Major League Baseball’s amateur draft begins tonight, which means the time is nigh for new Reds general manager Dick Williams to receive unwarranted credit or excessive blame for the successes and failures of the organization’s 2016 draft selections.
(For the uninitiated: The role of the general manager in the draft process is overrated and neatly explained here. Senior director of amateur scouting Chris Buckley more or less runs the Reds draft process, though Williams and president of baseball operations Walt Jocketty will certainly have their opinions factored in to the Reds’ selections.)
Once the season ends, Williams will officially take the decision-making conch from Jocketty. The 2016 Draft is the first of many opportunities for Williams to impact the future of the Reds and replenish a top-heavy farm system. Per Baseball America‘s rankings, eight of the Reds top 10 prospects are playing at Double-A Pensacola or Triple-A Louisville, meaning that most of that top young talent will reach the majors before the end of the 2017 season.
And it really is quite the opportunity. Consider: the Reds not only own the second overall pick in the draft, but they also…
- Own three selections within the first 43 picks of the draft. (As do the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Padres.)
- Own the largest bonus pool for the draft’s first 10 rounds with a little over over $13.9 million at their disposal. The more bonus money a club has in the draft, the more flexibility and creativity it can exercise in surpassing assigned slot values in pursuit of the best players. (Players with signability concerns fall tend to fall down draft boards.)
- Own the second-largest bonus pool (about $5.1 million) for the upcoming 2016-17 international signing period.
Since being promoted from assistant general manager in November, Williams has expanded the Reds analytics department and spoken openly about his desire to marry the best of scouting and math. Such rational and thoughtful chatter has served as sweet music to the ears of like-minded Reds fans.
But, Williams will be forever judged with who the Reds take at No. 2; again, for better or worse, general managers are connected at the hip with high-profile draft picks regardless of the facts. If the player the Reds select at No. 2 becomes Kris Bryant or Justin Verlander, Williams will be hailed as a baseball savant. But if that player turns into the second coming of Mark Merchant or Augie Schmidt, cries of incompetence from the outrage seekers on social media and the call-in radio crowd will slowly surface.
The Reds possess enough talent at Double-A and Triple-A to evolve into a winning team by 2018 and a fringe contender by 2019—and therein lies the rationale for pumping up the significance of this summer’s personnel determinations and, by extension, the off-the-field decisions over the next 18 months. If a team like the Reds is going to deliver a dreadful on-field product, it must take advantage of a system that incentivizes losing big. The Reds dropped 98 games in 2015, are on pace for 100 losses this season (and are therefore staring at another top-five pick next June), and could very well lose big again in 2017.
The chance to restock the farm system with a surplus of top-end talent is there. Do that, and the Reds will postpone the timeline for the next Rebuild.
No pressure, Dick.