Well, it's that time of year again. The Rule IV Amateur Draft is about to get underway.
The Reds are slated to pick 27th overall, the price of success, which makes it more challenging and slightly less fun to determine who they will pick. Still, this is a very deep draft and the Reds should be able to find value even late in the 1st round.
There are a number of impact players at the top of the draft that are really intriguing. Rice third baseman Anthony Rendon and UCLA RHP Trevor Bauer are the two that leap to mind. Rendon has been plagued by injuries this year, but he is an elite talent and should be a cornerstone at third base for a lucky franchise for a long time. As for Bauer, he's a Tim Lincecum-esq talent. He generates mid-90s velocity by throwing with his entire body and generating a great deal of torque. He patterns his game after Lincecum and certainly has gotten similar results. His mechanics don't seem quite as fluid as Lincecum's, but the collegiate performance level is similarly dominant. Personally, I like Bauer better than his teammate, Gerrit Cole, who is projected to go first overall. Bauer certainly had a significantly better season at UCLA than Cole. I also prefer Bauer's mechanics to those of Cole. However, Bauer's mechanics, height, and unusual training routine have him sliding down some teams' draft boards just a bit. That seems like a mistake to me. Bauer is a true student of pitching and has a very cerebral approach to go along with his nasty arsenal of pitches. But, in addition to Cole, some teams prefer the higher floor pitching prospects, even though they come with lower ceilings. For me, there isn't a better pitching prospect in the draft than Bauer, so he and Rendon would be my top 2 with Dylan Bundy a rather close third. But, I digress, let's turn our eyes to the bottom of the first round where the Reds will pick.
So, let's start by looking at some intriguing prospects, but not ones that I necessarily have at the top of my list for the Reds to reel in with their first round pick.
Jackie Bradley - Bradley is the centerfielder for the University of South Carolina Gamecocks. He stands 5'10" and weighs 180 pounds. He hits from the left side and throws from the right.
Bradley was one of the more electric collegiate players in 2010. He led the South Carolina Gamecocks to the College World Series championship and earned the Most Outstanding Player of the tournament award in the process. In the end, he hit .368/.473/.587 with 13 homers and 7 steals in 10 attempts. Additionally, he plays a very good defensive centerfield despite lacking plus speed. His instincts and ability to read the ball off the bat allow him to cover a great deal of ground. Suffice it to say, it was a very successful season and one that raised his prospect profile all the way up to the rafters.
Unfortunately, 2011 didn't go over quite as well. He suffered a wrist injury and ultimately needed to have surgery to repair ligament and tendon damage. His season never got back on track, as his average slipped to .259. Overall, he hit .259/.361/.468 with 6 home runs and 1 steal in two attempts.
Here's a look at Bradley at the dish courtesy of DiamondScapeBaseball:
When he's healthy, Bradley is a well rounded player with good baseball instincts. However, his offensive performance fell off the table in 2011, which is somewhat disconcerting. It's likely that the 2011 season was ruined by injury and he'll rebound going forward. However, the season was just enough of a red flag for me to drop Bradley down my list. That said, I wouldn't have a problem if Bradley was the pick for the Reds. He doesn't have the best tools, but he's has very good skills and knows how to get the most out of his gifts. He's a baseball player through-and-through and gambling on a return to form might not be a bad play for the Reds with pick 27.
Charlie Tilson - Tilson is an outfielder from New Trier High School in Illinois. He stands 5'11" and tips the scales at 175 lbs. He both bats and throws from the left side.
Here's a look at him at the dish courtesy of Baseball America:
As you can see, Tilson has a smooth, fluid swing with a short swing path to the ball, which is what caught my eye. He also maintains good balance throughout, which is due in part to the fact that he doesn't generate very good power. His offensive game is contact and speed based, so his swing is compact and well controlled. He doesn't sell out in his swing trying to maximize his power production. And, he doesn't cock and fire his hips all that effectively to generate power in the swing. In fact, the comparable MLB players you see tossed around for Tilson are Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury.
Obviously, a leadoff type hitter is the type of player the Reds could really use, but at this point I'm not convinced that Tilson is the right pick for the Reds. And, you should draft the best player available in the early rounds of the draft, not draft according to need, even though the player may project to perfectly address an organizational need.
Tilson's ability to stick in centerfield is in doubt, which would likely relegate him to leftfield due to underwhelming arm strength. Additionally, he has limited power upside. These two limitations could really work to drag down his prospect ceiling. As a result, you are left with the normal development risk for a high school prospect, but a lower upside payoff for that risk. A lower ceiling and the same level of development risk makes Tilson a less than ideal choice for the Reds at #27, but if he slips to the Reds in round 2 then he's worth considering.
Brandon Nimmo - Nimmo is a prospect that I like, but he lands on this list because he's unlikely to last until the Reds make their selection. Nimmo is an interesting case in that he comes out of Wyoming, which doesn't even offer high school baseball. As a result, he's had to work hard to prove himself in showcase events and on traveling teams.
Nimmo is an outfielder who runs well and currently plays center. He suffered a knee injury playing football as a junior in high school, but has largely recovered. He had a recent bout of tendinitis, but has no real lingering health issues to concern big league clubs. Ultimately, he could end up shifting to a corner slot, but for now projects as a centerfield. While he has good speed and solid defensive tools, his bat remains his calling card. Nimmo has a smooth lefthanded swing that has carried him up draft boards despite coming from a region that is the farthest thing you'll find from a baseball hotbed.
Here's a look at Nimmo in action:
That's the type of swing that should translate well to the professional ranks. He has good bat speed and maintains good balance throughout. His swing utilizes a short path to the ball, which enables him to handle good fastballs. Also, he controls the bat well and has a very good understanding of the strikezone, two factors which when found in the same player should result in consistently high batting averages. At this point, his power is still developing and he is more of a gap-to-gap hitter, but as he physically matures he could unlock his power potential.
For now, Nimmo looks like a pure hitter with good on-base skills, but he also has some power projection to his game. Unfortunately, he's likely to be off the board by the time the Reds draft, but he'd certainly be a good pick if he slides to the point that he's still available when pick 27 rolls around.