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Phillies drafts: boom, bust, and Bohm

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After a long drought, improved drafting and development will be the key to building a consistent contender

This article is an update of Phillies’ recent Draft history: Boom and Bust, written five years ago at the start of the Phillies’ rebuild.[1] That piece reviewed the Phillies’ draft picks over the prior 20+ years, and how their success in drafting/development (in terms of total WAR produced by those picks) compared to the rest of the league.

Boom and Bust

At that point, we could draw a stark contrast between the two preceding decades:

Through the 2014 season

1995-2004 drafts: 351 WAR produced, 1st in MLB
2005-2014 drafts: 17 WAR produced, 30th in MLB

The WAR totals themselves aren’t that important in the comparison, since the earlier group will tend to have more, but the rankings are extreme.[2] It’s not often we see such a clear “first-to-worst”, even with arbitrary endpoints like these. But before we get too much further, let’s see how these two decades of drafts look now, with five more years of on-field production in the books. After all, some picks from the ‘95-’04 contingent are still active (Hamels, Happ), while the ‘05-14 group still have many years of major league production left.

It turns out that, five years later, the picture has not changed much at all:

Through the 2019 season

1995-2004 drafts: 396 WAR produced, 1st in MLB
2005-2014 drafts: 71 WAR produced, 30th in MLB

The Phillies’ 1995-2004 years remain one of most successful periods of drafting and development by any team in recent MLB history. Jimmy Rollins (1996), Chase Utley (2000), and Cole Hamels (2002) all produced around 50 WAR or better, and many others (Ryan Howard, Pat Burrell, Randy Wolf, etc.) have produced around 20 or better.

Their picks in 2005-2014 however are another story entirely. We now have a lot more information about those selections, as young players and prospects have had time to show whether they could contribute in the majors. There has been the occasional pick with relative success: Travis D’Arnaud (2007 draft, 10 WAR), Vance Worley (2008, 6), Ken Giles (2011, 10). And right at the end of that window in 2014, Aaron Nola (17) and Rhys Hoskins (7). However these rare successes aren’t enough to keep the group from being the worst in MLB over that period.

The second lowest total for 2005-2014 is 97 WAR by the Texas Rangers, which highlights just how bad the Phillies were. And while D’Arnaud, Giles, Nola, Hoskins, possibly Crawford, etc. should continue adding to the Phillies’ total, chances are they will not move out of last place, as Texas picks Tanner Roark, Joey Gallo, et al will also grow the Rangers’ total. Even if Nola, Hoskins, and Crawford all go on to long productive careers, chances are the 10-year group would still only improve to 29th, at best.

Last 30 Years

Setting those time slices from the earlier piece aside, let’s take a step back and gaze at the majesty (and not-so-much) that has been the Phillies’ draft record over the last 30 years (31, really, so that we can start cleanly at the beginning of the Lee Thomas and Jay Hankins administrations).

There’s a lot to unpack in the table below, so to get our bearings: for example in the 1989 draft, the players the Phils selected went on to produce 7 WAR in the majors: 0 by position players, and 7 by pitchers, led by Steve Parris with 6. That total of 7 WAR produced ranks 16th in MLB for that draft class.

Jeff Jackson was their highest pick, at #4 overall. For purposes of highlighting high picks that were busts, the threshold is set at an arbitrary (and fairly low) 3 WAR, and since Jackson never made it above AA, he’s shown in red. Undoubtedly some of the recent first rounders in the bottom right corner will also earn that red font in due time, by either not making a meaningful contribution in the majors, or possibly not even getting there.

The executives’ MLB rankings are based on total career WAR produced to date by the players the Phillies selected and signed during their tenure. For example their signed picks from 2002 through 2014 (the Wolever era) have produced 171 WAR so far, which ranks 28th out of 30 for those 13 drafts.[3]

This isn’t shown, but FYI when we take into account draft position and lost picks due to signing free agents, the only rankings that change are those of Jay Hankins (dropping from 20th to 23rd), and Marti Wolever (improving somewhat from near-worst at 28th, to near-near-worst at 23rd).

Below is a graphical view of the same information, showing WAR produced by each year’s selections. The most successful picks are broken out, and the rest are lumped in the light green “Others” columns:

Fig. 1

The above table and graph list both the GMs and the Scouting Directors over those 30 years. The GMs are ultimately responsible for the draft, and typically have final say on the first selections, but it’s the Scouting Directors who make the decisions on the bulk of the picks. We know who the GMs have been, and they are usually the focus of discussion, but here we’ll go through those last 30 years by looking at the Scouting Directors:

Jay Hankins, 1989-92

Lee Thomas had been hired as GM in mid-1988 when Woody Woodward was ousted by Bill Giles a mere seven months into his Phillies tenure. Thomas brought in Jay Hankins as scouting director in 1989, and their first selection, with the 4th overall pick that year, was 17 year old outfielder Jackson. There were a great many bad picks made in that first round, though that doesn’t lessen the sting that future Hall of Famer Frank Thomas was selected three picks later. The following year Mike Lieberthal was a safer bet, and would go on to ably hold down the catching position for a decade. By the way Peter Gammons wrote a piece for Sports Illustrated in 1990 called Making the Grade, which went behind the scenes in the Phillies front office at the time of that draft.

