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Final 2015 Phillies Pre-draft Notes

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We're just a weekend away from the glory and excitement of the one pro-sports draft where you may never see more than 5% of the picks make your team.

I was going to make a big ol' comp to the 2008 before realizing that, at the top at least, that was a decent draft. Still, I want to talk about the Phillies 2008 Draft for the purpose of strategy. That draft gets derided a lot for the Phillies picks. By the time the Phillies were selecting the impact talents (Hosmer, Posey, Alvarez, Matusz - hey there are no sure things in the draft) were long gone. What was left was a mix of lower ceiling College arms, Signing risks (Cole) and a few high risk High Schoolers. The Phillies flaw wasn't selecting Anthony Hewitt or Zach Collier or Anthony Gose or Jason Knapp, the flaw was more selecting Hewitt and Collier and Gose and Knapp (though in fairness the last 2 helped get Lee and Halladay). This year's draft has even fewer potential impact players, leaving the Phillies at 10 in a similar position to 2008 (unless a few teams go underslot). There is good depth in solid contributors in this draft and some of the injury red flags may drop to the Second Round pick. All this is to set up the discussion of strategy with some context for my thoughts.

The first option is to go underslot and get one of those safe contributors for below pick money. By doing so you save some cash to go overslot late for some of the guys known to be signing risks with big College commitments. The first question this begs is "Who are the best underslot options?" Well, let's look at them:

  1. Kolby Allard, LHP - Seemingly the one potential pick I didn't get around to profiling. Potential for a Plus Fastball and Curve. Good control for a High Schooler. Like most HS Pitchers no real Changeup to get excited about, but prior to his back injury (stress reaction, with rest it should be fine) he was a possibility for #1 overall and a very good shot for Top 10.  Of course, like Aiken, if he wants to push for Top 10 money, he can still go on to UCLA or go to a JC and re-enter next year. Haven't heard much specific about the money he wants.
  2. Ian Happ, 2B/OF - Profiled before and he's all over lists. Top 10 isn't out of the question, but he is a little out of the blue. Fairly high floor.
  3. Kevin Newman, SS - The Phillies have been linked to the Arizona Shortstop. Keith Law loves Newman, but he's kind of out there on his own largely with that one. If you squint you can see 10-15 HR power developing down the road. Decent Defense. Average speed. He's currently a premier Singles hitter with no Power at all. Think Ben Revere with more Walks and less speed. His ceiling might be a 1.0-2.0 WAR Second Baseman, a little higher if he gets some power. Worth noting better Pitchers flummoxed him inside on his hands (though even then he managed to hit almost .280 with a .330 OBP).
  4. Brady Aiken, LHP - The risk scares me a bit, but he's the only Pitcher in this draft that I see with any hope of ever being a #1 Starter. Having no visibility to the Medical reports, I can't rank him higher.
  5. Cornelius Randolph, SS/3B/LF/?? - Also previewed earlier. Very good bat. No idea where he should play Defense other than it not being Shortstop.
Who's worth the overslot?
  1. Luken Baker, 1B - Previewed earlier. Huge Power potential lots of swing and miss. Also draftable a Pitcher, though Power as a Hitter is really his strength. Stated he's honoring his College commitment. Signing risk.
  2. Justin Hooper, LHP - His recent contract demands have been as all over the place as his Pitching. Rumor is he's lookign for early First money, a place he has no chance of ending up. Almost as big a signing risk as Baker.
  3. Ryan Johnson, OF - Very raw, but highly regarded before the season. He did the exact opposite of capitalizing on that hype and had an awful season. I doubt he'll sign, but instead go to TCU and try to rebuild his Draft status for a few years.
There are other options, but those are the ones that come to my head first. Using this strategy it's like getting an extra 3rd to 6th round pick. The advantage in this year's draft is that you're not passing up any superior talent in the First Round to get an underslot player. This is an option to get a safe player early, or at least what passes for a safe player in this draft, then gamble on ceiling later.

Of course, I noted the Phillies' 2008 draft strategy for a reason and not just because it kind of stunk. No because this draft has a few things in common and the Phillies can deploy a midway between their 2008 and 2014 strategies. In 2008, of course, most every pick was high risk, while 2014 saw mostly very safe picks. But every rebuild needs impact players, not just solid contributors and a few guys in this draft have impact potential. Brady Aiken is one, but my favorite one is Garrett Whitley the New York HS OF. I feel like 10 years from now people will either look back and say "My god, how did (x number of) teams not draft this guy? They must be kicking themselves." or "My god, why did they draft that guy? They must be kicking themselves.". The delta here is a low end of Anthony Hewitt with better D, but a worse arm all the way up to Andrew McCutchen with a worse arm. The median outcome being Cameron Maybin. Of course, this strategy is predicated on going safe in Round 2, where the depth of reliable contributors comes into play. The Phillies could take a guy like Joe MCCarthy, the Virgina OF who lack more than Doubles power, but has excellent contact skills. He'll be limited to Center or Left Defensively due to a weak arm though. Or you could go Chris Shaw who has shown grade 70 power before a Hamate injury this spring. Or Blake Trehan, the poor man's Alex Bregman. Or Andrew Suarez, the Miami Lefty who projects as a mid-rotation starter (though also had a Labrum surgery a few years back, which is kind of scary). Then in the Third maybe you take a risk again with a kind like Blankenhorn, the Pottsville masher. Before taking a safer College player again the Fourth.

Sure, Whitley could end up a terrible pick, but so could anyone. I'll even go a step further and note that the 2008 Drafts problems were also the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2011 drafts. A barren wasteland full of incessant gambling and failure. It looks presently like the Phillies killed it in 2013 and 2014 at the top of the draft, so a miss here wouldn't be as bad. And a hit here? You really jump start the rebuild if Whitley's pitch recognition is as advanced as reports note and he's as quick to translate instruction to performance as he showed last year at the Area Code games. Suddenly you've assembled most of another core with another probably top 5 pick next year and money coming off the book. I'm all for rolling the dice. There are no rewards without risk.