Monday, June 16, 2014

2014 Reds Draft Class: Initial Impressions

Well, time for my initial impressions of the Reds draft, but first a few notes of interest regarding my shadow picks.

First, former Baseball America, and current, writer Jim Callis released his annual 10-round shadow draft. He stepped into the shoes of the Colorado Rockies and drafted their first ten rounds. In the supplemental first round, he grabbed Forrest Wall, the player I wanted the Reds to grab at 19th overall. After that, he grabbed two players that I wanted the Reds to draft, as they were good upside plays in the later rounds. He grabbed prep OF Trenton Kemp in the 7th round and Stanford RHP A.J. Vanegas in the 9th round, so obviously he also thought they brought good value to the table.

Second, baseball writer (his book, "Saving the Pitcher" is quite good) and injury expert Will Carroll, who is contractually precluded from offering opinions on draft-eligible players until after the draft, tweeted this nugget when RHP Joe Gatto signed with the Angels:

I watched a lot of video on the pitching prospects in the top 100 who would reasonably be available at 19th overall and Joe Gatto is the one who really stood out to me, too. His pitching mechanics were my favorite in the draft class and when you add in his strong arsenal it was easy for me to slot Joe Gatto into the 29th overall pick on my shadow draft. There's certainly more to pitching than mechanics and stuff, and Gatto certainly needs to improve his command, but there's a lot to like with Gatto.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with my shadow draft, as I would have reeled in Forrest Wall (1.19), Joe Gatto (1.29), Carson Sands (2.58), Trenton Kemp (middle round), and A.J. Vanegas (middle round). I would have much preferred to land RHP Scott Blewett in round 2 instead of Carson Sands, but the Royals snatched him up two picks before we drafted in round 2. Forrest Wall, Joe Gatto, and Scott Blewett would have, in my view, been a real nice haul for my Shadow Draft Reds. Still, I managed to snatch up pretty good value in my shadow draft. I could very easily be wrong, but it seems like a few pundits also saw value where I was seeing it.

As for the Reds ACTUAL haul, here are my initial, off-the-cuff thoughts on some of their top picks:

rhp Nick Howard -- Two data points are a coincidence, three data points are a trend. This picks reveals that the Reds are now actively seeking out college relievers who they can convert into starting pitchers. They have done it previously with Tony Cingrani and Michael Lorenzen, but this time feels a bit different.

The Reds drafted Tony Cingrani in the 3rd round of the 2011 draft. They drafted Michael Lorenzen in the supplemental first round of the 2013 draft.

To me, picking Nick Howard 19th overall(!) feels like a reach. The earlier in the draft you select a player, the greater the opportunity cost of doing so. And, there's undoubtedly an additional measure of risk in drafting a player and immediately shifting his role. Howard has shown plus stuff pitching out of the bullpen, but how will that stuff play when he's pitching in the rotation every fifth day? It's difficult to know. It seems odd to me that they couldn't find a single player with the 19th overall pick whose value doesn't depend on an immediate change in roles.

It makes sense, in the later rounds, to draft college relievers who you think can be successfully converted into starting pitchers. There's value in that. You are spotting undervalued talent that others aren't seeing and grabbing it when the opportunity cost is lower; when you aren't passing up top-tier talent to acquire it.

Does it still make sense with the 19th overall pick? Or, is there a bit of hubris creeping into this pick? Is the organization starting to gain so much confidence in its ability to spot undervalued talent that it's now overvaluing it?

Based on the recent past, the organization has earned the benefit of the doubt here, as they have proven that they have a good eye for this type of conversion-talent, but this still has the feel of an overdraft to me.

3b Alex Blandino -- Oddly enough, I prefer the second player the Reds selected to the first.

Blandino played third base for the Stanford Cardinal. He is a good athlete and may have the ability to slide over to second base at the professional level. Such a move would immediately improve his value. That said, his calling card is going to be his hitting.

Blandino has loose, easy swing with very active and effective hands. He controls the strike zone well and makes consistent, hard contact. He has the potential for a plus hit tool, which could make him an impact player if he can pair it with good on-base ability and/or good power production.

Overall, the Blandino pick looks like a strong one for the Reds.

3b Taylor Sparks -- Taylor Sparks plays third base for UC Irvine and is still playing in the College World Series. He seems to bring better tools and greater athleticism to the table than Alex Blandino. At the same time, he seems to have less feel and fewer baseball skills than Blandino.

Sparks moves well in the field and has a strong arm. There's more risk in Sparks' game than Blandino's because (1) there's a lot of swing-and-miss in Sparks's hitting and (2) he doesn't control the strike zone very well.

Sparks could be an impact talent if he can increase his contact rate, if he can't then there's real flame-out risk.

rhp Wyatt Strahan -- Strahan was the Friday night starter for USC this year. He features a mid-90s fastball with good sink, a hard curveball that may be his out pitch, and a changeup with a bit of sink. He has clean, functional mechanics that could be more efficient. He stands pretty upright, uses a shorter stride, and has quick tempo. There is a wide spread of career outcomes for Strahan, with some speculating that he might end up in the bullpen. But, he's a solid college pitcher who could surprise if he makes some improvements in the professional ranks.

3b Gavin LaValley -- LaValley is a big guy. You don't hear this very often about a baseball player, but he played center on his high school football team. He tips the scales at 235 lbs and that's after losing 20-30 lbs prior to his senior season. On the plus side, LaValley has very, very good bat speed and tremendous raw power, which should be sufficient even if he's relegated to first base on the defensive spectrum. He's an intriguing bat-first prospect and looks like good value in round 4.

3b Montrell Marshall -- Currently, Marshall is notable largely for being Brandon Phillips' cousin, but he has the type of athleticism and makeup that could soon make him notable in his own right. On the downside, Marshall stands 6-5, leaving him with a lot of strike zone to cover and real risk in his contact rate. On the plus side, he has solid upside because of his raw tools.  

Final Thoughts

Overall, the Reds draft makes some sense. As per usual, they zig when I expect them to zag. And, again, as per usual, what they did makes some sense with the benefit of hindsight.

The Reds went college heavy in a draft that was stronger in prep prospects. However, that does make some sense, as the Reds really need certainty. They have had a number of prospects in their farm system regress, so they really did need some probability draft choices. Players likely to pan out. In addition, the farm system is a bit bare at the upper levels, so focusing on college players not only increases the probability, even at the expense of some upside, but also shortens the development curve. So, they can restock the upper levels of the minors a bit faster by bringing in college players.

While the Howard pick feels like a reach, I like the Blandino pick a lot. And, after the first round, they added a nice blend of probability and upside talent. The Reds have done a very nice job in the draft over the past decade and rarely miss on a first round pick. The organization has given us little reason to expect that to change with this draft class.

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