Froback Friday - The 1998 Draft

Howard Smith-US PRESSWIRE

For anyone over 30 I don't need to describe how awful the Phillies were in the late 90's and how badly they needed a good draft.

In case you didn't guess, this was planned for Thursday and will be a recurring series On Thursdays hereafter) through the 2014 Draft looking back on past drafts.

The Phillies made a surprise run to the World Series in 1993 with a band of misfits reminiscent of the old Raiders in the NFL. Stocked with castoffs, malcontents and various unheralded pieces. I think many expected the Phillies to sustain success with younger players like Stocker, Schilling and Hollins. Instead Hollins threw a lot of souveneirs into the stands, and fell apart at the plate. Stocker regressed hard. Schilling remained good, but one Starter doesn't make a team good, there are 5 or 6 other days in the week. The Phillies wouldn't post another winning record for nearly a decade and wouldn't get back to the playoffs for another 13 years.

The Phillies made a few good draft picks around the time in '93. In 1990 they took Catcher Mike Lieberthal #3 overall. In 1991 they took Tyler Green, Kevin Stocker and were unable to sign Temple product Bobby Higginson (not a world beater, but considering the late 90's saw Darren Daulton briefly playing terrible OF and various other obscure trivia answers, he would have been nice to have). '92 was a barren wasteland of dreck. 1993 brought us Scott Rolen and the always "entertaining" Wayne Gomes (he of the nearly 1:1 K:BB ratio. was picked 4th overall, ahead of Billy Wagner, Chris Carpenter, Torri Hunter (wow), Derek Lee and Trot Nixon). '94 = wasteland. '95 = Marlon Anderson and nothing else. 1996 got us our first 2 members of the World Series team in 2008: Adam Eaton and Jimmy Rollins.

1997 should really have been the spot where we took that momentum and built a winner. Lieberthal was playing in Philly, Scott Rolen was becoming a star, Wayne Gomes was throwing things in the general area between the 2 dugouts and, the Phillies didn't know it yet, but they'd drafted the best Shortstop in franchise history the year before. The Phillies outdid themselves in 1996 and got the #2 overall pick as a "reward" in 1997. 1997 in retrospect was not a great draft, but there was some talent there. Troy Glaus, Vernon Wells, Michael Cuddyer and Lance Berkman were all in the draft. As was a prospect asking for an, at that time, absurd signing bonus JD Drew.  The Phillies were reknowned for their cheapness at the time, so when they selected Drew it was quite a surprise. Drew stuck to his 7 figure demands, the Phillies stuck to their guns and Drew was sent back into the pool for the 1998 draft.

A theorhetical team with Drew, Lieberthal, Rolen, Rollins and some of the 1998 picks certainly could have been contenders by the early 2000s, in theory. The team still had Schilling at the time and they had taken Randy Wolf in round 2.  Perhaps the Phillies would have still taken Burrell in 1998 as well and you'd be looking at a pretty solid club (of course that also means no Hamels or Utley later, but I digress).

With the loss of Drew and a frustrated fanbase already stockpiling batteries, the Phillies needed a draft in '98 to add to the rebuild. Looking at the time you saw a potnetial nucleus. With the 1st overall pick and a compensation pick at the end of the First for out-stubborning Drew, the Phillies could add significant talent.

Now, this is where we can get into a bit of a debate. Is a good draft amount of WAR or volume of MLB contributors. If we go by WAR, the 1971 Draft was the best Phillies draft of the modern era, as that draft amassed over 110 WAR. Now, 106.5 of that WAR came from Mike Schmidt. If we look at volume, 1998 is right up there. First overall, the Phillies took U of Miami Third Baseman/lady killer Pat Burrell. With that supplemental pick the Phillies took Eric Valent, a talented College hitter who just could not make contact at the Major League Level. Valent was out of baseball within a decade after one kind of good season with the Mets in 2004.

With their 2nd rounder the Phillies took a highly regarded High School Pitcher named Brad Baisley. Baisley was good enough to sneak up to reach almost the Top 50 prospects in baseball list in 2000, getting to #52. Then Baisley got to AA, where hitters enjoyed his repetoire a whole bunch. Baisley proceeded to spend the rest of his (brief) career in A ball.

Round 3 brought Jorge Padilla, a tall Florida HS Outfielder who never saw a pitch he didn't want to swing at. Padilla actually made pretty consistent contact in the minors, but his power never developed and he didn't hit well enough to get called up. He got a cup of coffee with the Nationals in 2009. He looked good at times, but never quite figured it out. He retired in 2012.

Round 4 brought a second productive player: Jason Michaels, Burrell's teammate at the U, Michaels spent parts of 11 seasons in the Majors. Michaels was a 5th OF and pretty much the template for Replacement player. The Phillies traded him in 2006 for Arthur Rhodes. Rhodes was the poster child for the LOOGY and pitched into his 40's. The Phillies, of course, just had him pitch to whomever, and he was awful for that one season.

In the 9th round the Phils grabbed a High School RHP from Southern Cal named Ryan Madson. The Phillies tried Madson for a few starts in the Majors, but quickly converted him to relief (then back to starter for 17 games that went quite poorly). Madson really found his footing in the Pen and was one of the best relievers, season to season, in baseball from 2004 through 2011. Sadly Shoulder problems derailed Madson's career just when he had a chance to be a full time Closer. Not officially retired, Madson has pitched to 3 hitters in the last 3 years. Madson of course was a big piece of the Phillies dominant bullpen in 2008. All a mediocre Starting 5 (aside from Hamels) had to do was last 6 Innings without imploding and turn it over to Romero/Madson/Lidge and th game was pretty much over in the 7th.

In the 15th round the Phillies picked up Geoff Geary, a College Pitcher, Geary spent 7 seasons in the Bigs as your template fungible bullpen arm. Perhaps most notable was that he was one of three players traded to Houston for Brad Lidge and Beardo.

The Phillies weren't quite done yet, as they grabbed super-sub bench player Nick Punto in the 21st round. Punto only spent 3 seasons with the Phillies before being traded for Eric Milton. He's spent 14 years in the Majors, playing First, Second, Third, Short, Center Field, Left Field, Right Field and DH. He's got a good glove, has kept himself above the Mendoza line and is about the best outcome one can really hope for with most picks after round 20. Punto has amassed nearly as much career WAR as #1 overall pick Pat Burrell. The draft is a funny thing.

Many times I think we get spoiled by the NFL and NBA Drafts. For the most part, guys picked in Round 1 end up being immediate contributors. Many end up stars or key pieces on their teams, sure there are busts, but they're less prevalent than the successes. The MLB draft is mostly busts. Even in Round one, most of the guys will end up being busts or good role players with a handful of stars, at best, coming out of the draft.  Sure, it's a shame the Phillies didn't have things work out with Valent and Baisley, but the best player drafted in Round 2 that year was Brandon Inge. The best player drafted behind Padilla in Round 3 (who actually signed) was future 20 game loser Mike Maroth. Believe it or not, Michaels is in contention for best pick in the 4th that year.

Coming out of any draft with 5 future Major Leaguers is pretty good work. Teams are built over several drafts in baseball, and hopefully we have future pieces of a core in Crawford, Biddle, our 2014 pick(s), Franco and others. Just not another Wayne Gomes, please.

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