June 08, 2016
In a little more than 24 hours, the Phillies will make what is arguably the most impactful decision on their 2016 schedule.
They will announce who they’re selecting with the top pick in Major League Baseball’s amateur draft shortly after 7 p.m. on Thursday. And before the night is over, they’ll make another selection in the second round (42nd) overall, which could turn out to be as important to the future of the franchise.
No pressure, fellas.
“I’m looking at it as an opportunity,” first-year general manager Matt Klentak said. “We have the chance, there’s nobody picking in front of us, we can pick whoever we want to get the draft going. I wouldn’t tell you that this staff feels like it’s acting as though there’s any additional pressures on them.”
The last 15 players selected with the No. 1 Overall Pick:
Heading into last weekend, Klentak said the Phillies were down to a “small handful” of players under consideration for the organization’s first 1-1 pick since Pat Burrell in 1998.
Among those players is Mercer University outfielder Kyle Lewis, who was at Citizens Bank Park for a private workout on Monday.
But try not to read too much into that as many players (including guys under consideration for later rounds) come in for workouts in the days leading up to the draft and teams will often play mind games with opposing teams and player agents/representatives in an effort to put themselves in a better position for a pick/deal.
Still, Lewis, likened to a right-handed-hitting version of Jason Heyward when the current Cubs outfielder was considered a five-tool prospect, is definitely under consideration for the top pick. Others who could hear their names announced on MLB Network when the Phillies pass along their top selection: California prep outfielders Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford, Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel, and Florida left-handed pitcher A.J. Puk.
The fact that Puk, a 6-7 left-hander with great pure stuff, hasn’t separated himself this spring with inconsistency (and has some in the industry wondering if he’ll end up as a reliever) has his stock falling a bit as a potential 1-1 candidate. You’ll also notice the name of the other left-hander considered in the last few months as the closest thing to a consensus top pick, Barnegat (N.J.) High School’s Jason Groome, isn’t listed among the half dozen players above.
The risk pitchers present overall is sizable. Couple that with the fact that a pitcher is still in high school, and has yet to face tougher competition, and that risk extrapolates. There’s a reason only three high school pitchers have ever been selected with the No.1 overall pick in the first 50 years of the draft. We examined that some in last month’s draft preview.
Something else we mentioned a month ago: without an obvious, consensus top pick on the board (no Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg or Alex Rodriguez) the Phillies are likely to manipulate the dollars available to them. The Phillies have the second highest draft bonus pool (just under $13.5 million), which includes $9.015 million for the No. 1 overall pick.
If they come to the conclusion that there isn’t a consensus in the draft room between, say three different players, they could choose to select the player that they can cut the best deal with since none of those aforementioned players will command $9 million. By doing that, the Phillies would then have savings that would roll over and allow them to fetch top talent with their second pick, too.
“We’re going to take the best player whether he’s a pitcher or a position player,” said amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz, who is running his second straight draft with the Phillies. "Hopefully, we can get a deal done where we can maximize our dollars. But that’s not relevant to us taking the 1-1.”
“The way that the draft system is set up, (the pool money that comes with the No.1 pick) does allow for more creativity in the draft for teams that have more pool space,” Klentak said. “That's the reality of the system and we're not going to shy away from that.”
One scenario Baseball America editor John Manuel offered on Tuesday: the Phils could get both California prep outfielders, drafting Moniak, perhaps the current favorite at 1-1, with the top pick while getting him to sign well under slot and then “try to float” Rutherford to the 42nd pick with the intention of signing him for “essentially the same bonus as Moniak.”
In that scenario, Rutherford would scare off teams by giving off the vibe that he will be difficult to sign if he’s not selected in the first five picks (there’s a $1 million drop-off in the slot value of the 5th and 10th overall picks, for example) and that he’d be just as content honoring his commitment to UCLA and re-entering the draft in 2018 (when he’s eligible again since he’s already 19-years-old).
“There’s definitely a chance I still end up at UCLA,” Rutherford told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I love UCLA. My family is a big education-first, big school-first family.”
Notable: the Cincinnati Reds, who will make the second, 35th and 43rd selections in the first two rounds of the draft on Thursday night, are the only team with a richer draft pool than the Phillies.
In addition to getting the most out of their money, the Phillies, who have embraced analytics more within the last two years, are also not blind to the intangibles that don’t show up on a stat sheet. When you’re committing millions of dollars to an athlete, particularly one who is so young, you have to have a good handle on the character of the person within the athlete.
He might be physically talented, but is he motivated enough regularly to fulfill the potential in his arm or bat? Is he popular with teammates? Is a minor off-the-field incident a real concern, or just a teenager acting like a teenager?
“That's something that we factor into any player acquisition decision, whether it's a waiver claim or a trade or a draft pick,” Klentak said. “You guys are around players all the time, you know what it's like in major-league clubhouses and minor-league clubhouses. The makeup of a person and the makeup and character of a team, all that stuff really matters. That's one of the critical jobs of an area scout is really getting to know as best as we can the player, the family, so that when we invite this player to join the Phillies family, they really fit in.”
And, in regard to the top pick: will that young and impressionable kid be overcome by the pressure that’s bound to come with being the No.1 overall pick in a draft, or will he embrace it?
“There’s a degree of expectation that comes along with being the first-overall pick,” Klentak said. “And for good reason.”
“I think all of us at the end of the day know we’re buying a human being, buying a person,” Almaraz said. “That’s what I believe. Character is extremely important. He has to be somebody who can handle that label of being 1-1. I think you have to be wired the right way to handle that and go about your business day in and day out to be the best you can be and achieve your ceiling, the one we believe you have.”
The Phillies top picks in the last 15 years:
The Phillies work does not end on Thursday night, either. The draft picks up again with the beginning of the third round (and through round 10) at 1 p.m. on Friday and then concludes after rounds 11-through-40 on Saturday.
With a revamped farm system rich with both position players and pitchers, the Phils will almost certainly try to strike a balance with their picks, both in the early rounds and beyond. They’ll take high school position players and college pitchers, and high school pitchers and college position players, too, depending on who they feel will have the most fruitful big league career at the time of each individual pick.
Almaraz said he won’t be “tempted at all” to take players that are perceived to be on a faster track to the big leagues.
“I think there’s a big difference between somebody who plays in the major leagues, gets there, and somebody who impacts your club for 10 years,” he said. “My job is to take the best talent, the best available player, that will impact the organization for years.”
For the last year, the Phillies have done their homework. Their area scouts have been all over the country, filling out reports and reporting back to Almaraz and company. A Who’s Who of the organization’s special and senior advisors, including Pat Gillick, Charlie Manuel, Charley Kerfeld, Ed Wade, and Bart Braun among them, have also traveled near and far to get their own eyes on the draft’s top prospects, and have returned to offer their own expert takes on players.
“For me, it’s like a puzzle,” Almaraz said of the enormity of personal, statistical, financial and medical information, to go along with the expert opinions, that have been shared in the draft room at Citizens Bank Park since the beginning of the month.
“Everyone brings a little piece of information and I’m putting it together,” Almaraz said. “It has been really exciting because you see your scouts and bring them to the table with strong conviction.”
It all culminates Thursday night, when the Phillies will have a real opportunity to enrich the rebuilding process, and when they will be in a better position than any of the other 29 teams to land a future big league star, too.