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Hunter Greene and the Perilous Process of Developing High School Pitchers

It is unfathomably hard, but the Reds might be getting better at it

Baseball: Dream Series-Workouts Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The road from the high school showcase circuit to the big leagues is a long and treacherous one, with a macabre collection of once-promising but now-disembodied arms strewn all along the way. There is perhaps no more volatile commodity in baseball than 18-year-old arms. Regardless of how talented they are, the odds of making it to the big leagues are against them. It is a mysterious alchemy that is needed to develop a pubescent pimple-faced prom king into Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale.

Last month, the Reds selected a high school phenom, Hunter Greene, with the second-overall pick. They have until 5pm today to get him signed, and most indications suggest it will work out. But that’s really only the first - and likely smallest - hurdle for this kid to jump. It will be years before he is even considered as a candidate for the big league roster, and that’s only if everything goes right and he isn’t injured or traded.

Every team is more-or-less unsuccessful at developing high school pitchers, but the Reds have been notably bad at it. The Big Red Machine of the mid-70s boasted the likes of Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, and Rawly Eastwick. Since then, the Reds have drafted and successfully developed ... (scanning Baseball-Reference) ... jeez. The Reds haven’t drafted and developed any high school pitchers of note since then. Seriously, go take a look. There is none. Gullett and Eastwick were taken in the first and third rounds of the 1969 draft, and then there is a whole lot of striking out until 2004 when they drafted Homer Bailey. I guess Travis Wood in 2005 counts, too.

Worth noting, MLB didn’t even have a draft until 1965.

So as you can see, Hunter Greene is statistically unlikely to make any real impact for the Cincinnati Reds. And he probably has a better chance than just about anyone, given how incredibly talented he is. But that’s how hard this process is. Even the best often fail.

Of course, if you have been paying attention to the Reds lately, you might have noticed a few eyebrow-raising exceptions. They are a young team on the upswing of a rebuild and a number of pitchers have made their debuts lately. Robert Stephenson was the Reds’ first-round pick in the 2011 draft. Also, Amir Garrett and Sal Romano were drafted out of high school that year, in the 22nd and 23rd rounds, respectively. In 2012, the Reds selected another high school righty with their first pick, Nick Travieso. He hasn’t made it to the big leagues yet and he won’t pitch at all this season as he recovers from major shoulder surgery. Like I said, the road from high school to the bigs is a merciless crucible. But Jackson Stephens, selected in the 18th round of that year, made his debut on July 1st and got the win against the Cubs. Yet another high school draftee, Tyler Mahle (seventh round in 2013) will likely make his debut for the Reds this year. For as much guff as the Reds get for their generally unproductive drafts of the 20-teens, they’ve certainly had some success.

It’s impossible to say whether any of these guys will actually turn out to be quality major-league pitchers, but the fact that they have actually made it this far is notable. For the first time in a very long time, I think the Reds as an organization might have a bit of that magic that is necessary to groom a guy like Hunter Greene into a staff ace.