06/02/05 9:43 AM ET
Reds looking for solid pitching
Pitching is top priority in First-Year Player Draft
By Anthony Castrovince / MLB.com
Anyone who has watched the Reds' 2005 season to this point certainly knows that to be the case.
So when O'Brien and his staff survey the scene of the upcoming First-Year Player Draft -- which takes place June 7 and 8 -- pitching is, as always, a priority. Arms get tired, arms get hurt and a good arm is hard to find, so the more arms a team has at its disposal the better.
But what O'Brien, like other general managers and scouting directors around the league, is seeing this year is a draft class in which the pool of position players is uncharacteristically deeper than that of pitchers.
"Overall, I'd say it's a deeper draft than in the past several years," O'Brien said. "In particular, there's depth of position-player talent. I know our staff is excited and looking forward to the draft beginning. They feel there will be some quality players available."
But which quality players are O'Brien and the Reds particularly interested in for their 12th overall pick and beyond? Not surprisingly, that's info the second-year GM is keeping close to the vest. Still, O'Brien would allow that landing a premium position player -- a center fielder, shortstop, second baseman or catcher -- is a priority.
"It would depend on what position the player specializes in," O'Brien said. "That would certainly have bearing."
Then came O'Brien's disclaimer that a GM simply can't ever ignore good pitching.
"In a perfect world, if it wasn't a premium position player, we might lean toward pitching," he said. "We could use a little of that."
Indeed, the Reds could. Though O'Brien has made the overhaul of the Reds' scouting and player development system a priority since taking over his post, the organization's Minor League talent crop is still rather thin.
"I think we've made some strides," O'Brien said. "By the same token, it's going to take several years for the fruits of our labor to show themselves at the Major League level. Overall, there's been progress. We just have to continue the momentum forward."
And the momentum begins with a strong showing in the draft.
With the 12th pick, the Reds should have a shot at a decent arm.
Still, one generalization scouts are making about this year's group is that a small number of the desired big-bodied, strong-armed pitchers are available. That's led teams like the Reds to take a closer look at the premium position players.
"Anytime you have opportunity to add depth at the premium positions, you take advantage of it," O'Brien said. "There certainly appears to be more depth there than there has been in several years. Obviously you can't predict what your competitors are going to do, but the numbers should enable us to come up with our share of position players in the draft."
So don't be surprised if the Reds go with a position player in the first round for the first time since they nabbed shortstop David Espinosa in 2000.
"I think we're pretty confident we've got a chance at a good player," O'Brien said. "We're trying not to focus too much on our No. 1 pick. Our real interest is looking at the overall draft and feeling we've got a chance to bring in another quality draft class."
Though early-round picks get the attention and the headlines, O'Brien said depth is everything for an organization trying to rebuild its Minor League system.
"It's all about numbers -- quantity and quality of players," he said. "And we think this draft is going to provide possibilities in that regard."
REDS DRAFT HISTORY
The Reds have taken pitchers with their first pick in each of the last four drafts, with mixed results. Left-hander Jeremy Sowers was drafted out of high school in 2001 but opted not to sign with the team.
LAST THREE TOP PICKS
Homer Bailey, RHP, 2004, Pick #7: In his first full season of Minor League ball, Bailey has been putting up solid numbers for Single-A Dayton. Through eight games, including five starts, Bailey had compiled a 1-1 record with a 1.91 ERA. He struck out 40 batters while walking 14. Though his numbers are stellar, the Reds are going to be patient with the development of the 19-year-old.
Ryan Wagner, RHP, 2003, Pick #14: When Wagner struggled with the Reds in '04, he appeared to be a classic case of a pitcher brought along too quickly through a team's system. But Wagner dropped 25 pounds in the offseason, refocused and has come on strong this season. Seen as the team's closer of the future, Wagner had compiled a 2-1 record with a 3.81 ERA through 25 appearances.
Chris Gruler, RHP, 2002, Pick #3: Gruler has yet to pan out as well as the Reds hoped. He's spent more time rehabbing than on the mound over the past three years. Gruler made just eight appearances in rookie ball last year between the Gulf Coast League Reds and Billings after shoulder surgery in April 2004. This year, he has yet to take the mound, as he's been rehabbing after having a capsule release procedure performed on his throwing shoulder. He might not pitch again until Instructional League play next fall.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.