few years. A lot of kids around Reds country are likely to be wearing India shirseys very, very soon. Many already are.
Will India take the next step, and become a perennial All-Star for our beloved Redlegs? I don’t know the answer to that, but there’s one thing I know for certain:
Don’t ever doubt Jonathan India.
The eight rookies to win the National League Rookie of the Year while playing for the Cincinnati Reds:
1956 – Frank Robinson
1963 – Pete Rose
1966 – Tommy Helms
1968 – Johnny Bench
1976 – Pat Zachry
1988 – Chris Sabo
1999 – Scott Williamson
2021 – Jonathan India
Of the previous seven, five have been inducted into the Reds Hall of Fame (Robinson, Rose, Helms, Bench, Sabo). Two are Baseball Hall of Famers (Robinson, Bench), and another would have been inducted long ago if he were not, well, you know, Pete Rose.
Thanks for subscribing! Feel free to forward this newsletter to any of your Cincinnati sports-loving friends, or send them to our Substack site so they can subscribe for free.
If you have any comments, or just want to argue with me about anything I’ve written, feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com. The best comments will be featured in a future newsletter.