Saturday, August 27, 2016

Closing the Book on the "Rebuild" and the Jay Bruce era

The "rebuild" is over. Largely panned, underwhelming at times, the rebuild era came to a close with the Jay Bruce trade. The Reds still have a ways to go, but they are now entering a new phase improving the competitiveness of the organization. They can still improve through the draft and free agency, but that feels more like "building" than "rebuilding."

Let's cut right to the quick. This offseason I wanted the Reds to dump Jay Bruce. I was done watching him flail at offspeed pitches. Done watching him struggle to post batting averages over .230 and OBPs over .300. Done watching him struggle to track down balls hit over his head in right field.

The life of an Major Leaguer is tough. You are constantly judged against your draft position, the label slapped on you when you enter the game, and the expectations of the fans. Injuries can strike, even if they don't force you off the field, they can still drag down your performance level on it. To top it all off, you are always playing for your job, as there is a wave of players trying to take your job.

If you even make the big leagues, you are an elite talent. If you are a star, then you have achieved a measure of greatness. But, the truth is, "greatness" is anti-gravity. It's not the norm. Mediocrity is the norm. Average is the norm. There are always demons fighting to drag you down to average: age, injury, self-doubt, anxiety, and your competition, to name just a few. Great players fight off gravity for as long as they can, but it always wins out in the end.

Gravity had its way with Jay Bruce in 2014 and 2015. That was the reality heading into the 2016 offseason. Gravity dragged him down from his lofty perch, a perch that came with weighty expectations.

I still remember Jay Bruce first announcing his arrival in professional baseball with a rifle shot. It was in the 2007 MLB Futures Game in San Francisco and Bruce ripped a bullet off the brick wall in right field in Pac Bell Park. I can still hear the explosive sound of it coming off the bat. It was a sound that only a lightning quick bat making perfectly timed contact with a speeding sphere of horsehide can make.

Since that time, Bruce's career ascended, including some big moments and a three All Star games. But, the reality was very different prior to the 2016 season.

I was of the mind that the Reds should basically dump Jay this past offseason. He was unlikely to hit enough to raise his trade value beyond the corresponding drop that would result from a half season reduction in team control. Dump him and turn the page. The Red didn't. The Reds waited. The Reds were probably right.

The Trade

On August 1, 2016, the Reds traded Bruce to the New York Mets for Dilson Herrera and Max Wotell. There's no way to know what they could have gotten for Bruce if they dealt him prior to the 2016 season. It might have been less, it definitely wouldn't have been more.

Dilson Herrera is the key piece of the trade. He's only 22 days, 5 months, and 24 days old, but somehow it seems like he's been around for a while. Herrera isn't big in stature (5-10, 205 lbs) or long on explosive tools, but his production is that of a bigger, louder player. It always seems to outpace his tools.

The Mets did Herrrera's development, trade value, and reputation no favors by rushing him to the majors in 2014 as an injury replacement for Daniel Murphy. Since then, Herrera has been somewhat lost in the shuffle, but that might have reduced his trade value enough to make him available to the Reds. Silver lining!

Herrera is an interesting hitter. He doesn't have great size and he uses a very quiet lower half at the plate, but he still manages to generate solid power. He's not a punch-and-judy hitter. Let's take a look at exhibit A, courtesy of on YouTube:

The modern trend in hitting is to embrace the idea of hitting as a movement pattern. Similar to the focus on the kinetic chain in pitching, hitters should sequence specific movements to generate and effectively sum the force they generate.

Herrera has a quiet lower half and his movements are smaller, but he still generates good force with a short, quick, simple swing. He does a nice job of loading up in his swing and syncing his arms with the rotational power of the hips. The real key to his hitting is in his ability to make consistent, hard contact. He has a good feel for hitting, driven by strong pitch recognition and hand-eye coordination, which allows him to consistently get the barrel of the bat on the ball.

Herrera isn't a burner or absurdly athletic, but it feels like there's some real explosiveness to his swing. Here's a look at Herrera legging out an inside the park home run, courtesy of on YouTube:

The Reds are short of good, professional hitters and their rebuild did little to rectify that issue, but the last trade of their rebuild might have netted the best hitter of the bunch. Herrera should be spraying line drives to all fields of Great American Ballpark for the foreseeable future. Unfortunately, he doesn't fit the profile of a disciplined hitter, but his hit tool is strong. Overall, I'm excited about Dilson Herrera as a hitter and he's a nice return for Jay Bruce.

