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Cincinnati Reds MLB Draft Preview - Is a college outfielder on the way?

Just what will the Reds do with pick #18?

Milwaukee Brewers v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The 2022 Major League Baseball Draft is set to begin on July 17th, and drafting on that day is precisely what the Cincinnati Reds - a Major League Baseball team - intend to do. Their finish just outside the playoffs during the 2021 season left them with pick #18 as their first selection of the draft, though the departure of Nick Castellanos to the Philadelphia Phillies for a small fee also left them with a compensation pick, one that will be #32 overall prior to the start of Competitive Balance Round A.

The Reds do have a Competitive Balance Round pick again this year, but it will be in Round B, at 73rd overall. That pair of additional picks sandwiched with their 1st and 2nd round picks leaves them four total picks out of the first 73, features that have elevated their overall draft bonus pool to the 8th highest of the 30 MLB clubs (at just shy of $10.8 million).

First off, there’s the strategy to discuss here. In previous years, when the Reds have had similar draft setups (i.e. their usual 1st round pick and a comp pick before round 2), they’ve often chosen to go with an easily signable college draftee first that will save them just enough money to next draft a prep player who’ll require an over-slot amount of cash to sign and eschew attending college. That was the case in their most recent draft class, with Matt McLain coming off the board first and leaving enough money in the coffers for the Reds to draft (and sign) Jay Allen II. Further back, it’s the same as the path taken by drafting Nick Senzel (and signing him for a million below slot value) and following that up with a big money deal to get Taylor Trammell.

Obviously, it remains to be seen whether they employ that same strategy this time around. Doing so would add a pair of incredibly talented options to the farm system, but one would be many years further away than the other. Given where the Reds are in their ‘it’s not a rebuild but we’re gonna suck a bit before maybe possibly trying again soon’ cycle, there’s an argument to be made that adding a pair of college players within the first 32 picks of the draft this year just might be what they need to expedite the shortness of this iteration of their rebuild. McLain is close to the bigs, in theory, as is Jose Barrero, and adding two more fast movers that will conceivably reach the majors while Jonathan India, Tyler Stephenson, Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, & Co. are still young, cheap, and peaking might be the plan, instead.

Second, there’s the theory of never wanting to see your team attempting to draft for “need” over taking the best player available, but that’s something that has a bit of a sliding scale. If you’re trying to rebuild on an expedited schedule, it would likely behoove you to fill some voids if there are obvious ones within the system.

Given the wave of young arms the Reds have that are already reaching the majors and that they focused so heavily on bringing back prospect arms in their deals over the winter (think: Chase Petty, Brandon Williamson, Connor Phillips), that only further goes to shine the spotlight on the lack of near-majors bats in the system right now. Elly De La Cruz is looking more and more that he’ll be the kind of dynamic superstar rarely seen anywhere, and McLain will hopefully continue developing quickly into a useful infielder of some regard, but there are precious few other ‘locks’ on the position-player side of things. Allan Cerda has tools galore but flaws that stand out equally, and the same can be said of Rece Hinds and Austin Hendrick. That leaves a pretty large void in the outfield of the near future, especially given that India/Barrero/Stephenson/McLain/Elly are all projected to be on the dirt.

You can never have too many arms, obviously, and the Reds have most certainly not shied away from taking pitching with their top pick. That’s how Greene and Lodolo have claimed their spots in the rotation, after all. It’s not at all a bad strategy to take a projectable string bean who already has great whip and a 99 mph heater if there’s one there for the picking. It’s just that if the Reds are a) actually committed to trying to win despite showing us very little evidence of that of late and b) are now committed to doing so in as frugal a manner as possible, they’re going to have to address the future of the roster via the draft instead of on the open market. That, in my opinion, is the best route to get the best bats.

This is, I suppose, me postulating that we’ll see a college outfielder taken by the Reds with their first pick, since there appears to be a deep enough pool of them at the top-tier to ensure that several will still be on the board when the Reds pick 18th. It’s the strategy I used just last night when participating as the pseudo-Reds for the 2022 Prospects Live MLB Mock Draft, coincidentally, which you can watch below if that’s your sort of thing (I join at roughly the 1:39:00 mark, if that’s all you’d like to catch).

That the top of the draft stayed prep-heavy and rather chalky meant that of the group of college outfielders I’d evaluated and earmarked, only Gavin Cross of Virginia Tech had come off the board prior to my selection. As a result, I opted for Drew Gilbert of Tennessee with my selection, with the premise that he’d be signable for slightly under slot, thereby allowing for a bit more spend with pick #32.

While Gilbert was my pick, Chase DeLauter of James Madison, Sterlin Thompson of Florida, Jordan Beck of Tennessee, Dylan Beavers of Cal, and Jacob Berry of LSU were all college bats likely destined for outfield roles of varying defensive quality who still were on the board at the time. In this particular draft, even Campbell’s hightly touted Zach Neto - a shortstop by trade - was a college bat still on the board despite many mocks having him selected among the first dozen or so picks.

Certainly, there’s a very real possibility that the actual MLB Draft plays out wildly different than this one. Still, the idea that the Reds could get a high-floor college bat on the cheap still seems like a scenario that will likely play out, assuming they’ve got these players valued anywhere equally as the rest of the scouting services. Doing so would have - at least in this particular mock in which I participated - provided the chance to get prep lefty Jackson Ferris (#19 overall by MLB Pipeline and an Ole Miss commit) at #32, for instance, or even prep shortstop Cole Young (#20 overall by MLB Pipeline and a Duke commit) and sign them away from attending college.

We’ll have more specifics on some of these (and other) actual targets for the Reds in the coming weeks as the draft nears. For now, just feel free to pick apart this methodology entirely!