Draft philosophy: 'Take best guy'
And no sure bet he'll be a pitcher

By Marc Lancaster
Post staff reporter

The Major League Baseball draft can't alter the course of the immediate future for a team, as is the case in the NFL or NBA, and everyone involved with the Reds understands that.

As important as the annual two-day affair that begins Tuesday is to the future of the franchise, the man in charge of guiding Cincinnati's fortunes won't be tempted by a quick fix. At the same time, senior director of scouting Chris Buckley refuses to overanalyze the situation.

"Wayne (Krivsky) and I are on the same page about scouting," Buckley said Thursday. "We're not thinking about 30 days after the draft, we're thinking about three or four years down the road."

That's how it works in baseball, and only the most advanced players are ready to contribute at the major league level after a few years in the minors. So when the Reds' first-round pick rolls around at No. 8 overall, don't necessarily expect them to take a pitcher, just because they need pitching at the highest level.

In fact, don't expect any specific move. For the moment, even Buckley isn't sure what the Reds will do, beyond one general philosophy.

"We're taking the best guy, whether he's a high school guy or a college guy," said Buckley. "Eight's a tough spot, just because the guys I'd take for sure I'm pretty confident are going in front of us, so we're taking the best guy."

When he says it, he means it. In the past, the Reds have sometimes shied away from players perceived as risky when it comes to signability - clients of superagent Scott Boras in particular - but Buckley insists that won't be a factor Tuesday.

"Not at all," he said. "We're going to take the best guy."

Though the first round is difficult to project and likely will remain that way up until the draft, there should be someone available at No. 8 whom the Reds are pleased with.

Beyond the players generally ranked at the very top of most teams' draft boards - University of North Carolina left-hander Andrew Miller, Long Beach State infielder Evan Longoria - the Reds are interested in a handful of highly ranked college pitchers.

They include University of Houston right-hander Brad Lincoln (12-1, 1.61 ERA in 16 starts), Cal right-hander Brandon Morrow (7-4, 2.05 ERA in 14 starts) and the Pac-10 pitcher of the year, University of Washington right-hander Tim Lincecum (12-4 with three saves and a 1.94 ERA in 22 appearances).

The only problem is, all of those players could very well be off the board by the time the Reds pick. They may end up taking a high school position player for the second year in a row, with New Jersey third baseman Bill Rowell the top possibility.

The wild card in the top half of the first round is right-hander Luke Hochevar, who did not sign with the Los Angeles Dodgers after they drafted him 40th overall last year and is back in the draft pool. Many thought the University of Tennessee product was the best pitcher available in last year's draft, but the preemptive negotiating stance adopted by his agent - Boras - muddied the waters.

The situation unfolded into a melodrama that saw the pitcher briefly switch agents, then return to Boras, before failing to come to an agreement by Tuesday's deadline. Hochevar is now pitching for the independent Fort Worth Cats, where he is 1-1 with a 2.38 ERA in four starts, striking out 34 in 22 2/3 innings. He likely will be a top-10 pick, with one significant sticking point: Boras reportedly is seeking a major league contract with a bonus in the neighborhood of $4 million.

Cincinnati wouldn't dismiss Hochevar out of hand, said Buckley, but his demands could complicate the process.

"Wayne and Bob Castellini would have to be filled in on that if there needs to be a major league contract," he said. "Signability, for me, is the dollars, and in a case like that there could be other issues there other than just money."

Checking on potential draftees' willingness to sign is one of the main tasks facing Buckley and his staff as the weekend unfolds. The Reds' top national scouts already are gathered in Cincinnati, while area scouts continue to cover this weekend's NCAA tournament regionals.

The Reds are assembling their draft board, and once that is complete they will be in touch with agents to try and gauge how much it might take to sign a particular player.

They expect to complete one key deal before the draft, locking up last year's eighth-round pick Milton Loo once his Yavapai (Ariz.) College team is finished playing in the Junior College World Series.

"We think we're going to get it done," said Buckley. "All the signs are pointing towards that."

The Reds recently signed two other draft picks from last year, 22nd-rounder Robbie Nickols, a left-hander from Pima (Ariz.) Community College, and 37th-round selection Jake Long, a catcher from Modesto (Calif.) Junior College. Both will report to Sarasota to prepare for Rookie ball.

It won't be long before they are joined there by members of the draft class of 2006. All reports are that the overall talent level in this year's pool is the weakest in years, but that doesn't mean there aren't players available that may be able to help down the road.

"This is not a great year all the way around," said Buckley, "but we've got to make 50 picks and we're going to make them."