In a perfect world, Herrera and Jose Peraza will both reach their max projections and hold down the middle infield spots for years to come. Time will tell.

As for the other player in the trade, Max Wotell was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft out of Marvin Ridge High School in North Carolina.

He has some real funk to his mechanics. Intentionally or otherwise, deception might be his game.

He has one of the stranger wind-ups you'll see. He starts with his left foot in the middle of the rubber, but, to take his rocker step, he re-positions his foot on the rubber by moving it all the way to the third base side. It's a bizarre look and a large backward step towards third base with his plant foot.*

(*I'd have to wonder if his style is even legal, as he doesn't maintain consistent contact with the rubber, but pitchers get away with murder so we'll just move on.)

In massively re-positioning his back foot on the rubber, Wotell essentially closes himself off, all but ensuring a cross-fire delivery. So, it's not surprising that his stride foot lands closer to the first base side or that he falls off to the third base side on his follow-through. Unfortunately, while he closes himself off, I don't see a lot of coil or much differential between the lower and upper halves in his delivery. But, a video clip is worth ten thousand words, so here's a look at Wotell in action, courtesy of SkillshowVideos on YouTube:

A cross-fire delivery can add deception, but it can also reduce efficiency. If you consider motor sports, when a driver heads towards a curve he is trying to find the fastest way through it. Typically, the fast way through a curve is to take the straightest line. You try to "straighten out the curve." That is, you want to apply force in a straight line. The more you have to turn the steering wheel, the greater the loss of effective force. When you turn, the weight/balance of the car tips towards the front outside tire, where the stress, friction, and load are increased, resulting in less speed and less efficiency.

It's largely the same with pitching. You want to apply force in a straight line. The most efficient path for delivering the pitch is a straight line. If you are using a cross-fire delivery, then your momentum is not on a direct line to the plate. Rather you are working around or against your body, which creates inefficiency and results in a loss of force that would otherwise be applied to the ball. In addition, you are likely increasing the stress on your arm, which can increase your injury risk.

On the plus side, cross-fire deliveries can increase deception. If you want to see what it's like to hit against Wotell, then here's a look from the batter's point of view, courtesy of FanGraphs on YouTube, Good luck!:

That doesn't look like a comfortable At Bat for the hitter. Wotell is moving around on the rubber, working with a quick tempo, high effort delivery, and hides the ball pretty well. So, while his injury risk might be higher (minimal differential/lack of body coil, cross-fire delivery, high effort), he at least gains points in the deception department, which might help his performance level.

It's too early in his career to know much about his repertoire. He features a fastball, slider, and change-up combo. The fastball sits 89-91 and has touched 93. The hope is that 93 will become more of the norm when he fills out physically. He gets good marks for his slider and the change is a work in progress.

In short, Wotell seems like a lottery ticket. A very young, raw pitcher with some upside and a lot of risk. But, if you buy enough lottery tickets, one might pay off.

Final Thoughts

In my view, the Jay Bruce trade represents the end of the rebuild, as he was the final available trade piece. They simply don't have any expensive, aging veterans who no longer fit in with the organization's new position on the win-curve left to trade. From here on out, it's not a rebuild, but rather just a "build."

If the Bruce trade is the final move in the rebuild, it was a strong final move to what might otherwise have been a lackluster rebuild. Dilson Herrera can really hit. Wotell is a high risk, solid upside second piece that diversifies the risk and increases the number of avenues by which the Reds can "win" this trade. Given where Jay Bruce's value was prior to the season, that's a pretty nice return for the Reds.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Actual Draft vs. "Shadow Draft": A Retrospective

One of the fun parts of the baseball offseason is that we get a break from the day-to-day grind of the season, which affords us some time to reflect, clean out the closet, and dust off old thoughts for re-examination. So, it's probably a good time to revisit my "shadow draft picks" of the past.

