[editor's note, by dajafi]The Good Phight is proud to present this thorough analysis of the Phillies' 2006 amateur draft by SQUIRE, a much-respected draft and minor-league guru who often can be found at philliesphans.com.
For me the Major League Baseball (MLB) First Year Player Draft has always been about hope. During the Phillies' ultra-lean years of the mid-1990s, you could forget your major league misery for a little while by focusing on the future. If the future of the Phillies farm system didn't look so hopeful (and it didn't), well then you had to look even farther down the road (really squinting more than looking at this point). At the end of that long, blurry road was MLB draft day.
To understand fully the annual MLB First Year Player Draft, one must recognize the significant differences between the baseball draft and its better known NFL and NBA counterparts. First, unlike the NBA and NFL drafts where players generally are expected to contribute to the major league franchise right away, in baseball almost all of the draftees are several years away from contributing to the ultimate franchise. As players are farther away from contributing to the top franchise, there is a significant attrition rate in even the top rounds. Accordingly, bonus amounts paid to draftees tend to be significantly lower than their NFL and NBA draftee counterparts. This leads to the second major difference for drafted baseball players: most of them have reasonable options other than merely signing with the team which drafts them. All but college seniors can continue their development in collegiate (4 Year or Junior College) play and re-enter the draft in another year or three. In comparison, it's pretty much a given that each player drafted by the NFL or NBA ultimately will sign with the team that drafts them. Finally, teams can't trade picks--which both keeps things moving on Draft Day and forces teams to carefully consider how much they have to spend on bonuses and contracts.
Another major difference between the MLB draft and the NBA and NFL drafts relates to the self-imposed restrictions related to bonuses/contracts paid to draftees. My understanding is that NBA utilizes a collectively-bargained fixed slot arrangement where the slot in which a player is drafted definitively determines his initial contract value. The NFL's system is a little more flexible in that the value of each drafted player's contract is generally determined by his draft position and the NFL team must sign each of its players within the confines of a general salary cap as well as a cap specifically applicable to all of a team's drafted players for such year.
In contrast, although there are no binding restrictions on bonuses paid to MLB draftees, the MLB Commissioner's office issues slot recommendations for each draft slot for the first ten rounds of the draft. If a team wishes to offer a player more than the slot recommendation they are supposed to make some sort of presentation to the Commissioner's office and then listen to a seemingly "time share sale" intense counter-presentation from the league office on why paying above the slot recommendation will doom the league to a future of economic ruin and perhaps television ratings below C-SPAN. However, other than such tediousness, it is not clear what penalties the league office can actually impose on a team which breaks ranks from the slot recommendations, other than perhaps a mean face (or series of mean faces) or a bad room at the off-season meetings. Frankly, if there were "actual" penalties, then someone might litigate the issue as non-collectively bargained collusion. Without real penalties, certain teams routinely ignore the MLB slot recommendations and gain a seemingly unfair advantage. Unfortunately for Phillies fans, it appears that the Phillies front office is always reluctant to fight city hall. Thus, from my point of view, the Phillies failed to do enough to make up for the fact that they did not have a first or second round draft pick in the 2003 draft or a first round pick in the 2005 draft. This is a shame because I think Mike Arbuckle, Marti Wolever and their fleet of scouts have a pretty good eye for talent (at least in the early rounds), even if I do not agree with all of their tendencies.
This is all to say that there are more factors at play in picking a player than just whether the team thinks he is the next best player available. A team is trying to maximize the amount of talent signed--not just drafted--with its fixed number of picks and presumably a fixed budget. The worst kept secret is that teams are actively talking deals with guys before the draft and even during the draft. It appears that teams will call players during the draft to see if they will accept a certain amount as a signing bonus with the understanding that if such amount is agreeable, the player will be selected by the team with their next available pick. Given that teams make nearly twenty picks on Day 1 and another thirty on Day 2, obviously many things are going on simultaneously in each team's headquarters.
This year for the first time since 1998, the Phillies had a full slate of draft picks, plus an additional pick in the compensatory round between the first and second rounds. Expectations were running high (mine, for instance) that this would be the best Phillies draft since 1998. Now that the process has run its course, I think it probably is. I've found that I can pretty much rationalize my way into liking every Phillies draft as there is something great written about pretty much every player available in the draft if you look hard enough. Thus, the only distinction between draft classes is how quickly I can convince myself that the Phillies had a great draft. This one was pretty quick. (In contrast, I haven't got there yet with respect to the 2003 draft but I'm sure it's just around the bend).
