Cincinnati Invests Behind Plate

For the third time in in nine years Cincinnati has gone behind the plate for their first player selected in the draft. Though high-schooler Tyler Stephenson is considered a gamble, he’s also considered the top catcher in this year’s draft.

One plus from the disappointing season last year is that Cincinnati got to pick earlier in this year’s draft. They started with the eleventh overall selection this year and used it on Tyler Stephenson, a catcher out of Kennesaw Mountain (GA) High School. He was rated the top catcher in the draft and a consensus top 20 prospect overall. Stephenson is the third catcher that Cincinnati has drafted in the first round since 2007, following Devin Mesoraco (2007) and Yasmani Grandal (2010).

Stephenson is one of the more “high-risk, high-reward” players in this year’s draft. He’s big for a catcher, 6’4”/215# with a strong arm and a bat that could get him action behind the plate of an MLB all-star game someday. Of course the risk goes up with any high school player and even more with catchers because of the difficulty of the position. He’s coming off a season that saw him hit .417 with eight homers and also compete on his high school swim team.

Of current catchers in the majors there have been some comparisons to Baltimore receiver Matt Weiters who has made three all-star teams and collected a couple of gold gloves since debuting with the Orioles in 2007. The next job for the Reds is to persuade him to turn professional instead of taking a scholarship offer from Georgia Tech. Reports are that he’s already made comments indicating that will likely happen. If that be the case, then Cincinnati will certainly be ready to oblige. They signed their past two first-rounders, Phil Ervin and Nick Howard, at the recommended slot bonus, but they were both coming out of college and had to either turn pro or wait to get picked again the following year after completing a senior season.

The Reds could use another catcher behind the plate right now after a hip injury has sidelined Mesoraco for most of the current season. Unfortunately it will be a few years before Stephenson can provide an answer for that situation at the MLB level. Instead he’ll probably be packing his bags for a trip to the Arizona League for a professional debut this short season. There’s a decent chance in the future that he’ll be hanging signals for another Stephenson, 2011 first-rounder Robert, who’s often considered the top prospect in the Cincinnati organization.

Success in the draft is crucial for small market teams like Cincinnati. Of the eight regulars projected for the Reds before opening day this year six of them were picked in the first two rounds of the draft and the other two were acquired by trading former draft picks. There were two more in the projected rotation along with a couple of others who are currently in it after starting the season at Louisville. Even Anthony DeSclafani came to the organization in a trade for Mat Latos, a trade return for a package heavy with first-rounders that went to San Diego. This year they attempted to supplement their pitching staff with some offseason free agent signings that have produced a couple of early season releases and a highly suspect bullpen. To put it simply it’s not likely that Cincinnati can put many free agents in prominent roles and be competitive against other teams that have passed over those same players.

In addition to their second round pick Cincinnati will also have a competitive balance pick before the third round. Historically some of the Franchise’s top draft picks have come in the second round. On the second day of the draft teams will make their selections in rounds 3-10.

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