Starting in 2005, when draft time rolled around, I began to analyze the draft eligible prospects and determine which one I would select if I was in charge of the Reds draft. It was a fun exercise and an intellectual challenge.

In short, these picks are what I would have done at the time of each draft, not what I would have done with the benefit of perfect hindsight. So, not surprisingly, there are both significant hits and misses, but the picks are what they are. No sense trying to sweep the bad ones under the rug, rather I've tried to learn from my missteps and use that experience in the future.

Of course, I didn't start this blog until 2007, so my draft thoughts existed only on message boards until the 2008 draft rolled around, but I'm including those early message board picks anyway for posterity sake. Besides, it makes the post that much more fun.

Anyway, the Reds' picks are in red, while my picks are in orange. The comments on these picks are based on thoughts, impressions, and evaluations at the time of each respective draft. Basically, historical snapshots from the time of those respective drafts. Given how the fortunes of minor league prospects can change substantially from year-to-year, that's really the only way to do it. The 2005, 2006, and 2007 drafts happened prior to the existence of this blog, so I have tried to recreate my thoughts and industry evaluations as they existed at the time of those drafts.

Anyway, all that said, away we go.....

2005: Jay Bruce vs. Ricky Romero

This was the first time I really looked into the draft and picked the player I wanted the Reds to select. Of course, those with a sharp eye and a keen memory will recall that Ricky Romero was selected 6th by the Blue Jays, while the Reds didn't select Jay Bruce until their 12th overall pick rolled around. So, in my first effort, there were clearly a few kinks to be worked out, as I selected a player the Reds couldn't possibly have drafted. In future years, I only selected a player that was actually available to the Reds with their first pick, but I'm including this one anyway.

The 2005 draft was an epic one, filled with potential impact talent from the top of the first round all the way down to the bottom. You couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting at least a couple of legitimate impact prospects.

I followed Ricky Romero at Cal State Fullerton and loved his bulldog mentality and offspeed offerings. He had a nice curveball and a quality changeup. He also had a good understanding of how to pitch. He was the guy I wanted the perennially pitching-starved Reds to land. Of course, Romero was already off the board by the time the Reds went in another direction.

The Reds selected Jay Bruce, who seems a quality player on the field and a quality person off it. He had very good bat speed and was viewed as a potential impact hitter from the state of Texas.

2006: Drew Stubbs vs. Tim Lincecum

In the 2006 draft class, there was only one player I wanted the Reds to draft and that was Tim Lincecum.

For me, despite his short stature, Tim Lincecum was head-and-shoulders above the rest. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball and the best offspeed pitch among all the draft eligible college pitchers. Additionally, he struck out everybody at the University of Washington, posting strike out rates of 12.9, 11.3, and 14.3 respectively in his three years there. He was clearly the most electric pitcher in the draft and had a massive upside.

There were two main knocks against Lincecum heading into that draft: his mechanics and his height. Personally, I've always loved his mechanics. They're complicated, but he throws with his body better than the vast majority of pitchers. And, as for height, I'm not a fan of the scouting bias against short righthanded pitchers. If you can pitch, then you can pitch, regardless of height. Lincecum is the guy I wanted and he was on the board when the Reds picked. Unfortunately, the Reds went in another direction, selecting Drew Stubbs with the 8th overall pick.

Stubbs had a lot of tools and very good athleticism. It was easy to see the Reds buying into the notion that he could develop into a dual threat, impacting the game on offense and defense. While Stubbs had a full toolbox, he was somewhat lacking in baseball specific skills.

2007: Devin Mesoraco vs. Pete Kozma

The Reds used the 15th overall pick on Devin Mesoraco, the Cardinals selected shortstop Pete Kozma with the 18th overall pick.

Heading into the draft, few prospects had as much helium as Devin. Coming from a cold weather region and off a TJ surgery, Mesoraco wasn't projected to be a first rounder due to a lack of experience and limited exposure, but a strong senior season propelled him up the ranks.

Kozma was more of a high floor, low ceiling type player. He lacked any real plus tools, but had some nice skills and a good feel for the game, which in a somewhat less than inspiring draft class seemed to be a decent option.

