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Cincinnati Reds love power of first-round pick Austin Hendrick

The scene at Great American Ball Park in 2018. David Jablonski/Staff
The scene at Great American Ball Park in 2018. David Jablonski/Staff

Outfielder was born and raised in Pittsburgh area

Austin Hendrick has met Sean Casey and knows what kind of energy he brings to the game. He often watches old Ken Griffey Jr. clips on YouTube because he admires his swing.

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“It was so beautiful,” Hendrick said. “It was so effortless. It was so simple.”

While those are a few connections Hendrick has to the Cincinnati Reds, he was born in downtown Pittsburgh and attended West Allegheny High School in Imperial, Pa., about 45 minutes from the city, so he was a Pittsburgh Pirates fan until Wednesday when the Reds drafted him with the 12th pick in the first round.

Hendrick, who turns 19 on June 15, was the third high-school player drafted. The first seven picks were college players. He watched the draft from his living room couch with friends and family.

“It was an unbelievable experience,” said Hendrick, speaking on a video conference call with Cincinnati media on Wednesday night. “I honestly didn’t know where I was going to end up, but I’m super, super excited to get on the field and wear a Reds uniform. I’m really pumped.”

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Baseball America rated Hendrick, who committed to Mississippi State in November 2017, the ninth-best player in the draft, while MLB.com ranked him 13th.

Hendrick is the highest-drafted high-school outfielder the Reds have selected since they took Jay Bruce with the 12th pick in 2005, though Nick Senzel, the No. 2 pick in 2016, moved to the outfield after being drafted as a third baseman.

“For a while now, we’ve had our eye on Austin and had a good idea he might be available right around our pick,” said Dick Williams, Reds President of Baseball Operations. “We’ve had a chance to watch him in the past. Some of our area scouts coached a team he played on, and we had an opportunity to interact with him before.”

Williams said Hendrick is a left-handed hitter, and the Reds love his power. General Manager Nick Krall called Hendrick a prototypical right fielder who could hit in the middle of the lineup.

“He’s just a guy that we really liked coming into the year,” Krall said. “We saw him over the summer a lot. He eliminated his toe tap during the fall, and it led to more bat speed. He’s got plus bat speed.”

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Hendrick lost his senior season to the coronavirus pandemic. He said it was devastating, but he was more concerned about his fellow seniors who won’t play baseball again.

“This year, we were going to be really good and in the conversation for the state championship,” Hendrick said.

Without games to play, Hendrick focused his energies in the spring on taking batting practice and working with weights.

“Now that the weather’s breaking, I’ve been able to get out and hit on the field,” Hendrick said. “Of course, there’s been no games, but I’ve just been staying in shape. I’m very happy with my body right now.”

Just after Hendrick was drafted, ESPN showed a graphic comparing his average exit velocity and launch angle to Mike Trout, one of baseball’s best players.

“That was pretty cool,” Hendrick said. “I’ve got a lot of work to do if I want to put up numbers like him, but that’s something I’ll definitely be striving for.”