The MLB draft was last week, and the Reds selected catcher Tyler Stephenson with the 11th pick. It will be a while before we know the fate of that selection, but the drafts listed below are much easier to judge. Using hindsight, I re-drafted every Reds first-round pick from 1996-2010 (as anything more recent also needs more time to play out). To make it simple, I only included players selected in the first round, because, c’mon, who could have known that 13th-round pick Albert Pujols was going to be a Hall-of-Famer. The only exception to this rule is 1996, when Cincinnati had the 25th overall pick. In this year, I included second-round picks, as well.
Past and projected-future production were taken into consideration. Positional fit was considered only as a tiebreaker—otherwise, I went with best available. While optimism abounds each year regarding first-round picks, some of these names prove the early choices are no sure thing. Also, those susceptible to heart attack or stroke may want to avoid reading on.
In parentheses is the pick with which the player was selected, as well as the team that selected him. Players off the board prior to Cincinnati’s pick were obviously not considered. Let the second-guessing commence
Reds took: OF John Oliver (25)
Should have taken: SS Jimmy Rollins (46, Philadelphia)
The 1996 draft wasn’t a great one. The top 17 players off the board combined to make exactly zero All-Star appearances. Oliver never even made it past Single-A ball, where his two-season batting average was .211. Rollins, arguably the best player taken in the entire draft, was NL MVP in 2007, a four-time Gold Glover, three-time All-Star, and one-time Silver Slugger.
Reds took: SS Brandon Larson (14), 2B Kevin Delgado (20)
Should have taken: 1B Lance Berkman (16, Houston), OF Jayson Werth (22, Baltimore)
Cincinnati had two top-20 picks in 1997 and whiffed on both. The much-hyped Larson appeared in 109 games for the Reds and was a lifetime .179 hitter. Meanwhile, longtime NL Central nemesis and six-time all-star Lance Berkman was selected two picks later. Werth has been worthless (rimshot!) this year for Washington, but owns a .274 career batting average in 13 major-league seasons.
Reds took: OF Austin Kearns (7)
Should have taken: LHP CC Sabathia (20, Cleveland)
The Kearns pick looked like a Grand Slam in 2002 when he hit .315 and placed third in Rookie of the Year voting, but it was pretty much all downhill from there. Sabathia, of course, went on to a dominant career, winning the AL Cy Young in 2006 and making six All-Star appearances.
Reds took: P Ty Howington (14)
Should have taken: OF Alex Rios (19, Toronto)
Josh Beckett, Ben Sheets and Barry Zito were all taken with top-10 picks. The Reds got Ty Howington. If you’re blanking on the name, it’s because he never made it past Double-A ball, where he had a three-season ERA of 4.70. Rios, selected five picks later, has put together a solid career. He’s a lifetime .279 hitter and two-time All-Star. He even hit for a cycle in 2013, which is nothing spectacular…unless comparing it to Howington’s big-league production.
Reds took: SS David Espinosa (23)
Should have taken: RHP Adam Wainwright (29, Braves)
Although the 2000 first round wasn’t a particularly strong one, the Espinosa pick was another swing-and-a-miss that eventually led to Jim Bowden’s demise as Reds general manager. Wainwright needs no introduction for Reds fans, but in case you’ve forgotten, the right-hander is a three-time All-Star and two-time Gold Glover with a lifetime 2.98 ERA.
Reds took: LHP Jeremy Sowers (20)
Should have taken: RHP Jeremy Bonderman (26, Oakland)
After the selections of Joe Mauer, Mark Prior, and Mark Teixeira—each top-five picks—the 2001 first round was brutal. Following Teixeira, Josh Karp, Chris Smith, John Van Benschoten, Colt Griffin, and Chris Burke rounded out the top 10. After reading that list of names, Ohio-native Jeremy Sowers actually seems like a decent pick—except for the that he never signed with the Reds. After attending Vanderbilt instead, Sowers was drafted again three years later, this time by Cleveland, before embarking on a short, very mediocre major-league career. Bonderman doesn’t have great career numbers (69-81, 4.91 ERA), but did have a couple quality years for Detroit.