2008: Yonder Alonso vs. Casey Kelly

In the first shadow pick of the blog era, I selected Casey Kelly here and here. I prefer Kelly as a shortstop and want to see what he can do with a couple of years as a full-time position player. He has good baseball bloodlines, plus athleticism, plays plus defense at short, and has solid pop in his bat.

That said, the hit tool is in question and he'll need to demonstrate the ability to consistently barrel-up pitches. However, the heightened risk in the hit tool can be mitigated, to a degree, by his ability to pitch. To me, having pitching as a fallback plan is a nice way to manage the performance risk that comes with his hit tool. There is an old scouting adage that you don't gamble on a questionable "hit tool" in the first round, but I'm clearly breaking that rule here.

It's not easy to find a potentially plus defensive shortstop who can hold his own on offense. Kelly already has decent pop, so it doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities that he could develop into a capable hitter at the professional level.

The Reds drafted Yonder Alonso with the 7th overall pick.

As it stands, Yonder looks like a nice, well-rounded hitter with good on-base skills and solid power potential. He seems to be a polished, rather low risk selection. Clearly, he's the player the Reds deemed the "best available", but it remains unclear how exactly he fits into the organizational plans.

Obviously, Joey Votto has already emerged as a good, young first baseman with a strong offensive profile. Clearly, first base isn't an area of need and Yonder isn't a realistically going to switch defensive positions. So, there's a chance that he's blocked as soon as he steps into the organization, which might be a problem given that he might be able to climb the ladder quickly.

2009: Mike Leake vs. Shelby Miller

Shelby Miller was, without question, the guy I wanted the Reds to take, as he struck me as being the pitcher with the best combination of stuff and mechanics in the draft. I loved the velocity and how cleanly he generated it.  In fact, I have him pegged as the third best prospect in the draft behind Stephen Strasburg and Dustin Ackley. There were other high school pitchers who were rated, and ultimately drafted, higher, including Zach Wheeler (6th SFG) Jacob Turner (9th DET), Tyler Matzek (11th COL), and Matt Purke (14th TEX), but I prefer Miller to all of them. His upside is just too massive for me to view anyone else as a legitimate option.

The Reds went a different direction with the 8th overall pick, drafting Arizona State RHP Mike Leake. I still prefer Miller, but the pick has started to grow on me. Leake had very good success at ASU, based on his plus athleticism and feel for pitching, which combine to give him good polish.

The Reds, it seems, valued Leake's higher floor/lower ceiling over Miller's lower floor/higher ceiling. In the end, it comes down to the likelihood that Miller will reach his ceiling and be significantly better than Mike Leake at the MLB level. If he can, then he is clearly the better pick, but there's more development risk with Shelby.

2010: Yasmani Grandal vs. Chris Sale

In the 2010 draft, Chris Sale was actually the first prospect on whom I did in-depth research and a full write-up, and he was ultimately the guy I wanted the Reds to land.

His fastball and changeup were both rated among the very best of the draft eligible college pitchers. His strikeout and walk rates were among the very best in the country, so you had both upside and polish. There were/are some questions about his arm action, but I never saw anything overly worrisome. Some thought there was too much snap in his arm action, but I don't really see it. Some thought his higher-back elbow, which rises above shoulder level, would be problematic, but I thought the increased injury risk created by that time of move would be nullified by his lower arm slot. I would like to see him incorporate more leg drive, but overall I was comfortable with his mechanics. After I was done looking into the draft pool, Sale was still sitting comfortably atop my list.

The Reds used the 12th overall pick on Yasmani Grandal, who is the second Miami Hurricane the organization has selected with its first pick in the last three drafts. Obviously, they feel comfortable with their scouting coverage down there.

The selection of Grandal gives the Reds some of the best catching depth in all of the minor leagues, as he could develop into a solid defensive catcher and an impact switch hitter. It'll be interesting to see how he performs in full season ball and where he fits into an organization where Devin Mesoraco is making a big splash much farther up the ladder. Given Grandal's polish, his career is very likely to overlap with Mesoraco's at the Major League Level. Once again, the Reds could have a blocked Hurricane in the system.

