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Phillies Decide to Try Drafting Baseball Players for a Change

Will the Phillies forego a well known proclivity for drafting top athletes and hoping they can learn baseball?

In 14 years the Phillies have drafted two College players in the First Round (Utley and Savery). No other team comes even vaguely close to that. While everyone agrees that Utley was a resounding success, Savery is more likely thought to be a bust. However, Savery made the Majors and pitched fairly competently in a LOOGY role. That may sound like damning with faint praise, but Larry Greene, Jr. looks unlikely to ever get past A-level ball; Anthony Hewitt shows very brief flashes, but has never developed the baseball skills to unlock his expansive toolbox; Zach Collier is currently on the 40 man roster, but his hold on that spot is quite tenuous. Savery making the Majors is actually better than the vast majority of the other Phillies 1st Round High School picks of the last decade plus.

Under former Player Development and Scouting guru Mike Arbuckle the Phillies took on a strategy of selecting superior athletes in the First round with the highest possible ceiling and selecting safer College players from Round 2 on. They hit with Brett Myers, Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels, High School arms with Ace potential (Gavin Floyd never got to that level, but that's an article for another day. Neither did Myers, but we're all quite familiar with his issues), but missed with every other High Schooler picked in the First (though, to be fair, the jury is still out on 2012 picks Shane Watson and Mitch Gueller and on 2010 pick Jesse Biddle). Now, I say missed, but several of those misses brought back Roy Halladay (d'Arnaud and Drabek), John Mayberry, Jr (Greg Golson), Joe Blanton (Cardenas) and Freddy Garcia (Floyd, awful trade by any measure). It's also fair to note that Floyd was a successful Pitcher for several years in Chicago and d'Arnaud may still become a top Catcher for the Mets.

I've often felt the Phillies get unfairly pegged with a reputattion for just taking the toolsiest toolbox on the toolshelf in the draft, but really other than 2008 and 2004, the Phillies haven't done that. They've taken 7 Pitchers and 6 position players in their 13 High School First Round picks in the last 14 years. The jury is still out on 3 of those Pitchers, but the First 4 made the Majors (albeit Drabek has not been very good, though he begat Halladay who was). Even for the position players, 3 of the 6 made the Majors (though 2 barely did) and the most recent one is among the top prospects in baseball. So really, we're talking Hewitt, Collier and Golson here as the mythical lottery tickets the Phillies constantly take (every 4-5 years).

One fair criticism is that the Phillies draft in the First Round almost solely on ceiling, hence all the High Schoolers (even the College pick of Savery was a gamble that he'd recover from injuries to re-find his stuff and be a monster starter). If the Phillies had sprinkled in some safer College arms and position players in the First Round, maybe we'd all be cheering for Wade Miley, instead of getting stuck with Fauxsto and Miguel Alfredo Disabled List. Perhaps we wouldn't have been stuck signing Delmon Young and Marlon Byrd. Maybe we'd have an actual Outfield prospect of note (no offense to Dugan and Altherr, who are both fine prospects, but can't stay healthy and may not be able to hit advanced pitching, respectively). I have no issue with taking the occasional lottery ticket. My problem, in retrospect, with this strategy is that the Phillies are either incapable of identifying the lottery tickets likely to hit, or they're really bad at unlocking that potential through player development. I can't answer that, but Amaro, Wolever and Joe Jordan should be able to. Continuing to draw from that fairly empty well for well over a decade suggests they don't know either.

It's no use crying about spilled milk under the bridge or whatever, but it seems Marti Wolever, the Phillies Scouting Director, feels they need to take some safer picks. As he told reporters (like Jim Salisbury here) the Phillies may look for players that can help more immediately. Since the Phillies are an aging team and the directive is to remain eternally competitive.

One scary element here is that it could mean in a very deep draft with great upside that the Phillies decide to draft for need and with a Nick Gordon sitting there the Phillies grab the second coming of Mike Leake, Aaron Nola. A very safe, fairly low ceiling guy who could be in the rotation with little to no time in the Minors. Or Tyler Kolek falls due to teams not knowing what to make of him and the Phillies take Bradley Zimmer, a College hitter who could become Paul Konerko or Lance Berkman-lite. Both would be good picks, both would be huge changes of strategy. Leaving a whole lot of ceiling on the table for the safety of solid contributors. Can the Phillies do it? With so many tasty high ceiling prep players, could they really ask for the Vegetable Medley with so many tasty empty calories available? For that matter, Gordon and Kolek wouldn't even be huge gambles. I feel pretty confident that both will make the Majors (provided Kolek doesn't one day throw his arm to home plate with the ball) and, if they even get close to their ceilings, would be much bigger contributors than Nola and Zimmer.

Some safer College targets for the Phillies: Michael Conforto, Bradley Zimmer, Trea Turner, Aaron Nola, Kyle Freeland

If the Phillies decide to scratch their itch for top Prep ceilings: Jacob Gatewood, Nick Gordon, Touki Toussaint, Monte Harrison, Michael Gettys, you could also include Erick Fedde and Jeff Hoffman here in the Joe Savery risk plan.

I know one thing: if Jake Gatewood is standing behind a podium wearing a Phillies cap on Friday Morning, the Phillies may need an intervention to break this habit.