The Cincinnati Reds selected Mike Leake with the 8th overall pick in the 2009 MLB Draft, and ten months later he was an integral part of the 2010 rotation that helped win the NL Central for the first time in ages. That team won 91 games, an amount impressive enough relative to their peers to yield them the 27th overall pick in the following draft, at which point in time they selected another talented RHP from California in Robert Stephenson.
And that, in a nutshell, is what makes the MLB Draft both so interesting and so, so testing. There's constant pressure to aim for pieces that can move quickly and help a team that has already been formed, and sometimes the perfect college player falls right to the team that is willing to pull that trigger. There's also the patient process, one that allows for identifying latent talent that's still a world away, albeit with upside that's obvious and undeniable. It's how Leake and Stephenson, picked just two years apart, never once shared spots on the same 25-man roster while both made their big league debuts in the calendar year in which they turned 23 years old.
Cincinnati's "reboot" will take a critical step forward beginning today, as the 2016 MLB Draft begins this evening at 7 PM ET. The Reds, owners of the 2nd, 35th, and 43rd overall selections, will have yet another chance to make a large step forward in the organization's climb back to the top, albeit one that could go in numerous different directions.
It will be quite interesting to see the route taken by the Cincinnati braintrust, especially given their insistence on calling this rebuild a "reboot" and the comments from COO Phil Castellini about 2018 being an effective target datefor when this franchise will be competitive again. Will that lead them to focus solely on college players closer to the big leagues, especially given their decision to draft high school catcher Tyler Stephenson with their 1st round pick last year? Will the void of near-majors ready bats in the system cause them to draft a position player over a pitcher even if they had said pitcher higher on their draft board? Will signability play a major role, with the team overdrafting a player early they can sign to an under-slot contract in order to free up more money for a lottery ticket draftee later?
Will the Reds have the patience to draft another guy like Robert Stephenson, a talented player who needs five full years before being big league ready?
Nick Senzel, A.J. Puk, or Kyle Lewis will likely be the next great hope for the Reds' turnaround, as it's that trio of names that have been consistently connected to Cincinnati's 2nd overall selection. Each comes with plenty of flaws, yet each also has the kind of talent to make you hope for improved baseball in the franchise's future. And while whichever player the Reds take with that coveted selection will rightly deserve a shouldered load of expectations, don't sleep on the impact picks #35 and #43 can provide, either. That's the range where the Reds landed Jesse Winker and Michael Lorenzen, two names most current Cincinnati fans have been wishing to see this year more and more with each and every loss. Zack Cozart was a former 2nd round pick, too, and he's probably going to be the Cincinnati rep in the 2016 All Star Game this year.
Regardless, we'll look back on this day in three, five, and twenty years, and we'll do so knowing what a tremendous impact it had on the overall path of the organization. We'll hope to see the player taken 43rd overall this evening with a back of a baseball card in the same stratosphere as the player taken 44th overall by the Reds back in 2002. But just as much as we'll hope for a 2nd round home run like the Reds hit on that 2002 day, we'll hope the 2016 draft gets luckier than when they selected Chris Gruler 3rd overall just hours before only to have Zack Greinke, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain, and Jon Lester get selected in the next 55 picks.
Senior Director of Amateur Scouting Chris Buckley and his team have their work cut out for them over the coming days, but if their gambles pay off big time, all this losing we've watched will go by the wayside sooner than later. The beauty of the draft, though, is that if they swing and miss, enough losses will pile up to net the Reds a few more chances by way of 2nd overall picks. Fingers crossed for the former, of course.
For more on tonight's draft, the fundamental procedural details, and what the Reds might have up their sleeve, check out The Enquirer's draft primer (as it's packed with great information).