2011: Robert Stephenson vs. Jason Esposito

Well, for the first time since I've started doing these draft write-ups the Reds had a pick outside the top 15. In fact, they had number 27 overall, which makes it more challenging to find impact talent. However, given the impressive depth of talent in the 2011 draft class, the Reds were able to land a high upside arm that undoubtedly would have gone higher in the typical draft class.

Stephenson stands 6-2 and tips the scale at 190 lbs with a wiry frame and plus makeup/intelligence. He features a big time fastball that tickles 97 mph on the radar gun and a biting, 12-to-6 curveball that is inconsistent. And, like seemingly all power arms coming out of high school, he has a mediocre change-up.

The only potential red flag on Stephenson is his pitching mechanics, which are somewhat inefficient due to a shorter stride, less than ideal hip rotation, and an occasionally cutting short the deceleration of his pitching arm.

That said, Stephenson has a great deal of positives going for him and the Reds probably did very well, as you don't frequently get this type of upside so late in the draft. The stuff and makeup are there, but he'll need to refine his mechanics and continue to polish his secondary offerings as he climbs the ladder. Still, hard to argue with, or be disappointed by, this pick by the Reds and, frankly, it'll be difficult to top.  

My shadow pick, 3b Jason Esposito, will be seen as a stretch by many and admittedly it may well be, but he was behind RHP Tyler Beede, LHP Chris Reed, and RHP Jose Fernandez on my draft queue and I was fully expecting one of those pitchers to be available.

Esposito's junior season was a bit of a step backward and he slipped down in the draft, which serves as a cautionary tale that you can't expect linear improvement/development from college players. The knocks on Esposito were two fold: (1) his swing was mechanical and (2) he added weight to the lower half.

Admittedly, I can see the reason for concern on both issues. Esposito has a well balanced, fundamentally sound swing, but it can look mechanical at times. He also did look slightly stockier in his junior season than he did as a sophomore, but the added weight to the lower half doesn't diminish his potential to be a plus defender at third with a very good arm.

Overall, Esposito's potentially above average to plus defense at the hot corner might offset the higher risk in his bat.

2012: Nick Travieso vs. Matthew Smoral

Southpaw Matthew Smoral was not only at the top of my wish list for the Reds (which also included shortstop Addison Russell and outfielder David Dahl), but also one of my favorite pitchers in the draft class. So, he was my clear choice when the Reds' 14th overall pick rolled around, but the organization ultimately went with a different high school pitcher, righthander Nick Travieso. So, this one boils down to a battle of the high school pitchers, which makes it far too early to call, especially since Smoral didn't throw a pitch in anger in 2012.

Smoral slipped in the draft because he missed his senior season due to a stress fracture of the foot, limiting the time for organizations to get a feel for him. Regardless, I was sufficiently impressed by the combination of stuff, clean pitching mechanics, and physical stature. All of those factors struck me as giving him a very high ceiling. Although, it didn't factor into my decision, another thumb on the scale in Smoral's favor is that he was drafted out of an Ohio high school.

As for Nick Travieso, he had quite a bit of helium heading into the draft, largely as a result of a spike in velocity. That spike drove his fastball velocity up into the mid-90s, but velocity spikes aren't always sustainable and occasionally are precursors to injury. His secondary offerings are largely unrefined, which, when coupled with the high degree of effort in his delivery, led many to project him as a reliever at the upper levels. Even so, he's an intriguing arm to add to the quality stable of pitching prospects in the system and a bit more development time could bear out the organization's decision to select him with the 14th overall pick.

As high school pitching prospects, Travieso and Smoral both come with significant inherent risk (injury and performance), but both also have significant upside.

2013: Phil Ervin vs. Aaron Judge

My shadow draft pick for the Reds in the 2013 draft was Fresno State outfielder Aaron Judge. Judge was third on my draft queue, which consisted of RHP Chris Anderson, OF Billy McKinney, OF Aaron Judge, 3b Eric Jagielo, and OF Austin Wilson.  The Dodgers grabbed Anderson and the A's snatched up McKinney, making Judge, a mountain of a man with tremendous athleticism, my shadow pick for the Reds.

