Climb up here on my stoop, dear Redleg Nation reader, and listen to my crotchety old-man impression as I regale you with stories from my high school baseball days.
The two best high school baseball players I ever did see were both drafted into the MLB. (Crotchety old men speak in rhyme, right?) One, a pitcher; the other, a catcher; but both pearls on the diamond, causing hushed whispers in the stands.
Once, Will Haynie, the hulking 6’5″ catcher for our crosstown rival Brentwood Academy, hit a ball so hard and so far that it cleared the 30-foot wall we had in left and landed exactly at the midway point of the soccer field on the other side. Realistically, it was a 425-foot bomb, an attainable feat, but it felt like that blast had broken the space-time continuum.
In another game, Foster Griffin, left-handed ace for Florida’s First Academy, ceded a gapper to our diminutive leadoff hitter. Our bench erupted, the slight left fielder having proven that the fabled Griffin was human after all. After the next six no-hit innings and ultimate complete game shutout were over with though, all we had learned was that anyone can get lucky once.
With the MLB draft right around the corner, I find myself thinking about these hometown legends and just how disappointing they’ve turned out to be. Haynie went to Alabama in spite of first five round draft hype and struggled for three years before being drafted in the 16th round of the 2016 draft. Griffin came right out of high school, drafted 28th overall just three months after he shut us out.
Nowadays, Haynie is out of baseball after hitting .172 in low A while Griffin has posted a 5.17 ERA through ten starts at AA. The hard-throwing lefty could eventually put it together and make a fine professional baseball player, but that’s anyone’s guess.
My point here is: You never really know what you’re going to get with high school baseball players. Even the very best, the ones that the scouts agree have every tool to make it in the MLB, have only ever competed against other high schoolers. With a modicum of talent and a live arm, it’s not too hard to stand out compared to 5’7″ shortstop whose future baseball career amounts to wearing a Mike Trout jersey at fraternity party a couple years down the line.
While I know I shouldn’t be worried because this draft is loaded with impact college guys, I’ve started seeing one too many mocks with high schoolers creeping near the top five. Please, PLEASE, puh-lease Dick Williams, Chris Buckley and co. - do not draft a high schooler with the No. 5 pick next Monday.
Before I get into the actual nuts and bolts of my reasoning here, I’ll give two caveats because every strongly stated argument deserves a couple conditions:
- I have no problem with a high schooler being drafted outside the top 10 picks.
- I have no problem drafting a high schooler if he has shown a tangible, MLB-ready skill.
Allow me to explain my caveats. The first speaks to my opening stories of Haynie and Griffin. The Colorado Rockies don’t care that Haynie has already flamed out because he was a 16th rounder. And though the Kansas City Royals probably aren’t stoked a former first rounder has struggled, Griffin was also taken at the end of the round so he wasn’t too much of a monetary investment.
Both were high potential, high risk picks, which are completely understandable away from the top of the board. But in that top 10? You should be seeing a return. Think of the Royals with Bubba Starling here. While the outfielder languishes in AAA for the third straight season, Anthony Rendon, the Rice third baseman taken with the next pick, has already accumulated 17.3 WAR for the Nationals in a six-year career.
I also make exception here for high schoolers taken in the top 10 who have demonstrated a Major League skill. Hunter Greene gets a pass for his 102-mph fastball. So does Bryce Harper who hit a 570-foot homer at age 16. Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and Francisco Lindor all showed something in high school that went beyond simply less-talented competition. But I maintain my stance this year because NO HIGH SCHOOLER HAS DEMONSTRATED A TANGIBLE MAJOR LEAGUE SKILL.
While I don’t think any GM should take a high schooler in the top 10 acknowledging the caveats, I ESPECIALLY believe the Reds shouldn’t at this point in the rebuild. Let’s look at the times the Reds have drafted in the top 10 since 2000:
- (2018) Hunter Greene, high school but caveat 2, going to be good
- (2017) Nick Senzel, college, going to be good
- (2009) Mike Leake, college, 8.2 WAR for Reds, 14.1 WAR total
- (2008) Yonder Alonso, college, 0.2 WAR for Reds, 8.1 WAR total
- (2006) Drew Stubbs, college, 6.1 WAR for Reds, 8.3 WAR total
- (2004) Homer Bailey, high school, 4.7 WAR for Reds/total
- (2002) Christopher Gruler, high school, 0.0 WAR for Reds/total
That’s three college guys accounting for 30.5 career WAR and two high school guys accounting for 4.7 WAR. Also, all the college guys were taken in later years than any of the high school guys.*
While high school guys tend to have an appealing upside and, again, gaudy numbers fluffed by wholly inadequate competition, college guys from the SEC, ACC, PAC 12, or BIG 12 have effectively been playing at A ball for three years. College players may not have the absurd ceiling that scouts put on their high school counterparts, but their numbers can also be believed.
I’ll pick on Chris Gruler for a second even though he assuredly doesn’t deserve it. Before he was drafted, Gruler drew comps to Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer. At 18 years old, he had a 95 mph fastball and plus secondary pitches. But like many 18 year olds pushing triple digits, his arm fell apart and he never made it past A ball.
The Reds as an organization aren’t in a position to have another top 5 pick flame out. Eating the disappointments of Robert Stephenson or Nick Howard or Nick Travieso hurts, but it’s okay because Gerrit Cole and Aaron Nola and Carlos Correa were already off the board. (Corey Seager was still around when the Reds took Travieso but what can you do.)
What this whole post boils down to is this statement: I fully believe the Reds can compete in 2019. I fully believe that by 2020, the Reds can be fighting for a pennant. Maybe that’s naive of me, but I don’t think we’re that far away.
With that belief comes a caveat (I know, I know). The Reds need one more sure bet to go with Senzel and Greene and boy, do they have the chance to get that next week. Be it Nick Madrigal or Alex Bohm or Brady Singer or Jonathan India, the Reds need one more young guy who can take a year and half of seasoning before making an impact.
What they don’t need right now is a high ceiling high schooler who will take five years to develop and miss Joey Votto’s window all together. So please, PLEASE, masterminds behind the Reds grand plan - don’t take a high schooler at No. 5, no matter how good Matthew Liberatore or Carter Stewart might eventually be.
*Correction: Originally this post said Drew Stubbs was drafted out of high school. He was not. In fact, he attended the University of Texas for three years. Who knew?