Climb up here on my stoop, dear Redleg Nation reader, and listen to my crotchety old-man impression as I regale you with stories from my high school baseball days.

The two best high school baseball players I ever did see were both drafted into the MLB. (Crotchety old men speak in rhyme, right?) One, a pitcher; the other, a catcher; but both pearls on the diamond, causing hushed whispers in the stands.

Once, Will Haynie, the hulking 6’5″ catcher for our crosstown rival Brentwood Academy, hit a ball so hard and so far that it cleared the 30-foot wall we had in left and landed exactly at the midway point of the soccer field on the other side. Realistically, it was a 425-foot bomb, an attainable feat, but it felt like that blast had broken the space-time continuum.

In another game, Foster Griffin, left-handed ace for Florida’s First Academy, ceded a gapper to our diminutive leadoff hitter. Our bench erupted, the slight left fielder having proven that the fabled Griffin was human after all. After the next six no-hit innings and ultimate complete game shutout were over with though, all we had learned was that anyone can get lucky once.

With the MLB draft right around the corner, I find myself thinking about these hometown legends and just how disappointing they’ve turned out to be. Haynie went to Alabama in spite of first five round draft hype and struggled for three years before being drafted in the 16th round of the 2016 draft. Griffin came right out of high school, drafted 28th overall just three months after he shut us out.

Nowadays, Haynie is out of baseball after hitting .172 in low A while Griffin has posted a 5.17 ERA through ten starts at AA. The hard-throwing lefty could eventually put it together and make a fine professional baseball player, but that’s anyone’s guess.

My point here is: You never really know what you’re going to get with high school baseball players. Even the very best, the ones that the scouts agree have every tool to make it in the MLB, have only ever competed against other high schoolers. With a modicum of talent and a live arm, it’s not too hard to stand out compared to 5’7″ shortstop whose future baseball career amounts to wearing a Mike Trout jersey at fraternity party a couple years down the line.

While I know I shouldn’t be worried because this draft is loaded with impact college guys, I’ve started seeing one too many mocks with high schoolers creeping near the top five. Please, PLEASE, puh-lease Dick Williams, Chris Buckley and co. — do not draft a high schooler with the No. 5 pick next Monday.

Before I get into the actual nuts and bolts of my reasoning here, I’ll give two caveats because every strongly stated argument deserves a couple conditions:

  1. I have no problem with a high schooler being drafted outside the top 10 picks.
  2. I have no problem drafting a high schooler if he has shown a tangible, MLB-ready skill.

Allow me to explain my caveats. The first speaks to my opening stories of Haynie and Griffin. The Colorado Rockies don’t care that Haynie has already flamed out because he was a 16th rounder. And though the Kansas City Royals probably aren’t stoked a former first rounder has struggled, Griffin was also taken at the end of the round so he wasn’t too much of a monetary investment.

Both were high potential, high risk picks, which are completely understandable away from the top of the board. But in that top 10? You should be seeing a return. Think of the Royals with Bubba Starling here. While the outfielder languishes in AAA for the third straight season, Anthony Rendon, the Rice third baseman taken with the next pick, has already accumulated 17.3 WAR for the Nationals in a six-year career.

I also make exception here for high schoolers taken in the top 10 who have demonstrated a Major League skill. Hunter Greene gets a pass for his 102-mph fastball. So does Bryce Harper who hit a 570-foot homer at age 16. Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and Francisco Lindor all showed something in high school that went beyond simply less-talented competition. But I maintain my stance this year because NO HIGH SCHOOLER HAS DEMONSTRATED A TANGIBLE MAJOR LEAGUE SKILL.

While I don’t think any GM should take a high schooler in the top 10 acknowledging the caveats, I ESPECIALLY believe the Reds shouldn’t at this point in the rebuild. Let’s look at  the times the Reds have drafted in the top 10 since 2000:

  • (2018)  Hunter Greene, high school but caveat 2, going to be good
  • (2017)  Nick Senzel, college, going to be good
  • (2009)  Mike Leake, college, 8.2 WAR for Reds, 14.1 WAR total
  • (2008)  Yonder Alonso, college, 0.2 WAR for Reds, 8.1 WAR total
  • (2006)  Drew Stubbs, college, 6.1 WAR for Reds, 8.3 WAR total
  • (2004)  Homer Bailey, high school, 4.7 WAR for Reds/total
  • (2002)  Christopher Gruler, high school, 0.0 WAR for Reds/total

That’s three college guys accounting for 30.5 career WAR and two high school guys accounting for 4.7 WAR. Also, all the college guys were taken in later years than any of the high school guys.*

While high school guys tend to have an appealing upside and, again, gaudy numbers fluffed by wholly inadequate competition, college guys from the SEC, ACC, PAC 12, or BIG 12 have effectively been playing at A ball for three years. College players may not have the absurd ceiling that scouts put on their high school counterparts, but their numbers can also be believed.

