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June 03, 2015

For upcoming draft, Almaraz brings new scouting philosophy to Phillies

The new amateur scouting director hope to make major improvements on the team’s poor drafting record over the past decade

Less than a week before taking part in his first MLB Draft as the Phillies’ director of amateur scouting, Johnny Almaraz made it perfectly clear what he’s trying to get done.

“My definition of a successful draft is getting somebody in the first, second, and third round who are going to impact the major league level four to five years from now or sooner,” Almaraz said.

The scenario Almaraz is describing didn’t happen for a long time around here. Among all of the reasons that the Phillies find themselves in the predicament they’re currently in, the main one is the almost unbelievable lack of success they’ve had in the amateur draft for the better part of a decade. Check out this stat that’s Todd Zolecki dug up last year:

Forty-six Phillies draft picks have reached the big leagues over the previous 10 drafts (2004-13), which ties the A’s and Rangers for seventh-best in baseball. The average in that span is 41.8 players per organization. But the quality of the Phillies’ picks ranks last. According to Baseball Reference, the combined WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of Phillies draft picks over the past 10 years is 20.7, which is a remarkable 24.6 points lower than the 29th ranked Blue Jays (45.3).

Look no further than Reading to see that improvements (likely, we still don’t know for sure) have been made as of recent. J.P. Crawford, the team’s first pick in the 2013 draft, looks like a pretty darn good player. So does 2014 first-rounder Aaron Nola, an advanced college arm who is viewed as a lock to contribute to the major league rotation sooner rather than later.

Still, there were undeniably many missed opportunities in the previous years when Marti Wolever was running the team’s drafts. Although this wasn’t the philosophy behind every pick, Wolever had the reputation of a guy that liked to draft high-upside high school players with athleticism and tools. Basically, these were guys that weren’t finished products as baseball players. When those guys go bust, which happened a few times (Larry Greene Jr., Anthony Hewitt) in the past decade, it looks pretty bad.

In Wolever’s last draft, the philosophy took a complete 180. Of the Phillies’ first 28 picks last season, 27 of them were college players. Almaraz, who comes over from the Atlanta Braves organization, obviously shied away from bury any of his predecessors, but it’s clear that there’s a new line of thinking at the top of the Phillies’ scouting department.

“It’s really simple, it’s very basic,” Almaraz said. “My philosophy is that I look at the best baseball players with the best ability. And what that means — I’m pretty old school — is you look for guys who possess the baseball ability which is knowing how to play the game. If they know how the play the game, then you look for the tools to see whether they can run, throw, hit, or they have any type of power.”

Looking for the best players is the point of any draft, but Almaraz made clear that it’s baseball ability first, tools second. If that holds true, the Phillies’ scouting department is more concerned with what a player can already do than what he could potentially do than in the past.

“I really believe that baseball players need to know how to play the game fundamentally and pitchers [need to] have usually always done it,” Almaraz said.

The Phillies will have the tenth pick, and Almaraz said that he’s personally seen each of the projected top-15 picks three or four times. We don’t know if the player they’ll select (Vanderbilt pitcher Walker Buehler and Cincinnati second baseman Ian Happ are a couple of the names thrown often around) will be as successful as some of Almaraz’s greatest hits like Adam Dunn or Johnny Cueto.

What we do know is that there’s a different perspective running the Phillies’ draft this year.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann