The Phillies recent run of success has much to do the success of their drafting in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. They hit on five straight first round picks (although 2001 pick Gavin Floyd ultimately had success elsewhere), and Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels (the Phillies 1st rounders in ’98, ’99, ’00 and ’02, respectively).
During that stretch, the Phillies never picked later than 17th in the first round. Thanks to their success, and spending on the free agent market, they haven’t picked that high since.
The team has had just one first round pick since 2008, and have changed their organizational philosophy since their successful stretch a decade ago. Given their depth in the majors the past few years and lack of first round picks, the Phillies have instead focused on toolsy high school players whose ceilings are high, but so is their risk.
Below are the Phillies top picks since 2008 (Name, year, round)
- Anthony Hewitt (’08) 1
- Zach Collier (’08) 1s
- Jason Knapp (’08) 2
- Anthony Gose (’08) 2
- Kelly Dugan (’09) 2
- Jesse Biddle (’10) 1
- Perci Garner (’10) 2
- Larry Greene (’11) 1s
- Roman Quinn (’11) 2
- Harold Martinez (’11) 2
What you see in this group is a collection of high-risk/high-reward players. Martinez and Garner are the only college player among them, making it a risky group as a whole.
The 2008 draft, in which the Phillies had four picks in the top 71, represented a change in philosophy in Philadelphia. The major league team had just made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years and were on their way to their first World Series win in 28 years. The major league team was loaded with young stars, and drafting players who were soon to be major league ready wasn't a necessity the way it is for many teams.
The Phillies used all four of their picks on high school players, with the riskiest among them being Hewitt. At the time, Baseball America said about Hewitt:
"There's also a huge risk that he simply won't hit in professional ball: his raw bat was overmatched against quality pitching on the showcase circuit last summer, and though he dominated vastly inferior prep competition this spring, he still struggles to recognize breaking balls and can get locked up at times by ordinary fastballs. But then he'll crush a ball 450 feet and give scouts a glimpse of his prodigious upside."
Unfortunately for the Phillies, that scouting report hasn't changed, and Hewitt, now in his fourth full season, has hit his way into non-prospect status.
Collier never had the power potential of Hewitt, but he was thought to be less of a risk as a pure hitter. Instead, Collier has a career .245 average to his name and has hit just two home runs as a professional.
Knapp and Gose have had better success, but neither is with the Phillies organization. Knapp was drafted as a hard thrower with flawed mechanics, a trend which continued into pro ball, but worked at the lower levels. He was included in the Phillies deal to get Cliff Lee from the Indians in July of 2009, and was the highest-ceiling player included in that deal, but his mechanical issues have led to injuries and he's thrown just 40 innings as a member of the Indians organization, and none since September of 2010. His future is in jeopardy.
Gose has developed into the potential Gold Glove center fielder the Phillies envisioned when they drafted him, he's just doing it in the Blue Jays farm system. Included in the Phillies deal to acquire Roy Halladay before the 2010 season, Gose has not developed into a dynamic hitter, but he's hit enough that, when combined with his plus defense, he's a valuable commodity.
WIthout a first-rounder in 2009, the Phillies selected Kelly Dugan with their first pick in the second round. Projected to develop power down the road, The Phillies have seen only a glimpse of that this season, as Dugan is in full-season ball and is slugging over .400, both for the first time in his career. Dugan isn't a bust, but still has a long way to go to project to ever reach the majors.
Jesse Biddle is the best prospect of the bunch, and even though he was not a consensus first rounder when he was drafted, he's pitched like one since. The prep lefty has a 3.13 career ERA and has struck out a batter an inning, and he is off to another good start this season in the Florida State league. Of the list above, Biddle is the only one that the Phillies can begin to count on in their future plans.
Perci Garner entered this season having thrown just 34 innings since being drafted. Because he split time with football at Ball State, Garner is similarly raw compared to the other Phillies draft picks despite his college experience. He's starting right now in the minors, but his two-pitch mix and lack of command (31 walks to 30 strike outs this season) signal an eventual move to the bullpen if he wants to make it anywhere near the majors.
Greene and Quinn both fall back into the Phillies mold of raw position players, to the point that neither has played a professional game yet and have spent their time in the organization in extended spring training. Greene is a raw power hitter whose entire value is in his bat, while Quinn is an undersized shortstop who is still learning to switch-hit. The Phillies are likely wise to have kept both players in extended spring training as long as they have, but these kinds of picks are the reason the Phillies have yet to see any rewards from recent drafts.
Lastly, Martinez is a player that was drafted largely what he did early in his college career (with the old metal bats), but saw his power disappear his junior year, and hasn't found it in pro ball. Despite his draft status, he hasn't hit for power or average or controlled the strike zone. His career .697 OPS doesn't bode well for him becoming a major league third baseman.
Luckily for the Phillies, they've done a much better job in the later parts of the draft than they have in the early rounds. The 2008 draft, whose early picks won't produce any talent in Philadelphia, did give the Phillies starter Vance Worley (3) and reliever Mike Stutes (11), as well as top prospect Trevor May (4), former top prospect Jarred Cosart (38), who helped bring Hunter Pence to Philly, and interesting pitching prospects Julio Rodriguez (8) and Jonathan Pettibone (3s). The Phillies could ultimately have found four legitimate major leaguers out of that bunch, three of which should actually play in the organization.
The team may not get anything out of Dugan, but the 2009 draft was hardly a missed opportunity, as Jonathan Singleton (8) was another major part of the Pence deal, while Brody Colvin (7) still has strong prospect potential and Aaron Altherr (9) hasn't amounted to much offensively yet, but the team still loves his athleticism.
The same late-round talent hasn't risen out of the 2010 draft, and it's too early to judge the 2011 draft, but the Phillies have had a strong track record with late-round college pitchers. The team is once again without a first round pick in 2012, and they continue to be frugal on the international market, so they will need to have the same late-round success if they want to replenish a farm system that has been depleted with trades and missed opportunities.