I’ll pick on Chris Gruler for a second even though he assuredly doesn’t deserve it. Before he was drafted, Gruler drew comps to Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer. At 18 years old, he had a 95 mph fastball and plus secondary pitches. But like many 18 year olds pushing triple digits, his arm fell apart and he never made it past A ball.

The Reds as an organization aren’t in a position to have another top 5 pick flame out. Eating the disappointments of Robert Stephenson or Nick Howard or Nick Travieso hurts, but it’s okay because Gerrit Cole and Aaron Nola and Carlos Correa were already off the board. (Corey Seager was still around when the Reds took Travieso but what can you do ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.)

What this whole post boils down to is this statement: I fully believe the Reds can compete in 2019. I fully believe that by 2020, the Reds can be fighting for a pennant. Maybe that’s naive of me, but I don’t think we’re that far away.

With that belief comes a caveat (I know, I know). The Reds need one more sure bet to go with Senzel and Greene and boy, do they have the chance to get that next week. Be it Nick Madrigal or Alex Bohm or Brady Singer or Jonathan India, the Reds need one more young guy who can take a year and half of seasoning before making an impact.

What they don’t need right now is a high ceiling high schooler who will take five years to develop and miss Joey Votto’s window all together. So please, PLEASE, masterminds behind the Reds grand plan — don’t take a high schooler at No. 5, no matter how good Matthew Liberatore or Carter Stewart might eventually be.

*Correction: Originally this post said Drew Stubbs was drafted out of high school. He was not. In fact, he attended the University of Texas for three years. Who knew?

Join the conversation! 38 Comments

  1. AMEN. I have been thinking the exact same thing.

  2. Agreed. Brady Singer with the first pick, if he’s there, and Sean Hjelle (Kentucky) or Blaine Knight (Arkansas) in the second round.

  3. Draft whoever will help this franchise with its ongoing assault on celebrated success that is now being proclaimed to be the year 2021.

  4. Drew Stubbs was drafted out of the University of Texas. That just supports your point even more.

    • You’re very right, I must have gotten my wires crossed when writing

  5. Generally agree, but I think it depends in large part on the draft class. This year you are spot on. In other years, the high end college talent can be lacking. Let’s take another college hitter this year.

  6. What ever they do do not take a pitcher with there 1st pick. Your examples of Bailey & Stevenson are the reason. Greene MAY be great but as you said hard throwing young pitchers, there arms sometimes fall off.

  7. Wesley;
    You make toooo!!! much sense for the Reds Front office to even give it a thought. 🙂

    Remember, “BIG BOB” is tired of losing, so lets go sign Gallardo!!

  8. “Going to be good”. Love it

  9. 2019? You need to be drug tested. They will still be trying out Hamilton,Peraza and Schebler with a sprinkle of Duvall.

    • Eh I truly think at most only two of those players will be on the team next year. But who knows!

  10. A college player in the first round this year is solid advice. Hard to say who will and won’t be there at #5. Looks like the 4 teams ahead of the Reds are looking college also.
    In the second round with the #47 pick I see the Reds going in-between college and high school by taking IMG Academy SS Blaze Alexander. He plays for Spuds (Chris Sabo) at IMG. A Reds connection there. If he is already off the board they may go college again with a trio of Oregon St. players that could be on the board at the top of 2nd round. SS Cadyn Grenier .335/.420/..477 with superb defense; C Adley Rutschman, .391/.494/.594 with 63 RBI’s in 54 games; or LHP Luke Heimlich 14-1, 2.49 ERA, 104.2 IP, 21 BB, 139 K.
    Grenier’s defense was so good that Madrigal was moved to 2B.
    Rutschman’s offense is almost as good as Madrigal. Is he a pro C or can he play elsewhere?
    Heimlich should have been a top-5 pick, but baggage he comes with. Does he deserve a second chance for someone that did something as a teen and has supposedly been a model citizen since before his arrival at OSU? It would be a huge steal at #47.
    In the 3rd or 4th round I might go back to OSU for a CF, Steven Kwan, .353/.465/.448 with an incredible 46 BB and just 13 K in 221 AB’s.
    Florida and Oregon St. are probably going to be the College World Series finalists. The Reds should poach from both rosters. Madrigal, Singer or India at #5. And any of those OSU players in rounds 2-5 would be nice if available. OSU RF Trevor Larnach and UF RHP Jackson Kowar most likely won’t be there in 2nd round at #47. Poaching a Gator and/or a couple of Beavers in the first few rounds will help the Reds on draft day. This year would have been a great year to have a Comp. Balance pick. It is still not entirely out of the question that the Reds could make a trade and pick up a CB pick. It isn’t likely but not impossible.

