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June 09, 2017

How the Philadelphia Phillies may attack the 2017 MLB Draft

As scouting directors, special assistants, area scouts, general managers, and team presidents and the like pour through the endless data of the hundreds of potential prospects available in the first-year player draft, you have to imagine that the last thing they do is log onto and relive some drafts of the not-so-distant past.

But as the Phillies prepare to pick within the top 10 of the MLB Draft for the fourth consecutive year (the draft gets started on Monday night, 7 p.m. on MLB Network), it’s more than a little interesting for a casual fan (or media member) to check out recent rounds. 

And, perhaps more specifically, a list of the players who were selected with the 8th overall picks, since that is where the Phillies will make their first selection on Monday night.

Because of the age ranges and level of competition – even the preparation at the most elite of college programs often pales in comparison to NCAA football and basketball – it’s an inexact science, trying to confidently pick a player you believe will be making a difference in the big leagues. 

It’s probably best not to overthink things, not worry too much about near-ready college player vs. high-ceiling high schooler, and surely not on position.

Ten years ago, in the 2007 draft, when David Price went No.1 overall, the Colorado Rockies had the eighth overall selection. They picked Price’s teammate, Vanderbilt closer Casey Weathers.

Weathers, who turned 32 on Saturday, never reached the big leagues. He’s currently with the Fargo-Morehead Redhawks of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball.

Two picks after the Rockies selected Weathers, one of their National League West rivals, the San Francisco Giants, picked a 17-year-old left-hander out of South Caldwell (N.C.) High School. The rest is, well, history: Madison Bumgarner has been outfitted with three World Series rings in the last decade.

The 8th overall picks in the last 10 years:

 YearTeam Player Position School  Now?
 2016 Padres Cal QuantrillRHP Stanford  Padres – Class A
2015  White Sox Carson Fullmer  RHP Vanderbilt  White Sox – Triple-A  
2014  Rockies Kyle Freeland LHP  U of Evansville  Rockies – MLB 
2013 Royals  Hunter Dozier  SS  Stephen F. Austin State   Royals – Triple-A 
2012  Pirates Mark Appel* RHP StanfordPhillies – Triple-A 
 2011 Indians Francisco Lindor SS  Montverde (Fla.) High School  Indians – MLB 
2010  Astros Delino DeShields  CF  Woodward Academy (Ga.) High Rangers – MLB 
 2009 Reds Mike LeakeRHP Arizona State U Cardinals – MLB 
2008  White Sox Gordon Beckham SS U of Georgia Mariners – AAA 
 2007 Rockies Casey Weathers RHP Vanderbilt  Independent League  

*Didn't sign, re-entered draft next year and went No.1 overall

But we don’t mean to pick on the Rockies. More than a handful of others teams missed on Bumgarner, too, just as the same number whiffed on Clayton Kershaw (7th overall) a year earlier.

Bumgarner’s draft really shows off the sheer unpredictably of a baseball draft and how the talent does or does not mature in the coming years. Three players who were in a recent Phillies spring training camp together went in the first round that year (Phillippe Aumont, 11th; Joe Savery, 19; Ben Revere, 28th) and it’s fair to say their respective careers haven’t been as fruitful as three guys who went just outside of the first round (Josh Donaldson, 48th; Giancarlo Stanton, 76th; Freddie Freeman, 78th).

So when Phillies amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz speaks in generalities rather than specifics when asked about the 2017 draft, you understand. You don’t want to marry yourself to one specific philosophy or group of players; you must trust your area scouts, the data you’ve acquired, and, of course, your gut.

If Almaraz has one philosophy that he does stick to, however, it’s that he focuses on players who have already exhibited strong baseball skills no matter the level they’re playing, and spends less time dreaming on toolsy athletes.

“I’ve never been the type of person to go out and take a player who I feel is not a baseball player first, so the guys that we get are going to be players who can execute the fundamentals of the game, go out and play,” he said, “and if they have the ability that will define what type of impact they’re going to have at the major league level, of course on how they progress in the minor leagues. But for me, they have to be baseball players first.

“A lot of guys that you want to dream on, it’s just like I’ve told my staff. It’s hard to get someone who has never been a very good pitcher and teach them how to pitch. Or somebody’s who has got big-time power and has never been a good hitter and teach them how to hit. You have to have the innate ability to pitch and command the baseball or show a level of that in manipulating the baseball. And, as a hitter, you have to show you have some type of barrel control and you can make consistent contact with the baseball and the rest takes over from there.”

Who the Phillies will take at No.8, according to latest mock drafts

Baseball America
 RHP J.B. Bukauskas, UNC   Austin Beck, OF, North Davidson (NC) High School    Pavin Smith, 1B, UVA   Smith

We looked at a half-dozen players who the Phillies could select on the first day of the 2017 MLB draft last week.

As the Phillies showed last year, in spreading their pool around over their first three picks, including No.1 overall pick Mickey Moniak, the draft is about much more than the first player you pick. It’s 40 rounds long.

Don’t be surprised if the Phillies repeat a similar strategy as last year. Not necessarily in spreading the pool around again (although if they like a guy who might be available at 16th-20th overall and cut a deal to take him 8th, and then go over slot in the next two rounds it wouldn’t be that surprising) but in acquiring college pitching throughout the three-day draft.

“You can never sign enough pitching, never sign enough pitching,” Almaraz said. “There’s a large group of quality college pitchers (available this year). And if college pitchers are there and they’re the best player versus a position player, I may very well go that way. … Last year we took JoJo Romero as the fourth (round) pick, (Cole) Irvin (in the) fifth. I don’t know if you guys keep up with those types of pitchers – they’re pitching well.

“We’ve got some relievers the (Grant) Dyer kid (8th round, UCLA), (Trevor) Bettencourt, who was picked way down there (25th round, UC-Santa Barbara), and they’re doing extremely well. There are always pitchers. My theory is to never, ever lay down with certain picks. It’s to work all 40.

“If you’re fortunate enough and your scouts are working hard each and every round, then you’re going to sign guys like the (Kevin) Pillars in the 32snd round, and the (Adam) Eatons in the 19th round, and college seniors, (Paul) Goldschmidt in the 8th round. There are players to be had in those rounds, we just have to work through the entire draft.”

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21

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