“I always felt in my heart that this is what I want to do and this is my passion, and I was going to try to sell out to it.”
Blake Trahan has always embraced the underdog role. As a kid playing select ball, as a college star in the unheralded Sun Belt Conference, and a projected first-round 2015 draft pick who fell to the third round, it has been the story of his young baseball career. Trahan has been overlooked and unsung since the outset of his life in the sport.
But the underdog role does not discourage Trahan — it fuels him. The Cincinnati Reds shortstop prospect used that inspiration to fight his way through the minor leagues all the way up to the Reds’ September roster last season, and the 25-year-old is not done working for his major-league fantasy.
Trahan knocked three hits in 14 at-bats with the Reds, including a hit in his first career game, appearing in 11 major-league contests before the season ended. He played primarily shortstop as a late-game defensive replacement and excelled in a star-studded infield with Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, and Scooter Gennett.
“It’s just real cool. It’s a childhood dream and I always felt it was possible, but sometimes it just seems so far away. All you can do is just lose yourself inside that moment,” Trahan said in an interview conducted last week. “When I went out there and took the field for the first time in the majors, it took a little while for me to settle myself down, but eventually it just becomes a game and it becomes fun again.”
There is an adjustment process when you jump from the lower levels of pro baseball up to the higher ranks, and there will be more of the same for Trahan when he gets the call from the Cincinnati brass again. That process has not yet hindered the native of Kinder, Louisana, who has played the same game and stuck to his identity all throughout his development path.
“Being a smart baserunner and being a great defensive shortstop is what I’ve always kind of centered my game around. I aspire to be a great hitter one day, a guy that hits for average and for power,” Trahan said. “I just want to be the best player I can be, and that’s all I can do.”
In his first year at the Triple-A ranks, Trahan played 129 games for the International League’s Louisville Bats, hitting .245 with 109 hits, 20 extra-base knocks, six stolen bases, and a team-high 49 walks. His defensive prowess was also on full display, as he won the Rawlings Minor League Baseball (MiLB) Gold Glove Award at shortstop with a .984 fielding percentage and a hand in 66 double plays in 2018.
“Eventually you figure things out when you raise your game to that level,” he says. “Then you begin to play well, and then you begin to dominate. It’s a process each year, and as a player, you just have to keep working and know that you belong there.”
Trahan’s path as a premier defensive player started at the high school level, where he led the Kinder High School Yellow Jackets to their 12th straight district title while starting every game at shortstop in 2011. He hit .562 with 11 home runs and 25 stolen bases as a junior, winning the Louisiana District 5-2A Most Valuable Player Award. His game transitioned smoothly to the NCAA, where he was a three-time All-American and 2015 Sun Belt Conference player of the year with Louisiana-Lafayette.
In a small conference with a small school, Trahan believes that his success on that stage helped him become who is he today. “I think the way that helped me is in becoming a great teammate. As a team, we all adopted that underdog mentality, and that has helped me through my whole career; being the underdog and then becoming successful with that motivation.”
But playing away from the spotlight was a contributing factor in Trahan falling from the first round to the third round in the 2015 MLB Draft. Many outlets projected the 2014 Sun Belt Conference Tournament MVP to be taken late in the first round, but Trahan slid to 84th overall, at which the Reds selected the shortstop.
“That inspired me when I first came into pro ball,” Trahan said. “But at the end of the day, I felt like that had always been my lane: being the underdog and having to prove myself.”
Trahan progressively worked his way up the system until 2018, when he made his MLB debut. “I went into the [Louisville] locker room that day, the last day of August, and saw that I wasn’t in the lineup. The manager, Dick Schofield, he didn’t say anything before the game, but I had played 55 games straight at shortstop and it was kind of weird getting one of those last days off given that we only had a couple of games left.
“So everybody kind of knew, and after the game, he called me into the office and gave me the news, and that’s always a pinpoint in someone’s career, they can always look back at that moment and remember how they felt,” he said. “I didn’t get much sleep that night, it was so exciting. I flew into St. Louis the next day and walked into a big-league locker room for the first time.”
But Trahan is not going to become complacent after having made his MLB debut. In working to make the team out of spring training, Trahan is focusing on what he does best in an attempt to sell himself to the Reds. “I’m an all-around player who can get a big hit and make the big play, one that handles pressure well, somebody that is clutch, and I think I’m a natural-born leader. I enjoy the aspect of getting a group of guys to come together in the locker room.
“I have to have a big-league mindset,” Trahan maintains, “I’m not super huge on goals, I just want to go out there, get lost in the moment, and enjoy the process. I’ve been working hard and trying to get better, but baseball is about having fun and trying to compete, and just enjoying the moment.”
Trahan’s best chance to make the Reds’ initial 25-man roster is as a utility player. Given that we’ve seen utilitymen like Marwin Gonzalez, Chris Taylor, Ben Zobrist, and Brock Holt become key players for their respective teams, it isn’t a detriment to a player’s career to be asked to fill that role like it was 20 years ago. Trahan feels the same way and is working on becoming a possible bench utility option for Cincy to start 2019, after playing shortstop, second base, and third base at times for the Reds last year.
“Naturally, and in my heart, I’m a shortstop, but letting go of that ego and being able to learn different positions is something that I had to do. And that may be my path back to the big leagues,” Trahan said. “That’s part of the process I’ve been working through this offseason, getting comfortable at different positions, and that’s a step that I need to take to establish myself as a big-leaguer.”
It’s hard to not give Trahan the advantage in this situation. For the entirety of his career, he has been the underdog, the unwanted, and the unheralded. With the Reds set in the infield for the most part (Suarez, Gennett, Votto, and Jose Peraza are big-league staples), Trahan is the underdog again, but with inspiration and the drive to constantly improve himself, he has a certain path to the big leagues that only a player with his mental makeup can follow.
Trahan is also using that inspiration and drive to pay it forward. With girlfriend and fellow Gold Glove recipient A.J. Andrews, who was the first woman to ever be presented with the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, Trahan helps run the Work With Passion baseball and softball camps for kids and teens who need the extra boost to pursue their baseball dreams.
“I had played select ball and gone to training facilities and whatnot and thought, if the time ever comes, I could run something like this and make it better, or do things a little different,” said Trahan. “I thought, how could I give the kids something that’s real and something that’s different? For me, it was a way to help the kids and inspire the kids who otherwise do this all by themselves. When I look back on my career, it was the people who inspired me in different ways that made me get up and work every single morning.”
This Instagram video shows some clips from the Work With Passion camps.
Blake Trahan looked up to Derek Jeter and Manny Ramirez as a kid, and now he wants the youngsters playing in his camp to look up to him. As somebody who has brilliantly embraced the role of the underdog and has used that inspiration to push himself all the way to the major leagues, it’s hard to find someone with as much competitiveness, maturity, and grit to model yourself upon.