    • For the record, the Reds do have a Comp. Balance Round B pick in between the 2nd and 3rd rounds at #72 overall. They just don’t have a Comp. Bal. A pick in between the 1st and 2nd rounds. The Reds 3rd round pick comes in at #82.
      Teams that have a Comp. Bal. A pick between #6 and #43 are PIT, BALT, SD, ARZ, KC, CLEV, COL, and STL. Can the Reds find a trade partner in this group before next Monday night? Would anyone give up an on the rebound Robert Stephenson to a pitching starved team like BAL or SD or ARZ for their CB pick?

    • Heimlich a hard no.
      Please take a college pitcher.

    • I actually do think Heimlich deserves a second chance. I’m not sure I would be the one to draft the kid but I do think everyone deserves a second chance.

    • Blaze Alexander… Great name! If he’s there, I could see the Reds taking him (#47) due to the Sabo connection.

      Thanks for putting this together. Doug has some great stuff on the draft too and that’s how I follow the amateur guys. I just don’t know much about them. I did watch Oregon State play the other day. I’m pretty sure Rutschman was catching. I didn’t see a pro catcher there but hey, I’m no expert. Plus, if he can really hit, you might find a place for him to play or he’s a trade chip.

  11. You are using Stubbs as an example of a high school player who was drafted in your argument on WAR production. He went to Texas for 3 seasons, wasn’t drafted out of high school.

  12. Good article

  13. Wes, you’ve been on fire with your articles lately. You’re spot on, the Reds should draft a college player.

  14. In general, with your caveats in place, I agree. Personally I would think buying into the best available philosophy would cover the bases here. A HS guy is only going to be a better option than a college guy in the top 10 if he’s already showing an elite skill. I think it is interesting to look at the draft picks because it shows just how good the Reds (especially in the Buckley era) have been at pegging future Major League contributors at the top of the draft. The fact that only about half the 1st round picks make the big leagues shows how much of a crapshoot it can be. With pitchers in general, because of a higher risk of debilitating injury, it’s especially risky.

    Considering what stage the Reds are in for the rebuild, having a fast moving college hitter/pitcher makes sense.

  15. No to Heimlich. Under any circumstances.
    Take a college pitcher please.

  16. I’m hoping they pick Nick Madrigal: 395 .459 .563 1.022 this year and .380 .449 .532 .981 last year. He has only struck out 5 times this season in 119 ab’s. 55 BB’s vs 35 so’s in college career. Some think he has the athleticism to slide over to SS, could stay at 2b and or has the athleticism to play in the outfield. He could do like senzel and be right at the door step in 2 years. Not a lot of home runs, but the slugging % is pretty high.

  17. While your point about there not being a HS player worthy of a top 5 pick this year is solid, using the tiny sample size of the Reds picks is too small. It could be argued that of the two HS players the Reds drafted in the top 10, one made a significant MLB impact (2 no hitters, playoff brilliance, among other things) before two significant arm injuries derailed him, and 1 out of two would be roughly the expected outcome.

    How have all high school players taken in the top 5 or 10 of the draft developed in the last 15 years?

    I don’t have any data at the moment, but it feels to me like the top 5 or 10 picks who have turned into stars were obvious top picks (Bryant, Harper) or they are distributed among all kinds of age and relative position spots, with pitchers having the highest washout (injury) rate. Is this sense accurate?

    • So I also don’t have the data and was trying to aggregate it before realizing I just didn’t have the time. I’ll make it a project with my hypothesis being that 30-35% of high schoolers taken in the top 10 reaching replacement level (0.0 WAR).

      • Thanks!

