It was the same blind hope that has me watching the Cincinnati Reds play baseball most nights for seven months a year that had me sitting, watching the MLB Draft and hoping they’d take a college hitter with the 18th overall pick.
College kids are older than high school kids. They’re closer to the big leagues, in theory. The closer to the big leagues they are, the sooner they’re going to be able to chip in and help the big club win games. I was blindly hoping for that - the proximity to watching the Reds win games again.
I should point out that by selecting Cam Collier 18th overall, the Reds did go the ‘college’ route - they went the junior college route, in the process taking a kid in Collier who’s actually younger than most of his high school peers thanks to his creative route to getting eligible as early as possible. Point being, between his selection at #18 and high schooler Sal Stewart at pick #32, the Reds continued their infusion of very, very young prospects into their farm in the midst of yet another Cincinnati rebuild.
The picture atop this article is of Chase Petty, by the way, the 1st round pick of the Minnesota Twins from last summer who was the Reds targeted return in the deal that sent Sonny Gray away over the winter. At just 19 years of age, Petty’s putting up solid numbers at the low-A Daytona, putting his track to the big leagues just barely ahead of the likes of Collier and Stewart, emblematic of the age of players who now constitute the next big wave of hope for the future of the Reds.
(You can obviously add Elly De La Cruz to that wave as the dude on the longboard riding it to shore. At just 20 years of age, his skillset and breakout makes him look far more advanced that the rest of his peers on the Cincinnati farm, but he’s also still just making his way through high-A Dayton so far this year. He’s ahead of Collier and Petty and the likes, of course, but perhaps only by a year or year-and-a-half.)
When you look at the disheveled active roster of the Reds, you do see some exciting young talent. You see Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson having established themselves already as players capable of holding their own in the league, with pitchers like Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Graham Ashcraft getting their chance to do the same over the next few months, too. But when you look at them, where the Reds are in the standings, and how little there is at the highest levels of the Reds system to support them during the second half of this season and in 2023, it’s hard not to look at this year’s draft haul and concede that the Reds are looking well beyond 2023 before their next ‘window’ will organically come to fruition.
Watching Luis Castillo befuddle American League All Stars last night in his quick inning of work made all of this ruminate in my brain, by the way. His dizzying array of 99 mph heaters and Bugs Bunny change-ups has been an absolute delight to watch on the mound for the Reds for five seasons now, but the writing seems to be pretty clearly on the wall that his time around these parts is just about done. He’s the single best pitcher available with the trade deadline just two weeks away, available because of his dwindling team control and a team owner who won’t invest in him to be the kind of veteran surrounding the current crop of young players that would constitute, y’know, an actual competitive big league club.
If he gets dealt as the next move the Reds make, it’ll be the next ‘last chance’ the Reds have to further augment their current crop of big league youngsters. They didn’t do that when dealing Sonny Gray. They didn’t do it in this year’s draft. While they did get a potentially nice piece in Brandon Williamson in the massive deal sending Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez away to Seattle, it’s Connor Phillips who has so far looked the strongest piece of that pie, and he just got his first sniff of AA. So, if the Reds are going to find another piece to crack the big leagues and play alongside India and Stephenson before they hit arbitration and get expensive, Castillo becomes their outlet to try to pull that off right now - if that’s even the priority anymore.
We’re all obviously hoping the Reds can finagle the best player possible for Castillo, almost regardless of age. But if the Reds aren’t going to do anything around that player, it kind of makes the point a bit moot. The Reds seem to be pretty clearly building up a very, very talented pool of players who are still several years away while also having a talented pool of young big leaguers who’ve been left out to dry by the team owners who’ve chosen to abdicate an entire year of building around them. When they deal Castillo, on which timeline is the return going to land?
It’s the kind of singular move that just may be a bigger tell.
If they get a big league rookie, or a prospect ripping up AAA who’s ready for their first cup of big league coffee, it may well indicate that the Reds are actually trying to build around their young core at the big league level, even if they wasted all of 2022 in the process. After all, why deal Castillo for a piece that’s on a timeline you don’t intend to maintain? Could that be the kind of foreshadowing that the club maybe, just maybe, will augment things over the winter with some actual cash spent on veteran players? Otherwise, what’s the point?
If they target another A-baller, one talented enough to serve as largest makeweight in a deal for Castillo, they’ll be getting another potent piece who’ll end up teammates with Petty and Collier and Jay Allen and the likes. And if the Reds aren’t going to invest in keeping Castillo around nor are they going to use his value to augment the existing big league club now, watching them turn around this winter and throw the kind of money into free agency and trade acquisitions for proven players sure seems like it would be out of character (not to mention that kind of heel-turn would once again reveal the kind of spasmatic decision-making we’ve become accustomed to around here).
So, with the 2022 Reds season giving us nothing to watch in the standings and precious little worth watching on the actual field, the moves (or lack thereof) the club makes in the transactions ledger in the next two weeks will give us the storyline for this franchise going forward. It might even be the trailer for the 2023 season altogether.