By HAL McCOY
The first knee-jerk reaction to the Cincinnati Reds No. 1 pick in Monday’s amateur free agent draft: What? Why a third baseman?
Yes, with their No. 1, fifth overall, the Reds drafted University of Florida third baseman Jonathan India.
India probably was the best player remaining after the first four selections, but a third baseman?
Before last season, the Reds extended third baseman Eugenio Suarez to a seven-year contract and he is having an outstanding season.
And two years ago the Reds selected third baseman Nick Senzel with their No. 1 pick. Senzel, who has battled vertigo a couple of times in the last two years, has played all over in the minors, including second base this year with the Class AAA Louisville Bats.
A couple of things could happen. Suarez, a natural shortstop, could move there, Senzel could play second base and India could play third.
Reds President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams perhaps gave a hint of their plans for India when he said, “We think Jonathan is an extremely exciting athlete who can impact the game in many ways. He played very good defense at third base and has the athleticism to play elsewhere. As an advanced and accomplished college hitter, he should move quickly through the minor leagues. We are thrilled to add him to our organization.
India, 21, hit .364 for the Gators with 18 homers and 45 RBI. And the 6-foot-2 right handed hitter stole 12 bases in 54 regular season games. He also hit a home run this season of Auburn’s Casey Mize, whom the Tigers selected Monday as the overall No. 1 pick.
The 21-year-old junior infielder was the Southeaster Conference Play of the Year.
The native of Coral Springs, Fla. led the SEC with a .506 on-base average and a .730 slugging percentage and was a semifinalist for the Golden Spikes Award, emblematic of college baseball’s best player.
He is just the 12th player in UF history with career totals of 20 or more homers, 100 or more RBI and 30 or more stolen bases.
While the draft was being conducted in Studio 42 of the MLB Network, India was playing third base for the Gators in the Gainesville, Fla., NCAA regional finals against Floridan Atlantic.
And India celebrated what will be a $5 million signing bonus with the Reds. With his team down, 2-0, in the third inning, India singled sharply to left field to drive in his team’s first run. Then in the fifth inning, with his team up 3-2, India hit a solo home run that cleared the left field bleachers.
In the second round, the Reds drafted an 18-year-old high school pitcher from Jensen Beach, Fla. He has already committed to the University of Florida, so has a decision to make over whether he will sign with the Reds or attend Florida.
He is extremely raw and this year, his senior year, was his first as a pitcher after playing outfield for most of his prep career. But his fastball has been clocked at 96 and 97 miles an hour and he is steadily in the 94 miles an hour range.
The 6-foot-2 right hander has an inconsistent breaking ball and seldom uses a change-up outside of the bullpen, but scouts believe he’ll consistently improve.