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Reds Draft Report

By Chris Haft
June 5, 2002

CINCINNATI--The Reds liked Chris Gruler. The feeling was mutual.

This, simply put, was the spirit that enabled the Reds to sign the righthander scant hours after Cincinnati selected him in the first round (third overall) of Tuesday's draft.

Gruler received a $2.5 million bonus, exceeding the $1.95 million outfielder Austin Kearns received in 1998 as the highest in club history.

Gruler sensed that the Reds would give him a chance to be selected in a high-profile spot. Otherwise, he might have had to wait until the middle of the first round--which was the case with Cypress Falls (Texas) lefthander Scott Kazmir, another high school pitcher the Reds considered drafting. The New York Mets took Kazmir with the 15th overall pick.

"What we agreed upon is better than what he would have gotten anywhere else," said Gruler's advisor, Ryan Ware, who works with the agency of Reich, Katz and Landis. "That's why we were willing to get something done quickly."

The speed with which the Reds signed Gruler was almost unprecedented--especially for someone drafted that high.

"The Reds are on the upswing," said Reds scouting director Kasey McKeon, who also announced oral agreements with third baseman-catcher Joey Votto, a second-round choice, and first baseman Walter Olmstead, a sixth-round pick. "People are saying that. So these kids are excited to join us."

Signability was a major issue for the Reds, as last year's first-round pick, lefthander Jeremy Sowers, spurned Cincinnati to accept a scholarship to Vanderbilt University. Gruler, from Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif., received a full scholarship to attend Arizona State. But his desire to play professionally was evident.

"I do not think there'll be any problem with me signing and becoming a Red," Gruler said on a conference call with Cincinnati-area writers before the deal was announced. "My No. 1 goal is to become a Major League baseball player. I need to get out there as soon as possible to make it to the majors as soon as possible and help the Cincinnati Reds win a World Series."

"I was not prepared to go through the summer. We have a limited budget," general manager Jim Bowden said. "When I talked to (Gruler) a few weeks ago, (he) told me money was not an issue. He wanted to sign, go out and play, I said if we end up taking you, I'm going to take you at your word. Both (advisor) Tom Reich and the player accomplished what they wanted and we accomplished what we wanted.

"This is a very special kid with a very special agent who wanted to get it done. We had all the elements of people trying to do the right thing."

Even with all that good karma, the Reds were strongly tempted to draft Kazmir. "We felt Gruler and Kazmir were the two best pitchers in the draft," Bowden said. "We were split as an organization on who to take."

The general feeling among the Reds' braintrust was that Kazmir, as a lefthander, would reach the majors more quickly. Meanwhile, team officials thought Gruler had a higher "ceiling."

"A philosophy I've had in the draft is that we want the player with the highest ceiling, biggest reward. Adam Dunn, Austin Kearns, Chris Gruler," Bowden said. "This guy has a chance to be a No. 1 (starting pitcher). And it's so hard to get a No. 1 in this game."

Unbeknownst to Gruler, Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench was quoted as saying in a club news release that the 18-year-old "has a better breaking ball and better changeup than Tom Seaver." Bench, now one of Bowden's special consultants, witnessed Gruler's workout last Saturday at Cinergy Field.

Told of Bench's comment, Gruler sounded awestruck.

"Oh, wow. That's an honor," Gruler said. "I worked so hard to get to a certain point. I never thought this would happen. To be compared to a young Tom Seaver, that icing on the cake. Wow. Unbelievable."

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