6/7/2014 9:45 P.M. ET
Reds stay the course with their Draft picks
By Manny Randhawa / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The Reds loaded up on pitchers and infielders in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft, selecting right-hander Nick Howard out of the University of Virginia with their first-round selection (No. 19 overall) and shortstop Alex Blandino out of Stanford at No. 29, and they didn't deviate much from that blueprint thereafter.
Cincinnati stayed true to form based on its early-round Draft selections in recent years, looking for a power arm, which it's getting in the 21-year-old Howard. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound hurler has been a closer and utility infielder for Virginia, which faces Maryland in the NCAA Super Regional. He has posted a 2.15 ERA, along with a school-record 19 saves in 27 appearances (29 1/3 innings).
Howard, whom the Reds will develop into a starter, is ranked No. 31 on MLB.com's Draft prospect list, and per scouting reports, he has a 95-97-mph fastball that can reach 98. When he was used as a starter in the Cape Cod League last summer, Howard threw 90-93 mph. His repertoire features a slider and a changeup that would need more development.
Howard was just the first of several strong arms that Cincinnati selected in this year's Draft.
"It was a pitching-strong Draft," Reds scouting director Chris Buckley said following the conclusion of the Draft on Saturday. "It was a pitching-strong Draft with a lot of guys that threw hard, so I think we got a lot of velocity."
Cincinnati used its late first-round compensation pick, which it received as a result of free agent Shin-Soo Choo signing with the Rangers in the offseason, to select the 6-foot, 190-pound Blandino. The 21-year-old shortstop hit .312 with 12 home runs and 42 RBIs in 58 games this season for Stanford, which is playing in the NCAA Super Regional against Vanderbilt. He is ranked 52nd on MLB.com's Draft prospect list.
The Reds plan on having the versatile Blandino, who has played both third base and shortstop in college, play short within their organization.
Another infielder out of a California college became Cincinnati's second-round selection at No. 58. Taylor Sparks is a 21-year-old third baseman out of the University of California-Irvine who was named the 2014 Big West Conference Co-Player of the Year and was also on the U.S. National Collegiate team. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Sparks is ranked the second-best third baseman in the Draft by Baseball America and the No. 56 Draft prospect overall, according to MLB.com.
Sparks is regarded as an excellent defensive third baseman, but at the plate, where he hit .297 with five home runs and 34 RBIs in 232 at-bats this season, the question will be whether he can put the ball in play often enough, having struck out 67 times.
The Reds' third-round pick was right-hander Wyatt Strahan out of USC. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound 21-year-old was 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 16 appearances for the Trojans this season, 15 of them being starts. The All-Pac-12 hurler displayed increased velocity this season, upping his fastball into the mid-90s.
Cincinnati rounded out the first two days of the Draft by selecting three more right-handed pitchers and one southpaw, sprinkling in another third baseman, as well as a first baseman and second baseman.
The right-handers are Tejay Antone (fifth-round selection out of Weatherford Junior College in Texas), Jose Lopez (sixth round out of Seton Hall) and Brian Hunter (ninth round out of the University of Hartford). The lefty is Seth Varner, taken in the 10th round out of Miami University in Ohio. Continuing with Cincinnati's trend, all have big frames, with the smallest being Lopez, who is 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds.
While they selected all of their Rounds 1-10 pitchers from the college ranks, the Reds selected two of their five infielders in the first 10 rounds from high school. With their fourth-round pick, the Reds selected 6-foot-3, 235-pound third baseman Gavin LaValley out of Carl Albert High School in Oklahoma. The 19-year-old, who has a letter of intent signed with the University of Oklahoma, posted a .516/.618/1.126 slash line with 54 home runs and 202 RBIs in 121 games in his high school career.
The other high school infielder the Reds selected (in the seventh round) was 5-foot-10, 175-pound second baseman Shane Mardirosian out of Martin Luther King High School in Riverside, Calif. The 18-year-old hit .383 with four home runs and 60 RBIs in his four years, and he has signed to play at U.C. Santa Barbara.
In the eighth round the Reds chose a 6-foot-2, 215-pound first baseman out of Rutgers University, Brian O'Grady. The 22-year-old joins other Rutgers alumni taken by Cincinnati, including Todd Frazier. An excellent athlete who played center field in addition to first base, O'Grady hit .328 while leading the team in triples (five), homers (five) and slugging percentage (.510) this season.
On Day 3 of the Draft, the Reds continued to predominantly choose pitchers and infielders, including the first cousin of Brandon Phillips, 18-year-old Montrell Marshall out of South Gwinnett High School in Snellville, Ga. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound third baseman was Cincinnati's 12th-round pick, and he can hit for power, has good speed for his size and has positional versatility (first base, outfield).
In all, Cincinnati chose 17 pitchers (10 right-handers and seven left-handers), nine infielders (four catchers, two third basemen, two second basemen and a first baseman) and four outfielders on Day 3 of the Draft.
Buckley said the Reds would have preferred a more balanced Draft overall, but they made the best decisions with what was available.
"We tried to balance it out," Buckley said. "We got a lot of pitching, some corner guys and not as many guys in the middle [infield] as we'd hoped, but it wasn't a real powerful Draft for that. So hopefully we did well."
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.