Former Reds No. 1 shouldering blame

Gruler shoulders the load

CINCINNATI -- Chris Gruler was strolling through Home Depot one February afternoon in 2006 when his cell phone rang. The news wasn't good.

Gruler, a promising right-handed pitching prospect, had been drafted No. 1 (third overall) by the Reds in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft. But after multiple shoulder surgeries and ill-fated comeback attempts, the Reds released him.

"It wasn't something I had planned for," Gruler said. "At first it was devastating. I felt like I let my family and friends down. I can't imagine how many hours my parents put into Little League and showcases."

At Liberty High School in Brentwood, Calif., Gruler wowed scouts with a 96-mph fastball and devastating overhand curve. As a senior, he went 4-3 with a 1.49 ERA in 11 games, including seven starts, striking out 135 batters in 66 innings.

The Reds rewarded Gruler with a $2.5 million signing bonus, amid much fanfare. Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench, working as a consultant to the Reds, compared Gruler to Hall of Fame hurler Tom Seaver, saying Gruler had "a better changeup and breaking ball" than the storied Reds pitcher.

Barely four years later, Gruler was out of work.

"I had a hard time sleeping," he said. "Things were not good in my life."

Gruler, who never advanced past Class A, went 3-5 with a 5.08 ERA in 27 Minor League appearances. He struck out 71 and walked 57 in 92 2/3 innings between 2002 and 2006, sandwiched around three shoulder reconstruction surgeries.

Gruler used acupuncture and both weight-bearing and non-weight-bearing exercises to regain strength in his shoulder, but to no avail.

Following his release from the Reds, Gruler threw for a couple of teams in Tempe, Ariz., but his shoulder couldn't withstand the strain.

"I tried everything in the book," he said. "You tend to believe what you read about guys being overworked when they're young. But, you know, I wanted to pitch. I wanted to show my stuff. There's no right or wrong. I won't play the blame game. That's not me."

Gruler, who currently resides in Scottsdale, Ariz., channeled his disappointment into a new business venture.

He has teamed up with pal Erik Averill, a former big league pitcher, to form Protégé Branding, which helps professional athletes develop and strengthen their personal brand. Protégé lists ex-Major Leaguer Roberto Alomar among its clients.

Gruler had some advice for this year's No. 1 Draft choice Yonder Alonso, whom the Reds signed late Friday.

"You have to understand baseball is a business," Gruler said. "Appreciate the opportunity that's been given to you. I had to learn the hard way."

Gruler's in the process of writing a tell-all book about his experiences in the game, but says he harbors little bitterness resulting from his release.

"It would be easy for me to say the Reds could have done more," he said. "That would be selfish. A shoulder is such a complex surgery. They did as much as they could."

Jeff Wallner is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.