Reds exec Walker in town for Dayton Dragons roster shakeup

It was no coincidence Jerry Walker, the Reds Vice President and Special Assistant to General Manager Dick Williams, was at Fifth Third Field this past week. The Dragons, struggling through most of the season, underwent a major roster shakeup last Wednesday and Thursday, moving six players, or nearly 25 percent of their personnel.

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Walker is part of a collective front-office presence that weighs in on who plays where and when, a standard process for all major-league clubs. This was his second trip to Dayton this season. He’ll hit all the full-season minor-league Reds affiliates several times before those seasons end: Louisville (Class AAA), Pensacola, Fla. (Class AA), Daytona, Fla. (Advanced Class A) and Dayton (Class A).

“I go around and get an idea of which kids are making progress and which ones need more work, which ones might be able to move to another club before the year is over and which ones might be able to play at the next level next year,” he said. “I’m seeing three-four new (Dragons) guys from this year’s draft, including (catcher Tyler) Stephenson, who I didn’t see the first time.”

Billy Doran, the Reds’ field coordinator, frequents the Dragons’ dugout. Like other special assistants Mario Soto, Barry Larkin and Eric Davis, they’re easy to spot in the Dragons’ dugout, decked out in a Reds uniform. It’s their input, along with player development director Jeff Graupe, who make a group decision on minor-league personnel calls.

“It’s a combination of people that do it,” explained Walker, who landed with the Reds along with Reds President of Baseball Operations Walt Jocketty from the Cardinals’ front office in 2007.

“(Doran and Graupe) talk with the rovers who come in and the instructors. Then I come in from the administrative end of things to evaluate. We have some input, but mostly it’s the player development people who decide who needs to move and when. Some of the more higher-profile guys, we have a little bit more say in it.”

Player development at all levels is what counts most in the minors. The challenge is to manage 150 potential Reds players amid position needs, injuries and productiveness. Sometimes it’s not the best player who gets a promotion, but rather the player who best fills an immediate need.

“Injuries have a big part of it,” Walker said. “If the Daytona (Fla.) club gets a couple kids the logical place to look to is Dayton and see if there’s anybody there that can move. The strange part of it is sometimes if it’s going to be a temporary thing, it’s not the best player from Dayton who goes, it’s someone to protect (Daytona) for a few days.”

The Dragons were 29-62 overall (8-13 second half) going into Saturday’s series opener against the visiting Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Brewers). Dayton’s lineup includes first-rounders Stephenson, a catcher (2015 draft) and third baseman Nick Senzel, No. 2 overall in last month’s draft. That’s the highest the Reds have drafted since Kurt Stillwell also was chosen second overall in 1983.

“The primary guys in the organization are given a priority, but they’re also given a priority to play at a level that’s best for the organization,” Walker said. “Those are the players we generally talk about before we make a move.”