Reds took: RHP Chris Gruler (3)
Should have taken: RHP Zack Greinke (6, Royals)
For me, this is the nail in the Jim Bowden coffin. The Reds took Gruler ahead of other notable first-rounders including Zack Greinke, Prince Fielder, Scott Kazmir, Nick Swisher, Matt Cain, and Joe Saunders. Those six have 18 All-Star appearances, a Cy Young, a perfect game, a Gold Glove, and four Silver Sluggers between them. Gruler never made a major-league appearance. It’s not quite Chad Mottola over Derek Jeter, but it’s close. The Reds do get a few points back for taking Joey Votto at No. 44.
Reds took: RHP Ryan Wagner (14)
Should have taken: RHP Chad Billingsley (24, Dodgers)
Wagner was a supposed savior who never lived up to the hype. He posted a 1.66 ERA in 17 games in 2003, then never got anything close to that in two seasons before being shipped to Washington with Kearns and Felipe Lopez. Billingsley isn’t a star, but he has an 81-63 career record with a 3.69 ERA in nine seasons, including an All-Star appearance in 2009.
Reds took: RHP Homer Bailey (7)
Should have taken: RHP Jered Weaver (12, Angels)
Bailey was selected one pick after Cleveland took Sowers, and he’s obviously had a pretty solid career. Bailey is 58-51 with a 4.19 ERA, including those two unforgettable no-hitters. Weaver gets the slight edge here though with 131 career wins and a lifetime 3.34 ERA.
Reds took: OF Jay Bruce (12)
Should have taken: OF Jacoby Ellsbury (23, Boston)
Considering the other players on this list, it’s hard to complain about this pick. Bruce was the first first-rounder selected by the Reds to later be named to an All-Star team since Dan Wilson in 1990. The worst part is that Pirates took Andrew McCutchen one pick prior to the Reds taking Bruce—if only it had been the other way around. With McCutchen off the board, Ellsbury is likely the best pick, though a convincing argument could be made that the Reds ultimately made the right decision with Bruce, a two-time All-Star and Silver Slugger. Ellsbury doesn’t bring the power that Bruce does (82 career homers to Bruce’s 192), but he is a career .295 hitter with 291 stolen bases, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger, and an All-Star appearance.
Reds took: OF Drew Stubbs (8)
Should have taken: RHP Tim Lincecum (10, Giants)
Stubbs had a decent stint with the Reds, but never lived up to the billing of a five-tool player. Lincecum was selected two picks later, and his resume is a long one. Two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, four-time All-Star, a pair of no-hitters, 1,701 strikeouts, and a career 3.58 ERA.
Reds took: C Devin Mesoraco (15)
Should have taken: Mesoraco
Finally, the Reds nailed one. Mesoraco was the right pick at 15. Of the 15 first-rounders selected after him, six never reached the big leagues, and none have ever been named to an All-Star team. Mesoraco showed his potential last season when he batted .273 and was named a member of the Mid-Summer Classic. On top of that, the Reds used the first-round compensation pick they received when Rich Aurilia left as a free agent to draft Todd Frazier with pick No. 34.
Reds took: C Yonder Alonso (7)
Should have taken: Alonso
The 2008 first round didn’t produce a ton of stars aside from Giants catcher Buster Posey, and if not for Votto, fellow first-baseman Alonso might still be a Red. Instead, he was traded to San Diego as part of the deal that brought Mat Latos to Cincinnati. Alonso has always been known as a big hitter, and he’s finally proving it at the major-league level this season with a .319 batting average.
Reds took: RHP Mike Leake (8)
Should have taken: OF Mike Trout (25, Angels)
Leake has been nothing but solid for the Reds. He became the first player since Xavier Nady in 2000 to go straight from the draft to the major leagues, and has performed well, with a career 3.95 ERA. But the conversation begins and ends with Trout, who was selected 17 picks later, and is currently the biggest star in baseball.
Reds took: C Yasmani Grandal (12)
Should have taken: LHP Chris Sale (13, White Sox)
Grandal was also sent to San Diego as part of the Latos deal, then later dealt to the Dodgers as part of the deal that brought Matt Kemp to San Diego. Grandal is off to a good start, batting .277 with eight home runs so far this season. Chris Sale, however, selected one pick later, has turned into a very good pitcher for the White Sox. He’s a three-time All-Star with a career 50-32 record and a 2.79 ERA.