Reds top pick gets #036;1.4M bonus

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 14, 2003

CINCINNATI-- Right-handed reliever Ryan Wagner agreed to a $1.4 million bonus Friday with the Cincinnati Reds, who think the first-round draft pick could be in the majors before the end of the season.

Wagner, a sophomore at the University of Houston, was the 14th overall pick in the June 3 draft. He went 6-5 with a 1.93 ERA in 79.1 innings with 15 saves and a school-record 148 strikeouts.

The Reds also signed second-round draft pick Thomas Pauly, a right-handed pitcher from Princeton. He'll pitch for Single-A Dayton.

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Wagner, 20, was signed in part because the club knew it could afford him, and in part because Reds scouts think he could make it to the big leagues quickly. He'll start at Double-A Chattanooga with high expectations.

''I'd like to thank the Reds for giving me this wonderful opportunity to be on the fast track to the big leagues,'' Wagner said. ''You have to go back all the way to when you're a little kid. You don't really think of it getting this big. It's right there, staring you in the face.''

The Reds are considering turning him into a starter, but will leave him as a reliever for now, hoping he can join their bullpen within a few months.

''We're not eliminating the possibility of him being a starter down the road, but we think he could get to the big leagues this year or next year at the latest,'' general manager Jim Bowden said. ''Our scouts say he can pitch up here right now.''

The Reds are concerned that he's pitched almost 80 innings already, and will give him special treatment in Double-A. He'll pitch only one inning per appearance, then have two days off.

After a first-round fiasco in 2001, the Reds have recovered by quickly signing each of their last two first-round picks. The Reds figured they'd be able to get Wagner under contract quickly.

''It's very important, especially in this day and age, and in the case of Ryan, where every day is important because he's so close to the big leagues,'' Bowden said.

''That was a major factor in drafting him.''

The Reds selected left-hander Jeremy Sowers with the 20th overall pick in 2001, even though he had made it clear he was planning to go to Vanderbilt unless he got at least $3 million. They never got close to an agreement, so Sowers went to Vanderbilt and the Reds lost their right to sign him.

They avoided a repeat last year by taking right-hander Chris Gruler, a high school player from California who wanted to play baseball instead of going to college.

A few hours after they made him the third overall pick, Gruler agreed to a $2.5 million bonus. He pitched in the minors last season, but had shoulder surgery in April and will miss this season.

Gruler was advised by agent Ryan Ware, who also was Wagner's adviser.