The long slog towards the finish line continues for the Reds, with the games that come and go becoming something like the slash marks a shipwrecked survivor might make to count the days which have passed. All that’s left is a somewhat ignominious race among the lesser teams in baseball. The prize, of course, is selection number one in the first round of next year’s Rule 4 draft.

reverse standingsAs it currently stands, the Reds are comfortably lined up to snag a pick in the top ten. It’s reasonable to be confident they’ll land in the top five—Cincinnati has the toughest remaining schedule of the bunch, featuring three games each against the Cubs and Pirates, four against the Mets, two more against the Cardinals, and one versus the Nationals thrown in for good measure. That doesn’t mean it’s likely they’ll tumble all the way to picking at 1-1, but a pick between 1-3 and 1-6 seems relatively certain.

Pick number three overall sure ain’t a bad spot to be in. Recent history is full of distinguished #3 picks, among them Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, and Evan Longoria. Of course, there’s always risk. The only time the Reds had pick 1-3, they took Chris Gruler in 2002. On the other hand, the only time the Reds held the fourth overall pick, they drafted a Wolverine and future Hall-of-Famer named Barry Larkin in 1985.

In no other pro sports draft is drafting the best player available more important than with Major League Baseball’s. The uncertainty is so strong, the risk is so prevalent, and the development period is potentially so long that drafting based on immediate needs is rarely wise. That being said, when there are notable holes in one’s organizational depth chart, the Rule 4 draft is an awfully easy way to try to fix them.

2016’s draft is so far away that there’s not a whole lot of benefit in trying to predict who Cincinnati will select next June. But we do know a few things:

  • The Reds’ farm system needs hitters
  • The Reds really like to draft low-mileage arms/two-way pitchers
  • The Reds will be picking high in the first round
  • This coming draft class is less tantalizing but deeper than last year’s

That last point has plenty of time to be proven wrong, as a solid college or prep season could give a player a lot of helium in the summertime or the talent likely to populate rounds two through five could take a collective dip in value. For the time being, though, it looks a lot like the opposite of last year’s draft class—not much elite talent, but more hitting prospects and later-round value overall. And, on the other hand, injuries or signability concerns could cause the Reds and other to pass on someone currently considered a top talent. What remains of this article should serve as a primer for a handful of promising bats to know for the months ahead (that’s not to say the Reds won’t pick a pitcher at 1-4, but for the purposes of contributing to Walt Jocketty’s “up and running” by 2017 mentality, we’ll save analyzing them for some time next year, closer to the draft). Consider them a first crop of players to keep an eye on; they’re certain to be of some interest to the Reds should they maintain their current trajectories.

College Bats

(Draft-year age in parentheses)

Nick Banks, OF, Texas A&M (20)

2015 stats: 63 G, 280 PA, .364/.450/.536, 8 HR, 9 SB, 12.1% BB/PA, 20.7% K/PA

Perhaps the name to know among the positional prospects, Banks built well upon his freshman season with the Aggies to post the line you see above in his sophomore season. At the plate he has a nice, short swing from the left side that produces solid line drive power in games. His batting practice power seems to hint at more loft (and thus more homers) to be tapped into. He has plus speed (which has led him to pay a lot of center field collegiately) and a fantastic arm, which may lead him to plying his trade in right field over the long run.

The one thing with Banks is what you see is what you get—there’s not much physical development left for him at 6’0”, 200 pounds. Thus, scouts don’t see his game power increasing significantly in the pros. Hunter Pence is one comparable for what kind of hitter Banks will become and names like Brett Gardner and Lorenzo Cain are often tossed around when describing him, as well.

Ryan Boldt, OF, Nebraska (20)

2015 stats: 55 G, 255 PA, .344/.429/.408, 1 HR, 9 SB, 10.6% BB/PA, 10.6% K/PA

Boldt is big for a center fielder (listed around 6’2” 212 lbs.) but flashes above-average speed often enough. Power is lacking in his toolkit (although his raw power rates around average), but he has a great deal of the other four. He handles the bat very well and exhibits advanced discipline at the plate. He’ll need a bit more pop to stick in the majors as anything more than a fourth outfielder, but the frame is there for him to find a little bit more within his mechanics.

Jake Fraley, OF, LSU (21)

2015 stats: 58 G, 255 PA, .307/.372/.427, 2 HR, 23 SB, 8.2% BB/PA, 9.4% K/PA

Despite the fact that his 6’0”, 183-pound frame speaks to his speed-oriented game, Fraley has above-average raw power that could be tapped into with coaching. The lefty outfielder showed a real knack at the plate in 2015, particularly posting such a low strikeout rate in the stacked SEC (which featured four other teams ranked #11 or higher at the end of the season in addition to LSU). And of course, he has fantastic speed both in the field and on the basepaths.

