Phillies aim for hitter in first round of draft – maybe

Phillies aim for hitter in first round of draft – maybe
June 3, 2013, 9:00 am
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The Phillies were 7½ games back in the division and 6½ back in the wild-card race entering Thursday. (AP)

Phillies scouts have been tucked away in a conference room on the executive level of Citizens Bank Park for the last week. They have dissected scouting reports, argued and debated, worked the phones, watched video, and burned the midnight oil as they get ready for the annual first-year player draft, which begins Thursday.

If there’s a little extra buzz in the room this year it’s because the Phillies have their highest pick since Marti Wolever began overseeing the team’s draft. After selecting pitcher Gavin Floyd with the fourth overall pick in 2001, Mike Arbuckle handed the reins to Wolever, who selected a San Diego kid named Cole Hamels with the 17th overall pick in 2002.

Because of doing business on the free-agent market – and the forfeited picks that come with that activity – and success in the big-league standings, the Phils have not had a pick that high since.

On Thursday, they will pick 16th. They will follow at 53 and 89 in the second and third rounds.

All drafts are important. Scouting is the lifeblood of any good organization and the draft is the amateur scout’s raison d’etre. But this one seems even more important than usual for the Phillies. They have an aging, banged-up big-league roster and a minor-league system short on blue-chip prospects, especially on the position-player side.

Wolever is tight-lipped on how he and his staff will spend their first pick. As always, he will lean toward the best available talent. But if that talent is a position player – all the better.

“We're going to get a very good player,” Wolever predicted. “We've got a couple of kids, I think – and, of course, I'm not going to pass their names around – but we've got a couple of kids that we have a lot of interest in, that I think can certainly make their major-league careers long and successful here.

“One guy in particular I saw last year and I thought he was one of the best position players I saw last year. I think maybe there is a chance we can snag him this year. I hope so. I have my fingers crossed.”

(Warning: Wolever isn’t above running a deception play to throw off opposing teams and nosy reporters. His mentioning of a position player might just mean the Phillies have a pitcher atop their draft board. You just never know.)

Baseball America’s mock draft has the Phils taking shortstop J.P. Crawford at 16. He comes from the same southern California high school as Shane Watson, the Phils’ first pick last year. First baseman Dominic Smith, a top high school hitter from the San Francisco area, could also be attractive to the Phils.

The Phillies picked 40th overall last June and took Watson. He is just getting his career started in the low minors. The year before that, in 2011, the Phils took a raw high school power hitter from Georgia named Larry Greene. He has had conditioning issues and is in the low minors. The Phils’ next two picks that year were shortstop Roman Quinn, an exciting speed-based player who was rated the organization’s second-best prospect by Baseball America, and corner infielder Harold Martinez, a former University of Miami player who is struggling in the Florida State League. The 2011 draft did produce two college players who are on track for jobs in Philadelphia, third baseman Cody Asche and left-handed pitcher Adam Morgan. Morgan recently got bad news as he was diagnosed with a small tear in his rotator cuff (see story). That’s a potentially major blow to the system as he is widely considered the team’s most advanced minor-league pitching prospect.

Pitcher Jesse Biddle was the team’s first pick in 2010, going 27th overall. He’s on a path to pitch in the majors and is rated as the system’s top prospect by Baseball America.

The picks of Greene, Asche and Morgan illustrate the Phillies’ draft philosophy under Wolever and Arbuckle before him. They will roll the dice on raw tools like power and risky, high-upside athletes that might blossom into game-breakers if their development clicks. Greene represents one of those guys. But the Phils will also take college players with more proven resumes like Asche and Morgan.

“You have to have a balance,” Wolever said. “People always target us as taking all high-ceiling athletes and we know that's not true. We love those guys, but we've also taken some players throughout the draft that are good college players, that are good baseball players, where the ceiling might not be quite as high but they have a chance to play in the big leagues quicker and maybe they would reach their potential a lot easier than other kids. You have to have a balance. Yet we still subscribe to high-ceiling athletes.”

The Phillies went the high-ceiling route with infielder Anthony Hewitt at 24th overall in 2008. He has not developed the way the team envisioned, has since moved to the outfield and is plodding along in Double A. The Phils rolled the dice on Hewitt that year because they had extra picks in subsequent rounds. Those picks became Anthony Gose, Jason Knapp, Vance Worley, Jonathan Pettibone, Trevor May, Mike Stutes, B.J. Rosenberg, Mike Schwimer,Tyler Cloyd and Jarred Cosart, who have all either made the majors or helped the Phils get talent in trades. The most highly rated talent in the Phils’ draft that year might have been outfielder Zach Collier, who, as a hitter, was compared to Garret Anderson. Collier, taken 34th overall, is struggling in Double A.

The flip side to the Hewitt pick was Domonic Brown, a high-ceiling guy with a football background who was taken in the 20th round in 2006 and is now putting it all together in the majors.

Look for the Phils to take more high-ceiling guys in this draft, but maybe not at 16. They seem to be angling for something more of a sure thing.

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