Before getting to the analysis, let me be clear about my level of expertise on amateur baseball scouting: I don't have any. Other than some random video clips, I have not seen any of the Phillies selections play baseball. I am not a scout. (I used to be a scout, but that really only involved some camping, playing capture the flag and a few trips to the East Stroudsburg Hospital). However, I am not one to let my ignorance on this particular subject prevent me from having unwavering opinions: I have subscribed to Baseball America for several years and, thus, am without a doubt an expert (sarcasm for those unfamiliar with me). This year I doubled my draft coverage consumption (and annual expenditure on same) by purchasing a subscription at www.pgcrosschecker.com. For what it's worth, I found both to be worthwhile expenditures especially if you are as obsessive as I am about the subject.
So finally, here's my review of the Phillies 2006 Draft Picks (finally). In addition to the team's actual picks, for fun this year I tried to do a running "shadow" draft making my picks when the Phillies were up. Unfortunately, I failed in this endeavor because (1) I really couldn't keep up with who was left when the Phillies picks came up; and (2) I didn't realize that Milton Loo, a shortstop from Yavapai Community College signed with the Reds right before the draft started and, thus, was not available to be selected by the Phillies (or me). So "most" of the shadow picks mentioned below were made as the draft was being conducted but a few were, say, "adjusted."
Round 1 (18) RHP Kyle Drabek, The Woodlands HS (Texas): I think its very difficult not to like this pick. The consensus seems to be that he would have gone much higher had it not been for the oft-mentioned but rarely discussed off-field and make-up issues. I agree with the Phillies decision here, when you are picking 18th and not 3rd (or so), you take the risk. When he signs, he immediately becomes one of the top 3 prospects in our system. He'll almost certainly start with the GCL Phillies where my guess is that he'll get no more than 35 innings of work to take it easy on his arm. Next year he'll almost certainly go to Lakewood for the whole season. My Shadow Pick: Hank Conger, C (Huntingdon Beach HS, CA). During the draft, I picked Drabek just prior to the Phillies pick. However, I have deemed agreeing with the Phillies to be boring for these purposes and have changed my pick to Hank Conger a switch-hitting HS catcher with power. There are some indications that the Phillies were very interested in Conger with the 18th overall pick.
Round 1A (37) SS Adrian Cardenas, Monsignor Pace HS (FL). I really liked this pick. Cardenas had freakishly good numbers in an area where they purportedly play pretty good HS baseball. He was recently named as Baseball America's HS Player of the Year. The Phillies announced him as a SS but everyone seems convinced he's ultimately moving to 2B. He'll probably get time at both in the Gulf Coast League. It will be interesting to see whether he gets a full season assignment next spring. My Shadow Pick: Brett Anderson, LHP (Stillwater HS, OK). The Phillies seem to be doing a good job developing lefthanded pitching as of late so this made some sense to me as Anderson received first round consideration. Anderson went to the Diamondbacks in the 2nd Round.
Round 2 (65) RHP Andrew Carpenter, Long Beach State University (CA): I'm not a big fan of picking college pitchers early as the Phillies have not had much comparative success in this realm. Accordingly, this pick admittedly did not bring me out of the chair in my office in exultation. That said, Carpenter appears to be appropriate value here and the writeups seem to indicate that he got better as the season progressed. He's currently on the GCL Phillies roster and it's unclear to me why a college pitcher picked so high is not starting in Batavia. My Shadow Pick: Matt Sulentic, OF (Hillcrest HS, TX). Sulentic was just another guy whose writeup spoke to me - a high school hitter with superior production. The Athletics took him in the 3rd Round.