Fraley certainly projects as a center fielder in the pros. His tools should remind more than a couple folks of former Redleg Drew Stubbs.

Willie Abreu, OF, U. of Miami (21)

2015 stats: 66 G, 270 PA, .288/.381/.419, 6 HR, 4 SB, 10% BB/PA, 15.2% K/PA

Abreu, a former teammate of Cubs prospect Albert Almora, was actually drafted by the Reds in the 14th round of the 2013 draft. Obviously, he did not sign, and has built his stock up with two solid years at The U.

Much like Fraley and Boldt, Abreu has a good feel for hitting, a solid arm, and more power than he’s shown in games to this point. He’s been a notable hitting prospect since high school and scouts are generally high on his smooth lefty swing and repeatable swing mechanics. His numbers, though, may not be impressive enough to merit consideration for taking him within the first ten picks.

Bobby Dalbec, 3B, Arizona (21)

2015 stats: 55 G, 253 PA, .319/.410/.601, 15 HR, 0 SB, 12.6% BB/PA, 23.7% K/PA

When Kris Bryant comes up as a comparable for a prospect, that’s certain to generate some serious interest. Dalbec fits the bill physically (6’4”, 215 lbs.) and with regards to his power (largely rated around 65-70 on the 20-80 scale). He has the arm to stick at third base, but perhaps not the glove.

Regardless, that bat is going to let him play somewhere on the diamond (the smart money is on first base), but that may dissuade Jocketty and the Reds if they don’t think he can stick at third or left field. The metrics back up the gut feeling about Dalbec—that strikeout rate and slash line screams Chris Davis or someone like him.

Buddy Reed, OF, Florida (21)

2015 stats: 69 G, 312 PA, .305/.367/.433, 4 HR, 18 SB, 8.7% BB/PA, 17.9% K/PA

Last season was a vast improvement for Reed, who raised his OPS almost .200 points from 2014 in ten more games. His toolkit, much like Fraley’s, says he’ll be a center fielder if he becomes an everyday MLB starter—the speed, arm, and glove are all above-average or better, with his arm strength as the show-stopper of the bunch. The bat will need some work to be productive in the pros, but the improvements from 2014 to 2015 are encouraging.

Corey Ray, OF, Louisville (20)

2015 stats: 65 G, 297 PA, .325/.389/.543, 11 HR, 34 SB, 8.1% BB/PA, 20.2% K/PA

Though somewhat undersized at 5’11”, 185, Ray is a pure athlete with a mouthwatering power-and-speed combination. He parlay a solid freshman year into locking down a starting gig last year, playing in 22 more games and boosting his slugging percentage by .062 points (although he did shed .027 points off his on-base percentage).

His raw power, which has started to translate to in-game production (he hit 11 times as many homers in just over three times as many at-bats), is going to give his draft stock the biggest boost up the rankings. Ray may end up being one of the highest-risk/highest-reward draftees in the first round, as he has a real shot at developing five above-average tools in the pros.

High School Bats

Blake Rutherford, OF, Chaminade Prep HS (CA)

Seth Beer, OF, Lambert HS (GA)

Drew Mendoza, SS, Lake Minneola HS (FL)

The prep hitters have a little less information out there on their abilities and tools, so this will serve as a quick rundown on the top three.

Rutherford is the only name to rival Nick Banks at the top of the pile and may be the ultimate prize if he can continue to build his legacy (which stems from a tantalizing Bryce Harper comparable). At 6’3”, 190 he has a great frame to grow into a little more. Many scouts think he already has better tools than Banks, placing him just a hair better in the hit, power, and speed departments. ‘Effortless’ is a term tossed about a bunch with Rutherford and another impressive year may make him the first position player to go in the first round.

Beer is a rapidly-rising Georgia prospect committed to Clemson. A former swimmer who set a national record for 11-12 year olds, scouts have had their eyes on him for a while. Another lefty on the lean side but with potentially above-average power, Beer probably won’t be compelling enough to take in the top five, but could be a good option should the Reds fall closer to pick 1-10.

Mendoza is a lanky 6’4” who has just started to fill out his frame. He’s got some natural feel for hitting to pair with his solid glove. Nobody will expect a ton of power from him, especially if he sticks at short in the pros, but it is starting to pop up in gameplay (most notably two homers off of pitching prospect Brady Singer earlier this year) and will only increase his current and future value.

22 Responses

  1. Shchi Cossack

    This is a good draft got the Reds. With the ~#5 pick in the 1st round the Reds should be able to draft a good bat (hopefully with a solid plate approach rather than just a toolsy hitter) and with a deep, but not necessarily elite draft, the Reds’picks at the end of the 1st round and beginning of the 2nd round should produce quality to at least rival recent draft picks.

