The 2006 First-Year Player Draft, scheduled for June 6-7, offers Buckley and general manager Wayne Krivsky their first chance to put a thumbprint on the organization's future. Cincinnati owns the eighth overall pick in the first round.
How involved does Krivsky expect he'll be in the draft process?
"Very little," Krivsky said. "I'll be listening and asking questions."
The heavy lifting belongs to Buckley and Reds scouts. It's not surprising that Krivsky is delegating this responsibility. Krivsky's boss and mentor for over a decade in Minnesota, GM Terry Ryan, gave his scouting director complete control of the Twins' draft.
Buckley spent 17 years in the Blue Jays organization in positions like national cross checking scout, scouting director and special assistant to the GM. He had a hand in the selection of big league stars like Roy Halladay, Vernon Wells and Michael Young.
The Reds' farm system has several needs, especially pitching depth. The organization hasn't produced a strong big league pitcher of its own system in nearly two decades. Most clubs stock up on pitching, and Buckley probably won't be any different. But he's also prepared to put away the grocery list.
"Wherever you are, you always need to take the best whatever," Buckley said. "I'm sure there are some organizational needs you like to meet. But you consistently have to take the highest evaluated player each time you pick.
"If Wayne Krivsky needs a third baseman for next year, I can't just go out get him one in this draft. I seek to have a balanced draft."
With the eighth overall pick, Cincinnati should have no trouble landing a coveted prospect from any spot. Pitchers like Andrew Miller from the University of North Carolina, Brad Lincoln from the University of Houston and Brandon Morrow from University of California, Berkeley are projected as the best arms in this year's class and could be taken ahead of the No. 8 spot. Outfielder Drew Stubbs from the University of Texas and high school third baseman Bill Rowell from New Jersey are position players who could potentially be available for Cincinnati.
The organization's first-round track record has been spotty in recent years. For every first-round success like outfielder Austin Kearns (1998), there have been plenty of costly missteps made with the top picks.
Third baseman Brandon Larson, taken with the 14th overall pick in 1997, batted .179 in parts of three big league seasons and eventually re-joined former general manager Jim Bowden in the Nationals organization this spring. Ty Howington, the 1999 first-round pick, was derailed by injuries and released during Spring Training. The 2000 top pick, David Espinosa, was dealt to the Detroit organization in 2002. Pitcher Jeremy Sowers, the 2001 first-round selection, never signed with the Reds.
It's not all about the first pick, however.
"We want to have a productive draft," Krivsky said. "We want all of our picks to do well. The spotlight is on the first pick, but you can't ignore the 40th. I want us to have a deep draft."
While we await the Reds' decision on this year's first-round selection, here's what the previous regime -- led by former GM Dan O'Brien -- did with the last three top picks:
OF Jay Bruce, 2005 (12th overall)
: The 19-year-old batted .266 with nine homers and 38 RBIs in his first pro season in the Gulf Coast League and Billings at the rookie levels. This year, the left-handed hitter is with low Class A Dayton and off to a decent start. The organization favors Bruce as a corner outfielder and likes his maturity and ability to hit to all fields.
RHP Homer Bailey, 2004 (7th overall):
Considered the best prospect in the entire system, the 20-year-old could be the one who ends the Reds' drought for developing quality pitching. Bailey spent last season at low Class A Dayton and is currently with high Class A Sarasota. Throwing in the mid-90s, the right-hander showed during his first Spring Training this year that he could get big league hitters out now. Credit Krivsky and farm director Johnny Almaraz for not trying to rush him through the system too soon.
RHP Ryan Wagner, 2003 (14th overall):
The first Reds player to ever reach the big leagues the same year he was drafted, the reliever appears stalled in Triple-A Louisville. The 23-year-old is off to a rough start in 2006 after he was one of the Reds' last roster cuts in camp. Wagner often has strong springs, but the organization feels he has a track record of not being as aggressive with hitters in games that count.