Round 3 (97) SS Jason Donald, University of Arizona (AZ): I liked this pick probably more than most. I think we're a little thin at SS in the system so I like grabbing one early, especially one who has been recognized as a top prospect for more than just his draft year. As fair caution, I note that I thought that John Hardy was a great pick in 2004 and that did not work out so well for the Phillies (or me either, I guess). Jason Donald was a top prospect coming out of high school in 2003 who turned down significant money to go to a good collegiate baseball program. His college numbers were OK but not spectacular--which made him a somewhat dangerous player to draft since he was represented by Scott Boras and Boras only represents "special" (read: expensive) players. However, he signed with the Phillies quickly and is currently the starting shortstop for Batavia. My Shadow Pick: Dustin Dickerson, 3B (Midway HS, TX). I have become obsessed with finding a 3B of the future. Mike Costanzo's numbers this year have not been horrible but they also have not made it clear that the Phillies are set for the future at the 3B position either. Dickerson slid all the way to the 15th round to the Nationals so perhaps he was not as signable as I thought. He has a scholarship to Baylor University.
Round 4 (127), OF D'Arby Myers, Westchester HS (CA): This Phillies scouting department is determined to keep drafting high ceiling high school OFs until they turn one into a major league ballplayer it would seem. I will admit that, in general, I much prefer it when some scout uses the word "productive" or "polished" to describe a high school hitter the Phillies have selected. However, even to critics like me, taking a high ceiling OF in the 4th round seems like a much better idea than say taking one in the first round where the legends of Jeff Jackson and Reggie Taylor loom large. As of this date Myers had not signed with the Phillies but expectations are that he will sign shortly after his June 23rd HS graduation. In addition to his baseball achievements, his academic achievements are significant and he has a baseball scholarship to Southern California. The Phillies have already signed high ceiling OFs in T.J. Warren, Darin McDonald and Dominic Brown this year and Jermaine Williams last year so playing time for these OFs is going to be competitive for the GCL Phillies. My Shadow Pick: Blair Erickson RHP (UC Irvine). Having started my draft with 4 HS players, I figured that I better start to take some college players to add a touch of reality. I lack originality so I migrated towards a former unsigned Phillies draftee who had great freshman and sophomore seasons in college but only an OK junior year. Erickson slid all the way to the franchise from baseball heaven in the 10th round in the real draft.
Round 5 (157), OF Quintin Berry , San Diego State University (CA): Seemingly good value here for a college OF with good numbers. Berry's sophomore year was impressive as he batted .419. His junior year average was down to .335 but he had 31 walks and 10 HBPs in 239 ABs. Although I'm too lazy to look up some supporting statistics, that strikes me as a lot of HBPs for someone not managed by the immortal Morris Buttermaker. I figure he'll be close to the exclusive CF for Batavia this season. My Shadow Pick: Andy D'Allessio 1B (Clemson University). Here I wanted a college bat to balance my earlier HS picks and I migrated towards a player who was a Top 250 draft prospect when he came out of HS. D'Allessio had 20 homers this year for Clemson. The Dodgers selected him in the beginning of the 10th round in the real draft.
Round 6 (187): LHP Dan Brauer, Northwestern University (IL): Brauer is a six foot lefthander who had a very nice 2006 season after redshirting his 2005 season following arm surgery. Brauer was the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in 2006, averaging just about a K per inning over 92 innings with a 3.30 ERA. During the draft I think this is where I started to get a little "itchy", not because Brauer wasn't a fair value pick but more because I thought this draft was going to have a little more oomph (read: High School Players, my unnatural bias) than it did. I will admit that I like it when the Phillies take HS players early. With a HS pick you have several years before you must concede that the pick is a total failure. With a college guy that time period is much shorter. So if you shopping for hope (as I am) on draft day, HS picks a least buy you a longer shelf life. My Shadow Pick: Tim Norton, RHP (University of Connecticut). Here I was still concerned that the top 4 picks of the shadow draft were too expensive, so I took a college senior. Norton went in the 7th to the Yankees.
Round 7 (217) 1B Theodore "Charlie" Yarbrough, Eastern Kentucky University (KY). He appears to be a huge fellow with a NASCAR name who put up big offensive numbers playing for a school that really isn't a baseball powerhouse. The college position players selected by the Phillies prior to Yarbrough were more speed and defense types. Yarbrough will try to add some power to a Batavia lineup that probably will have a difficult time in matching the production of the 2005 squad (featuring 2005 college draftees Mike Costanzo, Jeremy Slayden and Clay Harris). My Shadow Pick: Yasser Clor, RHP (Wilcox HS, CA). I like the Mike Arbuckle pattern of taking (and signing) at least 3 HS pitchers every year. I have no way of knowing for certain that Clor is signable here but its not an unreasonable conclusion either. Plus, Yasser Clor is a pretty cool name (not Josh Outman cool, but cool nonetheless). Clor slid to the 15th round on draft day.
