Sonny Fulks
Sonny Fulks
Managing Editor

Sonny Fulks is a graduate of Ohio State University where he pitched four varsity seasons for the Buckeyes from 1971 through 1974. He furthered his baseball experience as a minor league umpire for seven seasons, working for the Florida State League (A), the Southern League (AA), and the American Association (AAA). He has written for numerous websites, and for the past fourteen years has served as columnist and photo editor for The Gettysburg Magazine, published by the University of Nebraska Press, in Lincoln Nebraska. His interests include history, support for amateur baseball, the outdoors, and he has a music degree from Ohio State University.

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If you’re an optimistic Reds fan because they have the have the #2 pick in this week’s MLB draft, “curb your enthusiasm”.  Their recent record in that mirrors their current record on the field.  Coincidence?

The Reds, like about two dozen major league teams just like them, find themselves at a crossroads this week when the annual major league draft of amateur talent is convened on Thursday.

The Reds, you see, need help…like the Braves, like the Brewers, like the Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland A’s, et.al, and etc.  And short of spending big, big money on established free agents the best way of getting better is drafting and developing your own help in the farm system.

There is precedent for this, given that Jay Bruce, Joey Votto, Homer Bailey, and Zach Cozart are all former Reds drafts.

But there’s also concern, as well, because in the past ten years the Reds have had miserable luck overall with drafting and developing, especially with #1 picks.  Remember names like Yasmani Grandal, Drew Stubbs, and  Yonder Alonso?  All were #1s who turned up empty as a Red and were eventually traded.  All are still playing in the major leagues, but for other clubs, and none are impact players.

Remember Nick Travieso, Nick Howard, and Robert Stephenson?  All three were #1 selections in the past five years, pitchers, and only one has shown big league impact so far, and that’s Stephenson, who has a 2-0 record for the Reds this season…but gets sent back to Louisville every time he wins.

Howard, picked three years ago out of the University of Virginia, is mired in A ball and can’t throw strikes.

Travieso, picked five years ago, spent his first four as a Red in A ball and is still trying to find his way at Double A.

And last year’s #1, Tyler Stephenson, a highly touted catcher out of Georgia, is hitting less than .200 right now at Dayton, with one home run.

The Reds, of course, aren’t alone.  Every major league organization rolls the dice when it takes players in the draft.  Every organization has a list of “busts” bigger than the “big times” taken with their #1 pick.

But for our purposes, the Reds seem to have a tough time in getting it right and their farm system shows it, devoid of statistical standouts

OSU's Ronnie Dawson was MVP of this year's Big Ten Tourney, hitting .518, while hitting .320 with 12 homers for the season.

OSU’s Ronnie Dawson was MVP of this year’s Big Ten Tourney, hitting .518, while hitting .320 with 12 homers for the season.

at the present…and full of “projects”.  Look high and low and you won’t find anything resembling a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper.

A scout at the recent Big Ten Tourney told me, “If your #1 or #2 pick takes longer than three seasons to show impact at the major league level nowadays that’s a problem.”  Which puts all the more pressure on the Reds with this week’s pick because they have more problems than they can solve, and bad history in drafting answers.

They need position players and they’re clearly out there, as evidenced in this week’s NCAA regional rounds, in all the familiar places…Louisville, LSU, and Texas A&M.  And closer to home, there’s another prospect who’s possibly done more than any other college outfielder in the past month to call attention to his own potential.

Ohio State’s Ronnie Dawson will not be selected in the first round, but he finished the season hitting .320, with 12 home runs and 45 RBIs after a miserable start, and scorched the Big Ten championship tourney with a .518 average.  They simply could not get him out.

At 6′ and 224 pounds, he reminds some scouts of former Cardinal star Leon Durham, back in the 80s, another lefthanded hitter who sprayed line drives and hit with power.  But Dawson runs better than Durham, and has a better arm.  He just hasn’t played a lot of baseball, which means he’d likely take more time than the Reds have to give to develop him as an impact player.  And players, prospects, like Dawson need time.

Sonny_inset0211Professional baseball is different high school and college.  It’s a job, you’re evaluated on your abilities to do your job, and the typical amateur attitude of being good one or two days a week just doesn’t cut it.  You have to show that you can be good every day, because the players you play against may actually want to make it worse than you do.

Which brings us back to past Reds picks.  How come Yonder, Yasmani, and Travieso have failed to light things up like Harper and Trout?

How come Drew Stubbs and Nick Howard looked so good then, and so suspect now?

Former Reds scout Gene Bennett shrugged his shoulders this spring as he told me, “You have to see the goods, but you have to be lucky, too.”  Few were luckier than Bennett, who signed Don Gullett, Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill and Chris Sabo.  He’d tell you now…they need to get lucky again on Thursday.  Good and lucky!

And if you don’t remember names like Ryan Wagner and Ty Howington, don’t beat yourself up.  The Reds would like to forget, too.

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