In recent years, it's become increasingly hard to pinpoint the exact draft philosophy used by the Reds front office personnel, especially in the earlier rounds. While they've never hesitated to draft the "best available" players despite the presence of other players at those positions on similar paths (see: Yonder Alonso drafted as Joey Votto emerged and Yasmani Grandal drafted as Devin Mesoraco matured), they've also never drafted with a farm system as underperforming as the one that currently exists (under Walt Jocketty, at least.
They've rolled the dice on high school pitchers (Robert Stephenson and Nick Travieso) with an eye towards upside in the future, they've taken polished "what you see is what you get" college players slated to move quickly towards the big leagues (Grandal and Alonso), they've taken a cold-weather HS catcher who needed patience (Mesoraco), and they've taken a solid college pitcher with no discernible upside and put him immediately in the big leagues (Mike Leake). They've taken outfielders and infielders, pitchers and catchers, up the middle players and those only capable of playing on the corners.
Regardless of where their draft decisions took them, they've had a remarkable run of success with their early picks, and as a result, they've earned my trust as to the potential of this year's draft class.
That said, they went in a completely different direction from what I expected out of this class.
The Phillip Ervin pick is a solid one, and one that I think was a solid combination of drafting a player talented enough to warrant a 1st round pick while also drafting someone whose presence doesn't create any redundancy on the farm. While Derrick Robinson has been a solid stop-gap in LF while Ryan Ludwick has been injured, there remains a serious lack of righty-hitting OFs in the minors that project to be even replacement level OFs at the major league level. Chris Heisey has never really developed into more than a 4th OF, Ryan LaMarre has struggled to show any power development and is repeating in AA despite no real competition in AAA, and the only other OFs (aside from Billy Hamilton) who have hit at all (Jesse Winker, Jeff Gelalich, and Donald Lutz) hit lefty. If Ervin is capable of staying in CF, he obviously projects to provide more versatility, but even if he's forced to move a corner OF position, he provides a young, RH hitting OF with projectionable power and speed. That was duly needed in the Reds system.
After that, however, they took a two-pitch reliever, a HS IF who most project as a 1B down the road, and a HS pitcher that will require significant development time. It wasn't until the 5th round that the Reds finally selected a college pitcher, and in Ben Lively they got a guy who throws several pitches adequately but doesn't really project to be a front-line starting pitcher at the big league level which, at the 4th round level, you'd expect to find. Following Lively came a HS SS/P who will be tough to sign, and then came Zach Weiss, another college reliever. What immediately stood out to me was the lack of a pick of a starting pitcher prospect who could potentially reach the big leagues in a relatively short amount of time, and I instantly began to read farther into that decision than I probably should.
Think about it, though. What kind of impact does this decision have on, say, the trade deadline in 2014? Bronson Arroyo will likely be gone and he'll presumably be replaced in the rotation by Tony Cingrani. Homer Bailey will be approaching free agency, Johnny Cueto will be in the last year under contract, and Mat Latos will be heading towards his final year of team control with no long term contract in place (as things currently stand). Robert Stephenson, should he continue on his tear through the minors, should be on the verge of AAA (or there already), but aside from him, there's not another pitcher in the Reds system that can reasonably be counted on to be ready to assume those roles. Daniel Corcino has struggled mightily at the AAA level; Drew Cisco, while successful thus far in the minors, doesn't possess many of the skills to project as a Major League starter; and the AA pitching rotation lacks anyone who truly seems destined for Cincinnati in a full-time starter's role.
So what? Does any of that mean anything?
It certainly doesn't mean everything, but it does seem to suggest some things. For one, it suggests that the Reds will plan on making serious attempts at signing at least two of Bailey, Cueto, and Latos to extensions, since losing more than one of them leaves a fairly glaring hole in the rotation. It also may suggest, however, that one of those three may be shopped in an attempt to bring back multiple young arms to help re-stock the staffs of the upper minors. That's a scenario that sounds pretty plausible, and given the investment it would take to attempt to sign all three pitchers, it's probably the right decision.
We're speculating at this point for sure. You can certainly make the claim that there are thousands of things that can happen between now and then, but the reality is that the 2014 trade deadline is barely over a year from now...and drafts are certainly made with the future in mind. When the Reds took Yonder Alonso, it was pretty obvious he'd be future trade bait, and the same can be said for whichever one of Devin Mesoraco and Yasmani Grandal wasn't tabbed as the catcher of the future. This year's draftees don't lend quite as clear of a glimpse towards the future, but given the state of the big league staff, the current crop of minor leaguers, and lack of priority on drafting for a position of need, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see a similar scenario play out.
Is that crazy?