Reds second baseman is an NL All-Star and the H-T's pick for top area player to ever play in the majors
Could a 16th-round draft pick out of Sarasota High be the best Major League Baseball player ever to come out of this area?
Certainly, a case can be made for Ryan “Scooter” Gennett, a former Sailors infielder.
Gennett, in his second season as the Cincinnati Reds second baseman, leads the National League in hitting with a .326 average and was selected for the NL All-Star team Sunday. He will be in Washington, D.C., on July 17 to play in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game.
That's quite a climb for a guy who was not always on the MLB radar.
In fact, in 2009, the year he was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers, four other area players were selected before he was picked in the 16th round.
There have been plenty of players from the area who have signed pro baseball contracts and 41 have appeared in major league games.
But Gennett, nicknamed “Scooter," is our choice for the area's best MLB player .... and at 28 he's just reaching his prime.
“That’s great and all, but I don’t care too much of what people might think or what they might not agree with,” he said.
The 'Scooter' moment
Gennett's career really took off last year with a memorable, mind-blowing game.
After not hitting more than 11 home runs in any minor league season, Gennett belted 27 last year, including four on June 6 against the St. Louis Cardinals that Sports Illustrated called “one of the most impressive — and improbable — ever.”
Not only did the 5-foot-10, 185-pound Gennett hit four home runs, including a grand slam, he went 5-for-5 and knocked in 10 runs, tying a Reds record, in a 13-1 victory.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, no other major leaguer ever had five hits, four of which were home runs, and 10 RBI in a game.
And by hitting four home runs in a game, he became just the 17th player in major league history to accomplish the feat.
"For me to do something like that is crazy,” Gennett said recently in an interview. “It’s unbelievable. And there were a lot of people who were there that night who will never forget it and just remember it was one of those nights it’s like, ‘Wow, how is this possible.’ It couldn’t be any more perfect.”
At the time, the four homers gave him 71 for his career. Of the 17 players who hit four home runs in a game, his home run total at the time tied for fewest ever with Bobby Lowe, who accomplished his feat on May 30, 1894, for the Boston Beaneaters.
“For the most part my approach is pretty simple: If it looks like a strike, swing,” Gennett said.
A complete player
Still, Gennett's career encompasses more than that one night. He has a .289 career batting average and leads the league this season at .326.
In May, he was named NL Player of the Month and he is fourth in the NL with 107 hits. He has been named NL Player of the Week three times, including twice this season in May.
Currently, he is second in the NL in double plays and in putouts for a second baseman.
Which, of course, with the last-place Reds could put him on the trading block. His current salary of $5.7 million is second highest on the team.
“I hear it, I hear the talk,” said Gennett, who turned 28 on May 1, is eligible for arbitration this offseason and can become a free agent in 2020. “I’ve heard things my whole career: send him down, call him up, he can’t hit lefties, he can’t play defense or he can’t do this or that.
"You learn and mature as a player the more you hear those things ... I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me or didn’t affect me, but it’s not in a way where I can’t focus on the things I need to focus on and control things I can’t control.
“Being a professional, you have to do your job and know what it takes to do your job, whether that’s preparation, focus, effort, all those things. Those things I can control. I can’t control what the Cincinnati Reds do with me or what they don’t do with me.
“All I can do is try to be the best teammate and impact the game that helps the team win. The more you do those things, the more the team wants to keep you around and wants to pay you. Good things end up happening. That takes care of all the talk and chatter.”
The early years
Gennett began his high school career at Riverview High, where he hit .471 as a freshman on the Rams’ varsity.
The next season, he transferred to Sarasota High.
That was not his only move.
As shortstop, Gennett shifted to second base because the Sailors already had a top-notch shortstop in Casey Kelly. The duo helped Sarasota win the Class 6A state title in 2007, the most recent of the Sailors’ eight state championships.
The next season, with Kelly graduated, Gennett moved back to shortstop for his final two years with the Sailors.
Naturally, he had high hopes for the 2009 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
Prior to the draft, Sarasota High veteran baseball coach Clyde Metcalf said this about Gennett: “It’s unfortunate he’s not 6-3, but he’s not. He’s a pretty powerful package what he has. ... he’s one of the better offensive players we’ve ever had.”
Projected to be selected in the top three rounds, Gennett lasted to the 16th round, 496th overall, when he was picked by the Milwaukee Brewers.
He was the fifth area player picked in 2009 behind Port Charlotte’s David Holmberg, IMG Academy’s John Ryan Murphy, Lakewood Ranch’s Michael Ohlman and North Port High’s Danny Keefe out of the University of Tampa.
Gennett thought he had a college scholarship in his back pocket to Florida State University but he missed the start of ACT testing at Lemon Bay High by a minute. Without the test score, Gennett would have had to pay for his first year of school at FSU.
So instead, he opted to sign with the Brewers for $260,000 — more than the money slotted for that spot, but less than he had hoped — and begin his professional career.
“That was a mess,” Gennett said. “I just believe in my faith and my belief that everything happens for a reason. That was the part of my path in life and my path to becoming a professional baseball player.
"Whether it was it was a good one or fun experience, it doesn’t really matter. For some reason, it was supposed to happen. Looking back, it would be crazy for me to say I wouldn’t change it. It’s just one of those experiences you live and learn from, but also realize it formed who I am today. I wouldn’t take that back for anything.”
Rise to the majors
After a switch back to second base as a professional, Gennett quickly worked his way through the Milwaukee minor league system.
He made his major league debut June 3, 2013, at the age of 23 with the Brewers against Oakland, finishing the year with a .324 batting average in 69 games.
But after three solid seasons with the Brewers — he averaged .289, .264 and .263 from 2014-16 — he was placed on waivers just before the start of the 2017 season.
The Reds claimed him March 28 last year and he became an instant hit in his hometown of Cincinnati.
On Opening Day 2017, he hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 4-3 loss to the Phillies, but the first impression was a good one.
“I’m just blessed, man, baseball is crazy,” he said. “There are times when you feel like you are locked in and you have a terrible game. And there are times when you’re coming off the bench in a platoon or in a bench role and don’t feel like you’re locked in and all of a sudden you do something good. It’s an amazing game. Very unpredictable."
And now he will be playing in the 2018 MLB All-Star Game.
Still, if there is one highlight Gennett wants to experience before his playing days are over, it is participating in a World Series.
“That’s the main one,” he said. “All the individual stuff is nice and all. What really matters is making it to the playoffs and getting to the World Series.
After that, I might be able to look back and be like I’ve done everything I’ve always dreamed about doing.”