The Phillies’ scouting staff has been holed up in a conference room at Citizens Bank Park for a week going over reports, discussing players, reviewing statistics, watching video and doing whatever else it takes to finalize what may be the most important decision the club will make all season.
For just the second time ever, the Phillies have the first overall pick in baseball’s first-year player draft. In 1998, they selected Pat Burrell and he became an important part of the core that won a World Series a decade later.
So who will be the pick when this year’s draft commences on Thursday night?
As of early Monday night, the Phils were still undecided.
“We have a small group of players, both position players and pitchers, that we’re considering and we’re hammering it out every single day,” said Johnny Almaraz, the team’s second-year scouting director. “We’re narrowing things down now and hopefully a few hours before [the draft] we’ll be pretty much on target with who we want.”
The Phillies will make two picks Thursday night. After making the No. 1 selection, they will lead off the second round with the 42nd overall pick. Both should be top talents.
Phillies officials are extremely tight-lipped about who they are targeting at No. 1. Club president Andy MacPhail and general manager Matt Klentak are committed to building the team “with waves of pitching,” to use Klentak’s words. Though there are some impressive pitching prospects at the top of this draft, no one pitcher has separated himself as the clear No. 1 pick. Therefore, the Phillies could end up with a position player at No. 1. The Phillies appear to have four hitters and a pitcher on their short list at No. 1.
The hitters include Mickey Moniak and Blake Rutherford, a pair of high school outfielders from California; two college outfielders, Kyle Lewis of Mercer and Corey Ray of Louisville; and a college pitcher, lefty A.J. Puk of Florida. We profiled Puk in February (see story). Lewis worked out for Phillies scouts Monday morning at Citizens Bank Park. These private workouts are not unusual. The Phillies have held many of them with top prospects, some in Philadelphia, some elsewhere.
Because there is no clear-cut No. 1 pick such as Burrell in 1998, Stephen Strasburg in 2009 or Bryce Harper in 2010, the Phillies could look to get financially creative and strike a pre-draft deal with someone like Moniak or Rutherford for less than the $9.01 million bonus that the No. 1 pick has been slotted to get by Major League Baseball. The Phillies could then use some of the savings on their second pick, possibly enticing a top high school talent to forgo a college commitment and begin his pro career. The slotted bonuses for the top 10 picks range from $9.01 million at No. 1 to $4.38 million at No. 5 to $3.3 million at No. 10. The 42nd pick slots in with a $1.53 million bonus.
Almaraz was asked about the strategy of skimming from the top and spreading money around. He hinted it was a possibility.
“We’re going to take the best player whether he’s a pitcher or a position player,” he said. “Hopefully we can get a deal done where we can maximize our dollars. But that’s not relevant to us taking the 1-1.”
Almaraz was asked if the absence of a clear-cut No. 1 made things more challenging for his staff.
“It really doesn’t,” he said. “If you look back to 2005 and look at the first overall pick and the performers in their class, a lot of the No. 1 picks are [Nos.] 8, 9, 10 as far as [major-league] performance is based. A lot of guys that were taken between the fifth and 20th pick have outperformed the first overall pick. Knowing that, it’s helped me widen the range of prospects as far as we’re concerned at 1-1.”
That wider range of prospects, and success that some mid-first-rounders have had, could also point to the Phillies looking to strike a pre-draft, below-slot deal at No. 1 and spreading their money around.
“I think that would be a really good scenario if that would play out,” Almaraz said of the possibility of getting a hitter and a pitcher in some order with the club’s first two picks Thursday night.
Almaraz took a high school outfielder, Cornelius Randolph, with the team’s first-round pick (No. 10) last year. Randolph has been slowed by a shoulder injury in his first full pro season and hasn’t played since April.
Randolph was selected while Ruben Amaro Jr. was still the Phillies’ general manager. The club is now being run by MacPhail and Klentak.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Almaraz said. “Matt and Andy have been supportive of the process that I believe in.”
And what is that?
“My job is to take the best talent, the best available player, that will impact the organization for years,” Almaraz said.