Round 8 (247): OF T.J. Warren, Jesse Bethel HS (CA): The writeup I read about Warren made him sound like the rawest "high ceiling" kid to ever stroll a diamond. I like this pick here. In the 8th round, I don't mind taking a "player risk" at all ("signing risks" I would avoid until after the 10th round, however). Warren signed quickly and will fight for playing time in a very crowded Gulf Coast League Phillies outfield. I think I read that Warren hit a few out of Citizen's Bank Park during the pre-draft workout the Phillies conducted the weekend before the draft. No word on whether Ryan Franklin was pitching. My Shadow Pick: Bridger Hunt, 3B-2B (Central Missouri State). I wanted another college bat here and Hunt was still on the board.
Round 9, RHP Andrew Cruse, University of South Carolina (SC): The first of two picks in succession which might indicate that the Phillies are starting to be a little flexible in the whole bias against somewhat shorter RHPs. The guys in his car club back home call him the "Cruiser". Just kidding. Cruse is a RHP who had sophomore eligibility thanks to a redshirted freshman year. He pitched almost exclusively in relief this year with good but not excellent results. Given his sophomore eligibility he could have been a signing issue but he signed quickly and will pitch for Batavia, most likely out of the pen. I find it difficult to argue with this pick here. My Shadow Pick: Christian Vitters, SS (Fresno State University). I wanted another college bat and as I noted above I wanted to add a SS in the system. The Athletics took Vitters in the real draft in the 10th round.
Round 10, RHP Samuel Walls, North Carolina State University (NC). Here the Phillies took another not-so-tall RHP from the college ranks. He was NC State's closer this year and had a sub-3 earned run average. Walls has an elbow injury in his past but has been consistently good when he has pitched in college and summer leagues. Once again, I liked this pick here primarily because the service that I trust the most indicated that he should have been drafted much higher. Walls has signed and will likely be Batavia's closer. My Shadow Pick: RHP Aaron Tullo, RHP (St. Petersburg HS, FL): My third HS pitcher taken. If he doesn't sign this summer he's headed to St. Petersbug Community College making him a draft and follow candidate.
Random comments on other actual Phillies picks: I find it somewhat interesting that the Phillies took and signed three HS prospects after Round 10 from non-Baseball hotbeds in Jarrod Freeman (11th round from Utah), Darin McDonald (12th round from Colorado) and Robert Roth (19th round from Idaho). Each was arguably the best HS player in their respective states. Of the other college position players taken, I liked Cody Montgomery (16th) and Jacob Dempsey (21st) the best. It would be fun to think about signing Riley Cooper (15th), Josh Thrailkill (34th) or Kyle Gibson (36th) but barring some very peculiar future circumstances, I can pretty much guarantee those guys are going to go to college without signing. The Phillies might love Riley Cooper (and if you believe his agent, they do) but he seems determined to play football for the Florida Gators. Thrailkill and Gibson are the kind of guys who don't get picked for far longer than their talent would warrant because of signability issues. You definitely expend a late round pick on those guys, in case (1) you want an alternative to a high round draft pick who starts being unreasonable with his signing demands; or (2) a meteor hits the college where he was set to attend.
The Phillies have fired out of the gate with respect to signings (27 as of June 20th) and I suspect they have paid some "above-slot" bonuses to draftees taken after the 10th round. This is a welcome change in comparison to some tense prior years when negotiations have dragged into August. In summary, whatever slight disappointment I may have had as the Phillies made their picks and they weren't precisely the players I would have picked has disappeared. Upon reflection, it appears that the Phillies have done a pretty good job of reading signability--or paying their way out of it--and, thus, have done an admirable job of maximizing the talent obtained from this draft. There were only a handful of teams whose picks I liked better overall than the Phillies picks (Boston, Arizona and Washington spring to mind) and it's not clear to me that those teams will be successful in signing those players.
For a comprehensive review of the players selected by the Phillies in the 2006 MLB First Year Player Draft, I highly recommend the always-thorough www.philliesdraft.com.