Judge's height was a concern, but it was a concern mitigated by his plus athleticism (a three sport star in high school with offers to play tight-end at the collegiate level) and the fact that his approach was contact-oriented. The question on Aaron Judge wasn't, as it usually is with taller hitters, whether he would make enough contact, but rather whether he'd hit for power. Instead of needing to cut down on his swing to improve his contact rate, Judge almost needed to lengthen his swing to carry his power from batting practice into game action.

I'm happy to gamble on plus athleticism, a (relatively) compact swing with good plate discipline, and massive power potential, even if it comes packaged along with a very large, and difficult to protect, strike zone. Judge felt like a prospect who could provide positive value on both sides of the ball with the potential to be a true impact hitter at the plate with the type of power that is getting more and more difficult to find.

Instead of Judge, the Reds rolled the dice on another righthanded hitting outfielder, Phil Ervin from Samford University. Ervin headed into the draft as a player who had hit .300 pretty much everywhere he played. He seemed the type who could roll out of bed and hit .300 without much difficulty. In addition, he brought good speed and athleticism to the table.

I wasn't as high on Ervin as the Reds because it felt like there was a real danger of him being a tweener (not enough bat for a corner outfield spot and not enough glove for centerfield). I like the idea of adding a plus hit tool to the system, but without power or the ability to stay in center Ervin would fall short of being an impact player.

If Ervin can stick in centerfield and continue to hit around .300, then the Reds will likely reap a nice return on this investment. However, I still feel like Judge has a higher upside and is the more likely of the two to be a true impact talent.

2014 (Round 1): Nick Howard vs. Forrest Wall
2014 (Round 1): Alex Blandino vs. Joe Gatto

My shadow draft picks in 2014 were 2b Forrest Wall at 19th overall and RHP Joe Gatto at 29th overall.

Forrest Wall had one of the best hit tools in the draft class. He patterns his hitting after Robinson Cano and it shows in his swing mechanics. Wall uses a lot of movement in his setup and swing, describing himself as a "rhythm hitter". He uses a double pump with his hands during his load, which is what Cano does, and has incorporated that as a timing mechanism.

Wall is a very unique combination of plus hit tool, disciplined plate approach, plus speed, and premier defensive position. He seemed like the clear best option on the board when the Reds turn to pick rolled around. However, Wall slipped down some teams' draft boards due to a torn labrum he suffered in his throwing shoulder that hadn't fully recovered by draft day. It raised questions about his future arm strength and whether he could effectively handle second base. So, there was some uncertainty, if not increased risk, surrounding Wall, but it's difficult to pass up such a unique and valuable bundle of attributes. Somehow, the Reds managed to do just that.

Nick Howard was the Reds first pick, 19th overall, in the draft. The Reds continued on with the trend of valuing college relievers who could be converted to the starting rotation. Howard had a big fastball out of the bullpen, which slowed when he worked as a starter, a power slider with depth and tilt, and an intriguing changeup. In addition, Howard also spent time as a shortstop in college, demonstrating the type of athleticism that the Reds favor. Howard has some intriguing attributes, but he struck me as a bit of an overdraft at the time.

With the 29th overall pick, I shadow drafted RHP Joe Gatto. I looked at a lot of the pitchers in the top 100 prospects who were likely to be available when the Reds picked and Gatto was the most electric.

Gatto throws a heavy fastball from a largely over-the-top arm slot. His fastball sits 90-93 and touches 95, it has good downward plane, and very good movement (sinking and tailing). He also a 12-to-6 curveball with good power and depth, a pitch that is inconsistent but flashes plus.

Gatto also had some of my favorite mechanics in the draft, which should help his performance level, consistency, and injury risk. He's an interesting arm, though high school pitchers generally pack more development risk than most other prospects.

Instead of Joe Gatto at 29, the Reds drafted Stanford infielder Alex Blandino.

For the Cardinal, Blandino played primarily third base, but the Reds felt he profiled well in the middle infield spots. He's exactly the type of professional hitter the Reds should prioritize. At the plate, he has an easy swing with active, effective hands. He does a nice job of controlling the strikezone through a solid combination of pitch recognition and plate discipline. He has a number of potential value-drivers and he immediately felt like a good pick for the Reds.

