Phillies focus on experience in MLB draft

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Phillies focus on experience in MLB draft

Following the second day of the 2014 Major League Baseball draft, one thing has become clear …

The Phillies have put a premium on experienced players.

Of the 10 picks the Phillies made in the draft, nine college players were selected (see Phillies' pick tracker). Though some are juniors and may have a year of eligibility remaining, the team’s ability to sign its draft picks is very high.

That notion even extends to the lone high school player selected by the Phillies. Sam McWilliams, a 6-foot-7 right-handed pitcher from Beech High School in Hendersonville, Tennessee, is signed to play college ball at Tennessee Tech. However, based on a Twitter post from the coach at the school, it seems as if McWilliams is interested in signing with the Phillies.

Meanwhile, six of the 10 players drafted are pitchers and another, Aaron Brown, doubled as a pitcher for Pepperdine University. Primarily an outfielder, the third-round pick batted .313 with 12 homers in 57 games.

But as a pitcher, the lefty Brown went 12-1 with a 2.07 ERA. He throws a sinking fastball in the low-90s with a slider and a changeup. Brown sounds a lot like another two-way Pepperdine star drafted by the Phillies in Randy Wolf.

Unlike with Wolf, the Phillies prefer Brown as a power-hitting centerfielder.

Another power hitter selected by the Phillies was Rhys Hoskins from Sacramento State. Taken in the fifth round, Hoskins played first base in college, but dabbled in the outfield during summer league. He hit 12 homers with 18 doubles in 56 games in 2014 and cut down his strikeouts from 42 to 29.

The other hitters selected by the Phillies are Emmanuel Marrero, a slick-fielding shortstop from Alabama State and Matt Shortall, an outfielder from the University of Texas-Arlington. Marrero is a defensive whiz, but could be a project as a hitter. Shortall batted .353 over his last two years in college, though he didn’t draw high marks from the scouts for his patience at the plate.

Additionally, in the fourth round the Phillies took hard-throwing right-hander Chris Oliver from the University of Arkansas. At 6-foot-4, Oliver’s fastball is nasty. He also has a decent slider and a changeup that needs some fine-tuning.

Two familiar names selected by the Phillies are Brandon Leibrandt, the son of 14-year major leaguer Charlie Leibrandt, and Matt Hockenberry, a righty from Temple University.

Leibrandt played for college baseball power Florida State where he displayed a knowledge for pitching well beyond his years. Though he doesn’t have overpowering stuff, Leibrandt knows how to pitch and as a sixth-round pick, projects to be a back-of-the-rotation starter.

Hockenberry went 13-17 with a 5.06 ERA in four years at Temple. However, his numbers improved a lot in his senior year and he tossed two complete games.

After two days of the draft, here are the Phillies' picks:

Round 1, pick 7: RHP Aaron Nola, LSU (R/R, 6-2/200)
Round 2, pick 47: LHP Matt Imhof, Cal Poly (L/L, 6-5/220)
Round 3, pick 81: CF Aaron Brown, Pepperdine (L/L, 6-2/220)
Round 4, pick 112: RHP Chris Oliver, Arkansas (R/R, 6-4/185)
Round 5, pick 142: 1B Rhys Hoskins, Sacramento State (R/R, 6-4/225)
Round 6, pick 172: LHP Brandon Leibrandt, Florida State (L/L, 6-4/205)
Round 7, pick 202: SS Emmanuel Marrero, Alabama State (S/R, 6-0/180)
Round 8, pick 232: RHP Sam McWilliams, Beech High School (Tenn.) (R/R, 6-7/190)
Round 9, pick 262: RHP Matt Hockenberry, Temple (R/R, 6-3/220)
Round 10, pick 292: OF Matt Shortall, Texas-Arlington (R/R, 6-3/215)

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

Source: Phillies have agreement with free-agent OF Michael Saunders

The Phillies are putting the finishing touches on a deal with outfielder Michael Saunders, according to a source.

Jon Morosi of MLB.com reported the deal was close early Monday afternoon.

When the medical reviews and other loose ends are complete, Saunders will end up with a one-year contract for 2017. It is believed that there will be an option for 2018.

According to FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal, Saunders will make $9 million this season with the Phillies and the club option for 2018 will be worth $11 million with escalators potentially pushing it up to $14 million.

Saunders, 30, will give the Phils the left-handed bat they’ve been looking for in the outfield. Saunders is likely to play right field and his addition will likely push Roman Quinn back to Triple A, where he will get more seasoning.

Saunders is a veteran of eight seasons in the majors. He played in a career-high 140 games with Toronto in 2016 and made the American League All-Star team on the strength of a first half in which he hit .298 with 16 homers, 42 RBIs and a .923 OPS. He fell off in the second half and hit just .178 with 8 homers, 15 RBIs and a .638 OPS. Saunders finished the season at .253 with 24 HR, 57 RBIs and an .815 OPS.

With less than a month to go before spring training, the Phillies are likely done with their significant offseason moves. The offseason began with trades for reliever Pat Neshek and outfielder Howie Kendrick. Later in the winter, the club traded for starting pitcher Clay Buchholz and signed reliever Joaquin Benoit. Now Saunders is on his way.

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

Phillies Phodder: Jerad Eickhoff, a new bat, Montgomery and other matters

A few Phillies thoughts between NFL playoff games:
 
Jerad Eickhoff was in town the other day putting smiles on the faces of some special kids at CSN Philly’s annual Shining Star Awards dinner, which benefits the March of Dimes.
 