That was followed by the underwhelming first round selections of pitcher Tyler Green in ‘91, and outfielder Chad McConnell in ‘92, and with little else to show for those drafts. At least Kevin Stocker in 1991, who was a key piece on the ‘93 NL pennant winners, and eventually was turned into Bobby Abreu, could be counted as a success despite his meager 6 WAR.

Mike Arbuckle, 1993-2001

Arbuckle and Thomas started with three first rounders who made it to the majors but didn’t do much once there. But the second round of the 1993 draft also brought likely Hall of Famer Scott Rolen.

The Phillies’ success in drafting and development for the rest of Arbuckle’s tenure (under Thomas and then Ed Wade) was so great, that any look back at drafts from the mid-‘90s through 2019 still ranks the Phillies highly. For example, for 1995-2019 they are...

  • 3rd in MLB in total WAR produced by players drafted over those 25 years
  • 8th In the number of players drafted who have produced at least 5 WAR so far
  • 6th in the number of players with 10+ WAR so far, and also the number with 20+ WAR
  • 2nd in the number of players with 40+ WAR (Utley, Rollins, Hamels)

And that’s all after Rolen in 1993. Imagine if they had also signed J.D. Drew and his 45 WAR.

It certainly helps that the Phillies were successful early in this window, and so those players have already put up all, or nearly all, of what they’re going to produce, including borderline (or possibly better) Hall of Fame production from the top three.

Marti Wolever, 2002-14

Wolever had been the Phillies’ national cross checker in 1992-2001, making the final recommendations on many of the picks during the Phillies’ drafting heyday. Then in 2002, he took over as Scouting Director from Mike Arbuckle.

And in the first three drafts that he was responsible for, he did fairly well, starting with the best pick of his career, Cole Hamels in 2002. He followed that auspicious debut with two solid drafts: In 2003, with no picks in either the first or second round, he still landed Michael Bourn, as well as long time major leaguers Kyle Kendrick and Brad Ziegler. In 2004 his first round pick of Greg Golson didn’t pan out, but J.A. Happ (3rd round) has gone on to a fine career. His combined picks over those first three drafts of 2002-2004 rank 7th in overall WAR, and that improves to 3rd best when we account for draft position.

However his next nine (!) drafts had precious little in terms of major league success. From 2005 through 2013, he drafted only two players who have compiled even the modest total of 10 WAR so far (Ken Giles and Travis D’Arnaud), though J.P. Crawford may also exceed that total.[4]

This long stretch included first round picks Kyle Drabek (2006), Joe Savery (2007), Anthony Hewitt (2008), and Jesse Biddle (2010), and supplemental first rounders Larry Greene (2011), and Shane Watson (2012). J.P. Crawford in 2013 was a notable improvement, and while he’s been underwhelming so far, has shown flashes of promise and may put together a productive career.

Finally in 2014, in his last draft before being replaced, Wolever nailed it with Aaron Nola in the first round, and later Rhys Hoskins in the 5th. Thanks to Nola’s 17 WAR, and Hoskins’ 7, the Phillies’ total of 24 WAR produced to date is by far the most by any team from the 2014 draft.

Those very good bookends to his Phillies tenure though do not come close to making up for the long drought in between. His 2005-13 drafts are the primary reason the Phillies’ rebuild a) had to happen at all, b) took as long as it did, and c) must now be heavily supplemented through the free agent market in order to field a competitive team.

That drought meant, among other things, that Amaro could not replace the aging core of 2007-2011 when the time came. There may well have been other factors for sticking with the core longer than many fans wanted, such as trying to remain competitive while negotiating a new Comcast contract, but the lack of prospects who were ready to step in certainly contributed.

Johnny Almaraz, 2015-19

Wolever’s time with the Phillies finally came to an end after the 2014 season, when he was replaced by Johnny Almaraz. Almaraz had been with the Braves’ organization the prior eight years, and the last five of those as their head of international scouting, signing Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies, among others.

