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Reds draft and sign top pick Gruler
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06/04/2002 2:46 pm ET 
Reds draft and sign top pick Gruler
By Chris Haft / MLB.com

Reds top pick Christopher Gruler has a breaking ball and changeup better than Tom Seaver (above), says Johnny Bench, a special consultant for the Reds. (AP Photo)
Reds round-by-round picks

CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds liked Chris Gruler. The feeling was mutual.

This, simply put, was the spirit that enabled the Reds to sign the right-hander almost immediately after he was selected Tuesday in the 2002 first-year player draft. Gruler, Cincinnati's first-round selection in the 2002 First-Year Player draft who was taken third overall, received a $2.5 million bonus, exceeding the $1.95 million outfielder Austin Kearns received in 1998 as the highest in club history.

Gruler sensed the Reds would give him a chance to be selected in a high-profile spot. Otherwise, he might have had to wait until the middle of the first round -- which was the case with Cypress Falls (Texas) left-hander Scott Kazmir, another high school pitcher the Reds considered drafting. The New York Mets took Kazmir with the 15th overall pick.

"What we agreed upon is better than what he would have gotten anywhere else," said Gruler's advisor, Ryan Ware, who works with the agency of Reich/Katz/Landis. "That's why we were willing to get something done quickly."

The speed with which the Reds signed Gruler was almost unprecedented -- especially for someone of his elite draft status.

"The Reds are on the upswing," said Reds scouting director Kasey McKeon, who also announced verbal agreements with third baseman-catcher Joey Votto, a second-round choice, and first baseman Walter Olmstead, a sixth-round pick. "People are saying that. So these kids are excited to join us."

Signability was an major issue for the Reds because last year's first-round pick, left-hander Jeremy Sowers, spurned Cincinnati and accepted a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Gruler, from Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif., had a full scholarship at Arizona State, but his desire to play professionally was evident.

"I do not think there'll be any problem with me signing and becoming a Red," Gruler said on a conference call with Cincinnati-area writers before the signing was announced. "My No. 1 goal is to become a Major League Baseball player. I need to get out there as soon as possible to make it to the majors as soon as possible and help the Cincinnati Reds win a World Series."

"I was not prepared to go through the summer. We have a limited budget," general manager Jim Bowden said. "When I talked to (Gruler) a few weeks ago in Northern California, (he) told me money was not an issue. He wanted to sign, go out and play, I said if we end up taking you, I'm going to take you at your word. Both (advisor) Tom Reich and the player accomplished what they wanted, and we accomplished what we wanted.

"This is a very special kid with a very special agent who wanted to get it done. We had all the elements of people trying to do the right thing."

Even with all that good karma, the Reds were strongly tempted to draft Kazmir. "We felt Gruler and Kazmir were the two best pitchers in the draft," Bowden said. "We were split as an organization on who to take."

The general feeling among the Reds' braintrust was that Kazmir, as a left-hander, would reach the Majors more quickly. Meanwhile, team officials thought Gruler had a higher potential, or "ceiling."

"A philosophy I've had in the draft is that we want the player with the highest ceiling, biggest reward. Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Chris Gruler," Bowden said. "This guy has a chance to be a No. 1 (starting pitcher). And it's so hard to get a No. 1 in this game."

Unbeknownst to Gruler, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was quoted as saying in a club news release that the 18-year-old "has a better breaking ball and better change-up than Tom Seaver." Bench, now one of Bowden's special consultants, witnessed Gruler's workout last Saturday at Cinergy Field.

Chris Gruler

School:
Liberty Union HS
Position: RHP   B/T: R/R
H: 6-3   W: 200
Born: 09/11/1983   Class: HS

Scouting report:
Good body. Large, raw-boned frame, similar to Jim Palmer. Fastball bores in on righties. Hard, tight-rotating curveball. Splitter with some sink, used as off-speed pitch. Mound presence. Great kid.

Scouting video:
56k | 300k

Told of Bench's comment, Gruler sounded awestruck.

"Oh, wow. That's an honor," Gruler said. "I worked so hard to get to a certain point. I never thought this would happen. To be compared to a young Tom Seaver, that's icing on the cake. Wow. Unbelievable."

Reds Manager Bob Boone, an All-Star catcher, caught Gruler briefly during his throwing session.

"He has really good mechanics, a clean, easy delivery and a really powerful arm," Boone said. "The big thing is, he's really accurate. A lot of times, high school guys can't locate it too well."

Gruler's statistics from his senior year support Boone's observation. He posted a 4-3 record with a 1.49 ERA in 11 games, including seven starts. He struck out 135 batters while walking 26 in 66 innings. The Reds scouted Gruler heavily throughout the high school season, sending as many as 14 scouts to one of his recent appearances.

Gruler became Cincinnati's highest draft selection since shortstop Kurt Stillwell was taken with the second overall pick in 1983. He's the third high school pitcher the Reds have selected first in the past four years -- along with left-handers Ty Howington (1999) and Sowers -- reflecting the organization's efforts to bolster its pitching. This also marks the fifth consecutive year in a row that Cincinnati has dipped into the high-school ranks for its No. 1 pick, starting with 1998 (Kearns) and including 2000 (infielder David Espinosa).