2015 (Round 1): Tyler Stephenson vs. Garrett Whitley
2015 (Round 2): Antonio Santillian vs. Dakota Chalmers
2015 (Round 4): Miles Gordon vs. Brendon Sanger 

My shadow draft picks in the 2015 draft were OF Garrett Whitley at 11th overall, RHP Dakota Chalmers at 49th overall, and OF/INF Brendon Sanger in the 4th round.

The Reds held the 11th overall pick in the 2015 draft and I used that pick to select OF Garrett Whitley. I was very high on Whitley, as I absolutely love his swing mechanics, bat speed, and athleticism. He is a very exciting prospect with the type of fast twitch athleticism that leads to a massive ceiling. As a cold weather high school prospect, he also brings some risk to the table, as he doesn't quite have as much experience as some and he hasn't always faced the toughest competition. I was thoroughly disappointed that the Reds didn't draft Whitley and I wouldn't be surprised if he turned out to be the best player in this draft class.

Instead of Whitley, the Reds drafted catcher Tyler Stephenson. The Reds are very comfortable drafting and developing catchers. Stephenson is a giant of a man behind the dish. His physical stature really defines him as a prospect, as it creates raw power in the form of leverage, increases the risk in his hit tool, and raises the question of whether he'll be able to stick behind the plate. Stephenson's size gives him a larger strike zone to protect and gives him added length in his swing. Not only does he have longer levers to wield, but he also sets his hands somewhat deep during his load, which further increases the distance the bat has to travel to reach the point of contact. So, Stephenson is certainly a justifiable selection, but he'll need to make enough consistent contact to reach his plus raw power.

In round two, I shadow drafted high school RHP Dakota Chalmers at 49th overall. I was surprised Chalmers lasted that long. He features a mid-90s fastball that has touched 98, above average curveball and slider, and a developing changeup. His mechanics are pretty clean, though there is some effort to his delivery that can lead to some command issues. He has good height and a slender build, so ideally his command will improve as he fills out physically and can reduce the amount of effort in his delivery. Some are concerned about a "head whack" movement in his delivery, but I don't see that to any significant degree. Overall, there's a lot to like with Chalmers.

The Reds drafted high school RHP Antonio Santillian. Santillian was a two-way player in high school and doesn't have a ton of experience on the mound. That said, he has electric stuff and very high upside. Santillian might be even more of a boom/bust pick than your typical high school pitcher, but if he pans out he could be a true impact arm.

Finally, I shadowed drafted Florida Atlantic OF/INF Brendon Sanger in the 4th round at 115th overall. I don't usually shadow draft that deep, but Sanger is a prospect that really caught my eye leading up to the draft. I absolutely love Sanger's pitch recognition and plate discipline, just as much as I love Garrett Whitley's swing mechanics and bat speed. There might be hitters in the draft class who can match Sanger's combination of pitch recognition and the ability to control the strike zone, but I find it hard to believe there are any who exceed him. Add to that mix a very good hit tool and the type of athleticism that may enable him to convert back to an infield spot (2nd base? 3rd?) on defense and Sanger was a prospect I really wanted the Reds to draft. To my mind, the organization doesn't focus enough on disciplined hitters, an area that Sanger would definitely have addressed. Whether he has enough upside to be more than a 4th outfielder remains to be seen, but he was a very worthy gamble with a number of potential value-drivers. It seems like there were a number of development paths that would have resulted in a Sanger selection paying off.

The Reds used the 115th overall pick to draft high school OF Miles Gordon. The Gordon selection hewed to the organizational draft philosophy of focusing on good athleticism and up-the-middle defensive positions. A centerfielder with good speed and pitch recognition, questions linger over whether his short, compact swing will generate enough hard contact and power. The ability to stick in centerfield would lower the offensive bar he'll have to hurdle to reach the big leagues. Still, Gordon comfortably fits the mold favored by the Reds in the draft process.

2016 (1.2): Nick Senzel vs. Zack Collins
2016 (1s.35): Taylor Trammell vs. Drew Mendoza
2016 (2.43): Chris Okey vs. Lucas Erceg 

My shadow draft picks in the 2016 draft were 1.2 c Zack Collins, 1s.35 ss/3b Drew Mendoza, and 2.43 3b Lucas Erceg.

