I think the TALENT level is better now than it was in 1999. It is PERFORMANCE that has faltered.
If you want an example, compare the Oakland A's and the Chicago Cubs. The A's have had great success with their young pitching studs. OTOH, the Cubs, who have as good or better young pitchers, have not seen the same kinds of perfomances.
The Reds OF has definitely improved in talent since 1999. But it has yet to produce Vaugn/Cameron/Young like numbers. The infield is in a state of flux based on who is going to play 2B. Casey has been hurt - he says it happened in spring training last year. But I wonder if it happned sometime before that. Doc Kremcheck said his shoulder looked pretty frayed. This may have been a 2-3 year old injury that began as a weakness - based on Casey's lack of power numbers. Larkin has obviously regressed, and Boone has pretty much remained the same.
IMHO, the pitching talent-wise is better now. Think about it. We had Neagle, Harnish, Villone, Parris, and Tomko. If we could get one ace to replace Neagle, I think Graves, Dempster, Haynes, and Reitsma is better than the other four. We've just not yet seen the results.
I do agree with your assesment of Bowden. It seems that the last two drafts have not been as good as you would want. Considering the high draft position the Reds held last June, I was VERY disappointed. Gruler was an OK pick for a high school pitcher, but, since Bullington was already gone, I would have MUCH rather seen Bobby Brownlie drafted because he is more polished and would been closer to the majors. And then during the compensation round, Mark Schrammeck ? Maybe it was just because he came from a small school, but the guy wasn't even on anyone's radar until the 8th or 9th round. And the 2nd and 3rd rounds went downhill from there.
I hope there is an improvement in the draft this year, or somebody's got some 'splainin' to do.
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