"High school pitchers are something I don't like to take in the first round," Bowden said. "The success rate says you shouldn't believe in it. But (Gruler) was a special kid, and based on what was there, it was the best choice for the Reds."

Gruler, who throws straight overhand, has been able to reach 96 mph with his fastball. His average range is 91-94 mph. He patterns himself after two other right-handed power pitchers: Arizona's Curt Schilling and the New York Yankees' Roger Clemens.

2002 First-Year Player Draft
JUNE 4-5 | NEW YORK CITY
Draft order | Rules | FAQ

FULL COVERAGE:
Bullington goes first
Drafttracker
Complete Draft coverage

"I feel their approach to the game is outstanding," Gruler said. "They definitely have control of what they do, their pitches are outstanding and they challenge hitters. That's my style."

Gruler enhanced his style by improving his strength. He "began to put himself on the big map," according to Ware, by excelling in the Perfect Game Showcase in Florida last year. "He was obviously a highly sought guy but he wasn't in the top echelon of high school pitchers."

Then Gruler began working on his speed and conditioning with world-class sprinter Aaron Thigpen and toned his arm with Alan Jaeger, a southern Californian who specializes in that realm. "I got on a big-time program with both of those guys to help me become what I wanted to be," said Gruler, who stands 6 feet, 3 inches and built himself up to 190 pounds.

This effort paid off for Gruler.

"That's what helped him and elevated his status," McKeon said.

Gruler is expected to begin his professional career at Rookie League Billings in the Pioneer League.

REDS 2002 DRAFT PICKS
3 CHRISTOPHER R GRULER RHP LIBERTY UNION HS
40 MARK E SCHRAMEK RHP U TEXAS
44 JOSEPH D VOTTO C RICHVIEW COLLEGIATE INSTI
75 KYLE O EDENS RHP BAYLOR U
105 CAMILO T VAZQUEZ LHP HIALEAH SENIOR HS
135 KEVIN C HOWARD 3B U MIAMI
165 WALTER H OLMSTEAD 1B TEXAS CHRISTIAN U
195 COREY G WACHMAN RHP VALDOSTA ST U
225 OCFUSKE J KING RHP NORTHWESTERN ST U
255 STEVEN W BOOTH C U SAN FRANCISCO
285 FRANKIE L KELLER LHP ABILENE CHRISTIAN U
315 MICHAEL H BASSETT OF GEORGE WASHINGTON U
345 DONALD S GEMMELL RHP SAN JOSE ST U
375 JOSE E CRUZ SS RICE U
405 PATRICK J CURRAN LHP FORT HAYS ST U
435 CHRISTOPHER G KAMIS RHP ELGIN CC
465 JONATHAN R GEORGE RHP CAMDEN CATHOLIC HS
495 BEN E LAVENDER C PELHAM HS
525 ZACHARIAH E MCCORMACK LHP SACRAMENTO CC
555 CHRISTOPHER A DENORFIA CF WHEATON COL
585 DOUGLAS T COON LHP SILVERADO HS
615 MICHAEL D CAUSEY RHP MOORPARK COL
645 MATTHEW C LUCA RHP BALL HS
675 NICHOLAS W MARKAKIS LHP YOUNG HARRIS COL
705 JARROD S SCHMIDT C RHP CLEMSON U
735 ROBERT MOSBY 1B NORTHEASTERN OK A&M
765 CHRISTOPHER A DUNN SS CHAPARRAL HS
795 JUAN L VELAZQUEZ RHP MONTGOMERY HS
825 JAY C TUST 2B STADIUM HS
855 RICHARD B CORRELL SS LIMESTONE COL
885 JUSTIN W KNOFF RHP SIENA COL
915 MAYQUE QUINTERO RHP NO SCHOOL
945 GERALD B SMITH RF THOMAS JEFFERSON HS
975 BARTON L BRAUN LHP DIABLO VALLEY
1005 CODY R MCALLISTER RHP SNOHOMISH HS
1035 STANTREL SMITH CF TOWERS HS
1065 MATT KRIMMEL 3B GEORGE WASHINGTON U
1095 SHAWN A AICHELE RHP WESTERN HILLS HS
1125 HARDY L HUTTO RHP GARDEN CITY CC
1155 CALVIN D MEDLOCK RHP WESTBURY HS
1185 CHRISTOPHER BELL RHP MIAMI DADE NORTH JC
1215 MARCUS B TOWNSEND RF U TEXAS
1245 DANIEL T KELLY SS DURANGO HS
1275 DEREK HAWK RHP MENDOCINO CC
1303 JASON D BACA RHP SWEENY HS
1331 DENNIS P LEDUC RHP CUESTA COL
1358 TROY M CAIRNS SS U NEW MEXICO
1384 MICHAEL A BRYANT RHP SAM RAYBURN HS
1410 TRAVIS K WONG 1B TEXAS A&M
1436 WILLIAM A DENNIS CF INCARNATE WARD U
1460 BENJAMIN B HIMES RF TEXAS A&M

Chris Haft covers the Reds for MLB.com and can be reached at haftkeem@aol.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.



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