[I was working on this piece last night when this one came through as a Fan Post. I suggest reading the two in pari materia. I think it's fair to say that melloticus is of the same tribe as I am on the Phillies and the draft. RtP.]
It is pretty clear that the Phillies are going through a transition period right now where they are wringing the last bit of talent out of the "aging core" while marking time till some ill-advised contracts roll off the books. While we all have been seeing some hopeful looking green shoots on the farm, we are still waiting to see if the Phillies truly are finding their next core to build around. In looking at the Phillies' draft picks over the last ten years or so, it helps to understand why the Phillies are having some problems with this transition.
It takes a long time for a bad organization to get good. It can take less time, but still it takes a while, for a good organization to become bad. Baseball is like that, with organizational momentum that is picked up and shed over the course of years. It's like a diesel freight train more than a drag racer.
One of the most-important variables that add or remove momentum from an organization is the draft. There are other ways to acquire players (dumpster dives, the Rule 5 draft, international signings, free agency, trades, etc.) but the stock in trade of most teams, however, is the First-Year Player Draft, a.k.a. the Rule 4 draft. It encompasses generally high school players (who can sign or go to college instead) and college players. This is the "sign a free agent and give up a pick" draft, though those rules changed with the last collective bargaining agreement and "qualifying offers" and the like.
Teams turn draft picks into players by drafting them and signing them and developing them. They are also turned into players by drafting them, signing them, and trading them. Reviewing some of the names and you see examples of the former (Jon Singleton, 2009) and other names (Anthony Gose 2008 and Travis D'Arnaud 2007) let you see examples of the latter. Some are both (Vance Worley, drafted and signed in 2008, after he didn't sign in 2005 - developed, used, then traded).
In the NFL, a draft can generally be assessed less than twelve months after it occurs. Maybe it takes two years, but unless your first pick was a quarterback who sits on the bench for a couple of years, usually a draft can be evaluated in less than 24 months. Not so in baseball.
It can take five or six years before it is obvious how a draft worked out. Assuming a college player is between 20 and 22 years old at the time drafted, that is more than enough time to make it to the show, and in fact it is a little too long, actually. The time frame of five to six years also allows high school players to maybe make it, and if not, to at least show some sort of promise. Domonic Brown was drafted in 2006, and how he works out this year may tell us if the Phillies had a good or bad draft in 2006, or seven years ago. These things have a lot of lead time, hence the freight train analogy at the top.
In discussions about the state of the Phillies recently, there was some discussion about the drafts in 2007 and 2008, particularly the whiffs at the top of the draft (Joe Savery and Anthony Hewitt). In addition, there was no first round pick in 2009 thanks to the Raul Ibanez signing. Here's a list of the first round picks of the Phillies back to 1965. Even better, here is a list of all the draft picks by the Phillies for the years from 2000 - 2012. My contention in this article is that the Phillies whiffs in those years, while important, were just a part of a larger failure over a longer period.
In this walk down draft memory lane, take a look in particular at 2008, 2009, and 2010 - those are the years that are in the wheelhouse of "help now." I won't spoil it, but 2009 was just appalling. Not having a first round pick was just the start. Jonathan Singleton might have saved the draft, but for the waste that was the Hunter Pence trade, though that is not a "draft failure." Darrin Ruf? We're just wishcasting to salvage something from that draft now.
A better draft was had in 2008, even with Zach Collier and Anthony Hewitt disappointing at the top. The next five picks were Gose, Knapp, Worley, Pettibone, and May, all of whom turned out to have value for the organization as either ongoing prospects, trade pieces, or producers in MLB, or, as with Vance Worley, both.
If 2009 is the quintessential "bad" draft and 2008 is a pretty good one (but without an obvious "star"), 2010 appears to be more like 2009 than 2008. My inability to recognize virtually anyone other than Biddle and Gauntlett Eldemire (and the latter solely for his name) troubles me.
At this point, here's my quickie summary on recent draft history:
- 2008: Good-ish (lots of helpful players, none elite)
- 2009: Bad
- 2010: Bad
- 2011: Too early to tell
- 2012: Too early to tell