Before the event, Eickhoff was a guest on Philly Sports Talk and he was asked about the possibility of being the Phillies' opening day starter April 3 in Cincinnati. The right-hander said all the right things, noting that there were several worthy candidates and that the decision ultimately would be made by manager Pete Mackanin, and he was right on all counts.
 
In the big picture, it doesn’t matter a whole lot who gets the ball on opening day. The goal of every starter is to stay healthy for a full season and if he does that he’ll end up with 33 starts and ample opportunity to pitch himself to the top of the rotation.
 
Still, starting on opening day is a big honor, even if a lot of folks won’t remember who got the ball for the opener much beyond Memorial Day.
 
The 2017 Phillies have two legitimate candidates for opening day starter: Jeremy Hellickson and Eickhoff. 

Hellickson got the nod last year and did nothing to suggest he does not deserve the honor again this year. The veteran right-hander pitched 189 innings over 32 starts and was a pro’s pro from the moment he stepped foot in the clubhouse.
 
But with all due respect to Hellickson, this early vote for the opening day assignment goes to Eickhoff for a number of reasons.
 
First of all, he’s earned it with his performance. He led the starting staff in starts (33), innings (197 1/3) and ERA (3.65) in 2017. He delivered 20 quality starts and became just the fourth Phillie in the last 20 years to make 33 starts and record a 3.65 ERA or better, joining Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay and Curt Schilling. Mackanin and pitching coach Bob McClure constantly stress to the staff the importance of throwing strikes. Eickhoff responded in 2016. His ratio of 1.92 walks per nine innings was the fourth-best mark among National League starters in 2016.

In addition, he's earned it with his conduct and example. The guy approaches his craft with a maturity, dedication, work ethic and seriousness that is reminiscent of Roy Halladay.

All of this leads us to another reason that Eickhoff should get the opening day nod: The Phillies are a building team and Eickhoff, 26 years old and under team control for five more seasons, is going to be around for a while. Hellickson will likely depart for free agency after this season. Ditto Clay Buchholz. Awarding Eickhoff the opening day start would be a show of faith in the pitcher, a message that management believes he can be a rock and a leader in the rotation now and in the future. 
 
And as for the notion that holding Eickhoff back until the second or third game of the season would help keep him away from opposing teams’ top pitchers and get him better matchups and possibly more run support. Well, Eickhoff already knows what it’s like to face top rivals and keep his team in the game. Last year, he matched up against Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and twice against both Kyle Hendricks and Zack Greinke. Late in the season, he faced NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer twice and lefty stud Chris Sale once. He pitched 19 innings in those three starts and allowed six runs. Pretty solid.
 
It’s certainly not the most important decision that Mackanin & Co. will face between now and April, but when it comes to opening day starter, well, we like Eick.
 
• Spring training is less than a month away, but the Phillies’ offseason roster construction remains in progress. You can pretty much bank on the club adding a bat, likely a left-handed-hitting outfielder, in the coming days.
 
Brandon Moss and Michael Saunders, both free-agent outfielders, remain the most likely targets, with Moss probably the best fit because of his ability to help out at first base.
 
The Phillies have had longstanding interest in Jay Bruce, who is on the Mets’ trading block, but sources say the price for him is two prospects. The rebuilding Phillies are committed to hanging on to their prospects. Moss or Saunders would cost just money, making them better fits on a short-term deal.

• The Phillies will officially open their new developmental academy in the Dominican Republic on Tuesday. The club has leased four different facilities since ramping up efforts in the DR in 1994. The new facility, built on 45 acres in Boca Chica, is co-owned by the Phillies and Minnesota Twins. The two teams have separate baseball facilities and dormitories for up to 78 players. The clubs share kitchen, dining and field maintenance costs.
 
Read more about the new facility here.
  
• Agreeing at the midpoint and avoiding a hearing is always the goal when a player and his team exchange salary figures during the arbitration process. Cesar Hernandez submitted a figure of $2.8 million and the Phillies came in at $2 million. Shake hands at $2.4 million and move on.
 
• We mentioned this recently, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so remarkable. At home in 2016, the Phillies recorded a team batting average of .230 and a team on-base percentage of .291. Those marks were the club’s worst in more than a century of official record keeping.
 
• Phillies prospect Carlos Tocci is a strong candidate for the rookie of the year award in the Venezuelan winter league. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .323 with a .403 on-base percentage in 59 games for the Aragua ballclub.
 
Odubel Herrera was rookie of the year and batting champion in the Venezuelan league two years ago.
 
• And finally, Phillies chairman David Montgomery was among the honorees at the 14th annual Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation In the Spirit of the Game awards dinner Saturday night in Beverly Hills, California.
 
Montgomery received the Allan H. “Bud” Selig Executive Leadership Award. Rachel Robinson, the widow of Jackie Robinson, Hall of Famer Randy Johnson, Bo Jackson, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and a host of legendary scouts were among the other honorees at the event.
 
It was nice to see an organization dedicated to scouting recognize Montgomery, who served as Phillies president from 1997 to 2014. As leader of the Phillies, Montgomery always realized the importance of scouts in building a successful organization, and in his typical style built personal relationships with every member of his club’s scouting staff, right down to the area guys who drive around baseball’s backstreets in search of young talent. Winning the 2008 World Series was the highlight of Montgomery’s time as club president and that team was built on the back of good scouting.
 
So congratulations to one of the classiest and most respected men in the game on a most fitting honor.