His drafts with the Phils were a mixed bag. Cornelius Randolph (2015) is not looking good so far, but the Phillies did also get Scott Kingery that year in the second round. They landed the first overall pick in the 2016 draft, but unfortunately it came in a year without a clear number one talent. Mickey Moniak was a consensus high pick, but so far has not looked like the franchise-altering talent that fans expected from a 1/1. Still, he has moved up the system at an acceptable pace and is still young enough (turning 22 this coming May) to allow for some hope he could be more than a 4th or 5th outfielder. The 2017 draft brought Adam Haseley, as well as Spencer Howard, Connor Seabold, and others, and could wind up being a very good haul. The last two drafts, headlined by Alec Bohm (3rd overall in 2018) and Bryson Stott (14th in 2019) will also be key in how the Almaraz era is ultimately viewed.

The prospects who have arrived in the majors so far from his drafts are essentially Kingery, Haseley, and Cole Irvin, and in the very early returns their combined total of 4 WAR ranks 13th for those draft classes. Obviously that ranking will change, and possibly dramatically, over the coming 10+ years depending on how well Kingery and Haseley continue to progress, and as Howard, Bohm, Stott, and others advance up the system and hopefully contribute in the majors (or not, as the case may be).

Signs of Life?

The graph below shows where the Phillies’ picks fall for each year’s draft: green is the team whose picks from that year’s draft have produced the most WAR so far, yellow is the team with the worst draft class by WAR, and black is the average for all MLB teams.[5]

The red line here is the same as the Phillies’ totals in the column graph above (Fig. 1), with a spike for the Rolen pick in ‘93, the great success of ‘96-’03, and the dearth of talent from ‘05-13 (so far at least). The 2014 draft stands out, and thanks to Nola and Hoskins, has already produced more than any Phillies draft since 2003.

The next graph is similar, except at each point we look at all the drafts combined, from that year through today. So for example, in all the drafts since 2000, the team with the most WAR generated from those drafts has had about 400 WAR, the average is 300, and the Phillies’ picks have also produced about 300.

Below are the WAR stats for the Phillies and the rest of the NL East teams (plus the Yankees for reasons that’ll become clear, if they aren’t already):

Below is the cumulative view, looking back, so again each column represents all drafts from that year through 2019:

The results out of the farm have been improving in recent years.

The Phillies began “reloading”, or ”retooling”, or whatever one calls it, at the 2012 trading deadline. Since then, they’ve had seven drafts (2013-19), the last two of which hardly count as players have barely started to arrive in the majors from those classes.

Over those seven drafts, they’ve had their share of misses, but they’ve also had their share of success. From the “Since 2013” column in the above table, we see that their picks since 2013...

  • have produced 30 WAR so far (Nola 17, Hoskins, 7, Kingery 3, Crawford 2, all others 1)
  • that’s 4th highest in MLB for those seven draft classes

Even if we include 2012, they’re still 8th in MLB in WAR produced from those last eight drafts. And if we adjust for their higher draft positions over those years, they are 10th since 2012, and still 4th since 2013.

Major league careers from those drafts have barely begun though, and we won’t have a good view of their results until a few more seasons have gone by.

The rest of the NL East

In the meantime, how have the other NL East teams done in recent years?

Braves: They had two strong picks to open the decade in 2010: Andrelton Simmons (25 WAR), and Evan Gattis (9). Since then the biggest contributor has been Alex Wood (14) from the 2012 draft.

Marlins: 2010 was huge for the Marlins, getting Christian Yelich (34 WAR) and J.T. Realmuto (17), as well as Mark Canha (6). The following year they selected the late Jose Fernandez (14 WAR) in the first round. Austin Barnes (2011, 6 WAR), and Trevor Williams (2013, 5) have also contributed so far.

Mets: The Mets also hit it big in 2010, landing Jacob DeGrom (32), as well as Matt Harvey (14). Michael Fulmer (8) and Brandon Nimmo (7) were added in 2011, followed by Jeff McNeil in 2013 (7), Michael Conforto in 2014 (14), and last year’s breakout Pete Alonso (5) in 2016.

Nationals: In 2009-2010 the Nationals had the number one overall pick in both years, and in both cases there was a clear best selection: Stephen Strasburg in 2009, and Bryce Harper in 2010. They followed that up by picking 6th overall in 2011, and landed another star in Anthony Rendon. Since then, however, their picks from the last eight draft classes (2012-2019) have produced a combined total of only 4 WAR so far, ranking 30th out of 30 in MLB.

Below are the NL East teams graphically, by year and cumulative. Focusing on the last decade to keep the graph simpler.

If we go back to the start of the 2010s, the Phillies rank 22nd, and the Braves 18th, but the others are 3 of the best in MLB by WAR produced to date:

#1 - Mets (DeGrom 32, Harvey 14, Fulmer 14, Conforto 14, Nimmo 8, McNeil 7, Alonso 5)
#3 - Nationals (Harper 35, Rendon 33, Ray 12, Giolito 5)
#4 - Marlins (Yelich 34, Realmuto 17, Fernandez 15, Canha 6, Trevor Williams 6)

However since 2011 the Phillies are close behind the Mets and Nats at the top, and since 2012 they’ve arguably had better success than the other teams, so far:

Hitters vs. Pitchers

For an additional view, the graphs below split out position players from pitchers. First, again, the overall totals since 2000:

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And then just position players:

These are pretty sorry results since Michael Bourn in 2003, with Hoskins providing a tentative blip in 2014.