The Reds held the 2nd overall pick in the draft and had a unique opportunity to add an impact talent, the type of impact talent, especially among position players, that was curiously missing from all of their rebuild trades. The Reds selected University of Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel, regarded by many pundits as the top position player in the draft. I went with my favorite bat in the draft class, University of Miami catcher Zack Collins.

Senzel, a comparable bat and offensive profile to Collins, brings a higher defensive performance level and more certainty in defensive position, but the Reds seem like the ideal organization to develop Collins' questionable defense behind the dish. The Reds have developed so many catchers (i.e. R.Hanigan, D.Mesoraco, Y.Grandal, T.Barnhart, etc) over the years, that it might have become a "core competency" of the organization.  There are real questions about whether Collins can stay behind the plate, but reports on defense improved during his 2016 junior season at Miami.

While I love Collins' bat (disciplined hitter, controls the heck out of the strikezone, strong swing mechanics, hits for big power, etc.), part of the reason for drafting him is to go "under slot" with the 1.2 pick to allow the team to make a bigger splash in later rounds. The assigned pick value at 1.2 was $7,762,900 and the Reds signed Senzel for $6,200,000 ($1,562,900 savings).  Zack Collins was ultimately drafted by the Chicago White Sox at 1.10 and signed for $3,380,600, which was also the pick value.

Based on where Collins was projected to be drafted, if the Reds had drafted him at 1.2, then it seems reasonable to think he would have accepted a signing bonus of ~$4,500,000, saving the Reds $3,262,900. Those savings would have come in handy for making my next pick, high school shortstop/third baseman Drew Mendoza.

Drew Mendoza was ultimately not drafted, a nod to his strong commitment to Florida State, his bonus demands, or both. Whatever the reason, it wasn't related to his ability. Given that there were rumors that he wanted a ~$3.0-3.5M signing bonus to sign, I'm guessing he wasn't an impossible sign, just a pricey one. His bonus demands created a perfect opportunity for the shadow Reds and the savings generated by drafting Zack Collins.

Mendoza has the type of sweet swing and athleticism that could make him an impact hitter at the professional level. The pick value at 1s.35 is $1.837,200 and I would gladly pay him something in the range of ~$3.5-4.0M to get him to sign on the dotted line. The Reds need upside in the draft and they need impact hitters. Mendoza has the type of tools and skills that would give the Reds both. He looks like a pure hitter. The chance to add a second potential impact hitter is too good to pass up, so ss/3b Drew Mendoza is my selection.

Instead, the Reds drafted high school centerfielder Taylor Trammell at 1s.35 and signed him to an over-slot bonus of $3,200,000. The Reds love toolsy, athletic, up-the-middle players in the draft and that's what they landed with Trammell. Trammell was a high school football star, so he doesn't have quite as much experience at the plate as other high school prospects who focused exclusively on baseball. As a result, there are some questions about his hit tool (par for the course for the Reds), but the Reds liked the overall package.

Finally, at pick 2.43 the Reds selected University of Clemson catcher Chris Okey, who was among the top catching prospects in the country, though his tools/skills across the board seem more solid-average than above average-plus. The Reds signed Okey for $2,000,000 while the slot value for the pick was $1,497,500.

At this point in the draft, I was still on the hunt for potential impact hitters, so at 2.43 I shadow drafted Menlo College 3b Lucas Erceg. Erceg also looks like he could develop into an impact type hitter at the big league level. But, he brings a bit more performance risk to the table than Drew Mendoza, as he has a bit more movement in his swing and likely a few more questions about his hit tool and contact rate, which is why he slipped lower than Mendoza for me. That said, the power potential looks legitimate, he's a baseball rat, and the upside is intriguing.

In the end, I drafted three hitters with good upside and the potential to be impact hitters: Zack Collins, Drew Mendoza, and Lucas Erceg. I wanted to focus on hitters and the way the draft fell enabled me to do just that. When compared to the Reds actual draft class, I took on a bit more positional risk with my first pick (Z.Collins over N.Senzel), but I prefer the upside/risk of my next two picks (D.Mendoza over T.Trammell; L.Erceg over C.Okey). Time will tell.