        • So just finished combing the data and I’m going to run a lot more regression on it to find out what’s statistically significant and what not, but to my hypothesis, 63% of college players drafted since 1965 have been above replacement level compared to 48.5% of high school players.

          So a higher percentage than I was guessing but college players still outperform high schoolers by about 14%.

  18. Couldn’t agree more. Maybe since they chose a high schooler last year, they’ll go college. Save the high ceiling prep players for the comp round or the 2nd round

  19. It depends on the high school player. Bob Feller came up with the Indians in 1936 at the age of 17. He pitched for Cleveland for 18 years plus serving three years in the military. He ended up winning 266 games.

  20. There are plenty of college players that flame out as well. I searched the top players in ops in the league and it is full of high school or young LA signees. Drafting is a crap shoot, no matter what. Maybe you draft a great college talent and he has vertigo that has affected him for months at the end and beginning of consecutive seasons…… Crap shoot. Trust your scouts and try to play the signability game the way they did with Trammel to maximize your chances at hitting on a high end talent. Then have development ppl at every level who have a proven track record. That’s really all you can do. This article is lamenting bad drafts and making high school players the scapegoat.

    • A high school player may also have vertigo that’s not discovered until after they’re drafted. With respect, this argument doesn’t seem to wash.

  21. The Red’s management should consider choosing a player planned to be drafted by a team choosing after them in the draft. They have proven they have no idea what it takes to play MLB.

  22. Wesley, I love your articles, but I am not as optimistic as you about the Reds. I think it will be 3-4 years before we field a winning team again. The pitching is awful and there are too many holes among the starters. We need a center fielder, a short stop, a left fielder, and in a few years we will need a first baseman. The Reds have totally blown this rebuild.

  23. Wes – terrific article.

    I am on the Madrigal bandwagon. Good athlete, best pure hitter in the draft, can play a range of positions. Would be a great fit in an already decent lineup. And can impact the ML team sooner (as you pointed out).

    As for the 2019/2020 hypothesis… assuming that pitching develops/heals, the Reds could compete (not necessarily win – compete!). The arm talent is there but the experience/intelligence is still developing.

    If we plan to challenge Chi/SL/Milw – then 3 of Mahle, Garrett, Romano, Stephenson, Reed, Disco, Finnegan, Nicolino needs to figure it out in 2018. Then we can supplement with 1-2 solid FA’s (not the retread variety – but proven arms that give you a chance to win). Can any of these guys pull through?

    Each has big plusses and glaring weaknesses. Let’s use the rest of 2018 to figure out what we have!

  24. I would be okay (even happy) if they drafted Carter Stewart or Matt Liberatore at #5. Both have ACE stuff with Liberatore being LHP and more pitches in his arsenal.

    My one concern (two actually) with Reds and HS players is have they actually changed the way they develop pitchers and will they be very aggressive in promoting them if they show upside?

    The Reds have an awful record of pitching development. That said, the past couple of seasons, we have heard about dramatic changes to training, nutrition, coaching, instruction, etc. Maybe they’re now ready to take a HS pitcher and make them good AAA pitchers in 3 short seasons?

    The one player I kind of hope they don’t draft is Madrigal. He seems like a college hitting Mike Leake, maybe a safe pick, but very limited upside from where he already is. I am sure I am in a minority, but I read and watched him and he just doesn’t have tons of upside. Size is a big concern as far as potential power, but we do see the occasional 5’7″ player have 20 HR upside, just very rare. He can hit for average and runs solidly (not fast), but just don’t see much upside.

    • Don’t get me wrong, if they happen to land Madrigal, I won’t be sad or angry, just feels like passing on lots of higher upside talent at #5 if we do. Hopefully I will be proven wrong and he’ll be a poor-man’s Altuve (highly unlikely, few turn out like Altuve) and whomever the Reds draft, I will be hoping for great things and quick promotions.

      I am just dying to see the Reds actually have a hitter or SP be a full time starter before their 21st birthday. As I noted many times on these boards, I still think had they drafted Trout and not Leake, no way Trout is a starting CF at age 19, instead, he’d be 21 years old and playing AA with AAA likely at 22. Then again, Trout is a generational talent AND hard worker, and rarely do those two meet nicely together.

  25. Nice piece here Wes. I think the Reds are in dire need of depth. I think missing on the pick is more damaging than not finding an impact player where one might have been had. I’d tend to agree that College guys are less risk averse. Of course if the first 4 teams go with college players then maybe you have to take a shot at that high-ceiling high-schooler.

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