And finally, just pitchers:

There have been intermittent success stories like 2008 (Vance Worley/Trevor May), 2011 (Ken Giles), and most impressively Nola in 2014.

That means that for the drafts in the decade (i.e. since 2010), they have been slightly better than average so far. That’s something many fans would be surprised by, as it runs counter to the narrative that the Phillies haven’t developed any pitchers since Hamels. It’s true, there haven’t been any star-level starters until Nola, but there have been enough more modest hits recently that overall the Phillies have done better than most teams.

Looking ahead: Brian Barber

Replacing Almaraz as the Phillies’ new Director of Amateur Scouting is Brian Barber, who was the Yankees’ national cross checker over the last decade, from 2010 through 2019. It’s tough to know how much of the Yankees’ success or failure to attribute to that role, and for most of those drafts there’s a lot that can still happen to change the overall assessment. In any case, using the same criteria as above, the Yankees’ drafts over these last 10 years have not yielded stellar results (at least not yet):

Aaron Judge has been the one great success in that time, bashing homers and compiling 18 WAR in the majors. All of their other picks combined since 2010 have combined for only 9 WAR so far. The total of 27 WAR (including Judge) ranks 28th. If we account for their lower draft positions, that ranking improves slightly to 26th. The Yankees are included for reference in the above tables with the NL East teams.

The graph below goes back well before Barber’s time as an influential scout, and is a visual version of the cumulative data in those tables. So for example the blue dot for the Yankees “Since 1995” shows that in the drafts in the years 1995-2019 they’ve selected players who have gone on to produce 261 WAR so far. That is the lowest total among the 30 teams for those drafts.

And the Yankees’ blue line closely follows the yellow “low” line at the bottom of the graph. Not that Barber necessarily had much to do with this, but they’ve been fairly bad at drafting/development for most of the last three decades. Over the last 30 years, they’ve drafted a total of only four players who’ve gone on to produce 20+ WAR: Jorge Posada (1990, 40 WAR), Derek Jeter (1992, 73), Mike Lowell (1995, 26), and Brett Gardner (2005, 37).

Summary

Reviewing a team’s draft record helps us to understand how they got where they are, but increasingly it’s only part of the story. In 2019 about 74% of WAR in the majors was from drafted players. The balance came from international free agents, and in order to flesh out the player selection and development story, a comparison like this is also needed for IFAs.

But for now let’s summarize the Phillies’ recent draft history. After a great run in the mid-90s to early 2000s, they went through almost a decade without drafting an impact player. That led to having to go through a rebuild, and the rebuild lasted longer than it should have because of the dearth of talent in the system when it began. Even in recent years the Phillies have certainly had their share of disappointments:

  • JP Crawford (16th overall in 2013) failed to quickly live up to fan expectations and was traded after the 2018 season
  • Cornelius Randolph (10th overall in 2015) has struggled
  • Mickey Moniak (1st in 2016) has so far not been the impact player fans were hoping for from a #1 overall pick

And yet there have also been reasons for optimism that they’re regaining their footing in drafting and development:

  • Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins have made the Phils’ 2014 draft class by far the best of any team that year
  • Scott Kingery (2nd rounder in 2015) and Adam Hasely (8th overall in 2017) have shown promise
  • Spencer Howard (2nd rounder in 2017) and Alec Bohm (3rd overall in 2018) appear ready to contribute in the majors in 2020
  • Since they began rebuilding, their draft picks (starting with the 2013 draft) have produced the 4th most WAR in MLB.

That has given them enough encouragement that a new core is on the way to begin spending big on the free agent market in order to put a contender on the field again. Supplementing heavily through free agency can work for a few years, but it only buys time, especially if owners aren’t willing to pay the competitive balance tax. Hopefully Bohm and Spencer will contribute and will be followed by a steady stream of prospects who can either contribute on the field, or have enough value to fill needs through trades.

Brian Barber now begins in the critical role of scouting director, and while the Yankees haven’t been the paragon of drafting success, our fingers are crossed that he (and Matt Klentak) can keep the pipeline flowing.

__
UPDATE: a companion piece on international free agents can be found here:
Phillies international signings: their share of major league talent, but no stars

Poll

Which of these will produce the most career WAR?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Rhys Hoskins
    (55 votes)
  • 27%
    Scott Kingery
    (99 votes)
  • 31%
    Alec Bohm
    (116 votes)
  • 22%
    Spencer Howard
    (82 votes)
  • 3%
    J.P. Crawford
    (14 votes)
366 votes total Vote Now