    • ohiojimw

      Depending on the FA compensation picks awarded, I think the Reds end up with 3 in the top 40~45, likely 2 them of in the top 35.

      I’ll believe it when its over that they don’t end up drafting a high school guy who is a hard thrower with at least one of the picks. They are just addicted to such types.

      • ohiojimw

        Just to be clear, that #1 lottery pick win for the Reds was from among the competitive balance pool teams. It will be a sandwich pick at the end of the 1st round after the free agent compensation picks. It is one of the two I was counting as being in the top 35. The third pick will be the Reds regular 2nd round pick. It could slip to 45-50 overall I’d judge depending how far from the worst record in MLB the Reds end up.

  2. RFM

    Some of the names are almost irresistible – A SS named Mendoza? A guy to cheer for named Beer? A guy named Buddy?

    Many of the early predictions suggest several collegiate pitchers as likely #1 overall picks… and those teams ahead are smart enough to go with the best overall player rather than draft for need… so even if the Reds draft 3rd, 4th, or 5th there’s a real chance of the Reds selecting the first hitter of the draft. Of course we probably won’t know if that happens until the day of the draft.

    • RFM

      Most of the current candidates for top 10 picks are pitchers or OFs though, after a bunch of shortstops last year.

  3. Shchi Cossack

    I would hate to grab a pitcher with the 1st round pick, but if a pitcher is the best available, by a significant margin, well in the rule 4 draft, you have to go with the best available. Even now though, some of the hitters on the list presented look very good and worthy of a high 1st round pick. Once we get to the 1st round comp pick and the 2nd round pick, I just hope a solid hitter with a professional hitting approach is available without reaching and it would be nice if we could grab a SS and another hitter with those picks in addition to the best hitter in the draft from the 1st round pick.

  4. Jonathan

    What were the Reds thinking in 2002? I remember that pick and the one in 2003 or 2001 when they took that SS who’s last named staeyed with a E. I think of his name. Im so glad the Reds drafts have come a long way in the last decade. Some of those drafts were so so bad…

    • Nick Doran

      I believe the Gruler pick was made knowing full well that he would not sign with the Reds. The Reds made the pick to save money because they did not want to pay the big signing bonus for an expensive first round pick. It was the Lindner years when he and John Allen refused to spend money on the team.

      • doctor

        I believe you have your picks mixed up. Gruler did sign with the Reds, then ran into injury issues. I believe you are thinking about the 2001 draft pick on Jeremy Sowers, who had to be blown away $$$ to skip on his Vanderbilt scholarship, which did not happen.

      • peter ponds

        Correct. Those dreaded years when the Reds despised scouts or couldn’t draft a pitcher for their lives. When Erick Milton was our hope for success, when trades brought back guys like Claussen or Majewsky, or their biggest offseason FA was Jimmy Haynes. Talk about a flawed front office and/or Ownership.

      • Jonathan

        Potentially 2 HOF SP were picked after the Reds at #2. What were we thinking.

        The other draft was in 2000 I was referencing….another very bad pick. The drafts of 2000-2003 set the club back several years.

    • gaffer

      Espinsosa was the Boras client that demanded a major league contract. He stucnk and we traded him for BRian Mohler (never made the majors).

      The 2002 draft was a tough call as Scott Kazmir was the top picther but wanted a crazy contract so he fell to 15th. Gruler was a great prospect (Roger Clemmons clone) but had been WAY over used by his high school team to win the state championship. He was hurt before he even signed. Grienke was a skinny high school kid but ended up pretty good.

  5. redslam

    I wonder about the timing of the draft and any trades we execute over the winter – would they potentially have an effect on the strategy in the draft? Obviously the big name and perhaps most likely trade that brings us back max value is Chapman, so we could always get a bat there – and we can always package an arm or two from our now burgeoning pool of young arms to get a bat as well. Even though we are lacking bats in system, we have now a much better situation going into the winter and draft to ensure we address that problem.

    • RFM

      No. The Reds have made it clear that their priority is drafting the best available player. Who the best available player is to them will not be changed by offseason trades. Based on the names thrown around so far you can pretty well guess that the best available player will be a pitcher or outfielder, though. In my opinion, as fans, the best thing we can hope for is the teams ahead of the Reds to take the highly valued pitchers, leaving the Reds with the first choice of outfielders.

      If and when Chapman is traded one should expect it to be a move to stockpile the best young talent they can get, rather than addressing some specific, immediate need.

      Top prospect for top prospect trades are highly uncommon, so it’s unlikely to see the Reds deal valuable arms from their starting pitching/young arm depth this winter.

  6. Steve Schoenbaechler

    Low K rate, high OBP rate, please.