There has been a lot written into about the downfall of the Phillies and their various strategies to pull themselves out of it. I think much of the downfall has been placed on the wrong things. Bloggers often reach for the draft and player development as two easy punching bags. I think it is a lazy way of being sensational and lacks a understanding of the basics of player development.
At least at the end, Murphy finally identifies the real problem: The Phillies farm system isn’t developing the type of quality young players who can adequately replace older, more expensive players. But what is the reason for that? Yes,there have been some trades, but none of the players traded away have yet to make much of an impact at the major league level. Is there some reason why the Phillies aren’t developing good players?
Before going to the beginning of the developmental process, lets start with the end for many Phillies prospects over the past 5 years, trades.
Before going into the effects of trades on the major league club, just take in the sheer number of players traded since the end of the 2008 World Series.
- Carlos Carrasco (Int FA)
- Jason Donald (3rd Rd 2006)
- Lou Marson (4th Rd 2004)
- Jason Knapp (2nd Rd 2008)
- Travis d’Arnaud (1s Rd 2007)
- Michael Taylor (5th Rd 2007)
- Kyle Drabek (1st Rd 2006)
- Jonathan Villar (Int FA)
- Anthony Gose (2nd Rd 2008)
- J.A. Happ (3rd Rd 2004)
- Vance Worley (3rd Rd 2008)
- Trevor May (4th Rd 2008)
- Jonathan Singleton (8th Rd 2009)
- Josh Zeid (10th Rd 2009)
- Michael Schwimer (14th Rd 2008)
- Jarred Cosart ( 38th Rd 2008)
- Domingo Santana (Int Fa)
- Lisalverto Bonilla (Int FA)
That is 19 names, and only 5 of them (Knapp, Singleton, May, Santana, and Bonilla) have not played in the major leagues, and only Knapp of that group will likely never play in the majors.
But, but none of them are stars. How many stars are there in baseball? The final outcome of prospects, is not stars. You are lucky to get one every so often, and the Phillies cashed many of these chips in for stars, like Lee and Halladay. But when looked at as a whole the Phillies traded away an insane amount of depth from Winter of 2008 until Winter 2012 (Young and Revere trades). Keep this in mind as we go back through the prospect journey.
Not to say the draft doesn’t matter after the first round, but the probability in the draft goes downhill very quickly after the first few picks. The Phillies 2008 team among its 13 regulars (8 position players + rotation) had 6 1st Round picks, 1 2nd, 1 4th, 1 5th (who would have been a 1st a year earlier), 2 6ths, and 2 International free agents.
This is not atypical of the construction of many teams. First round picks hold much of the value, and the earlier the pick the higher the value. Using MLB.com’s Top 100 prospects, here is the breakdown by round.
|Number in Top 100|
Top prospect lists may not be the end all be all of value, but they trend towards being the most accurate we have, and even then the likely outcome is disappointment. So we see all of that value in the early first round, and the Phillies due to a combination of winning and signing FAs have there be their early picks.
|Year||1st Pick||Other 1st Rd/1s Picks|
You can blame development all you want, but if you aren’t putting talent in the system it is irrelevant. Frankly, the Phillies have traded away almost all of the 2008 draft at this point, the 2009 draft has some life left in Kelly Dugan and Aaron Altherr, having already produced Darin Ruf, and the earlier mentioned Singleton. The 2010 draft should bring the Phillies a mid-rotation starter (Jesse Biddle) and a back-up catcher (Cameron Rupp). The 2011 draft has already produced what should be the Phillies first homegrown third baseman since Scott Rolen (Cody Asche). As for international talent, it is an area the Phillies have been lacking in the past, but have begun making an organizational strength in the past few years (not mention the list of guys traded away).
The casual notion of prospect development is that each year they move up a level, they get better, and eventually reach the major leagues where they continue to advance until they get old. This is far from the truth, the developmental process is up and down, and can move in leaps before slowing up. Along the way, the game roots out all of those unworthy for the major leagues. This is because major league baseball is hard, and one flaw will be exploited until you are out of the game forever. Prospects don’t arrive when you need them, they arrive when they are ready. Along the way prospects can be cashed out for other talent, in that moment they have value, which is their value as a major league asset or as a future trade asset. If you deem that value (and risk) less than what you are getting back. You make the trade.
Along this development process there are many things at work. The big three things that in my mind affect things the most are coaching, the player’s ability to make adjustments, and the players raw ability. In the end you need all three things to succeed, with coaching being the least important of the group. When a team goes to trade a player, they can’t judge the coaching in valuing the player, they are really judging whether they think the player is lacking in the two things he takes with him.
Back to Trades:
In this day and age of information, almost every team knows the physical abilities of the players in other organizations that they are interested in. Each evaluator may see differences in potential, and each is looking for something a little different to like, but the information is there to observe. What a team trading for a player lacks, is the knowledge of a player’s makeup, how hard will he work, and most importantly how is he at making adjustments and improving. In this area the trading team has an advantage.
So back to the claim that no player the Phillies have traded has come back to make the Phillies regret. The one area the Phillies could be exceptional and judging internally is their own player’s makeup. This is not far fetched and has played out to some extent overall, and I actually believe it to be true. But it is not the only reason. Remember that the likely outcome for a prospect is failure, odds were that a portion of the players traded would go on to not be stars, and have to settle for being back end starters or utility players.
The other is that from the moment a player is traded it is another organization that most take up the developmental mantle. The regression of prospects after being traded from the Phillies can also be laid at the feet of the organizations. Along the way they may have missed in development, or failed to coax out an extra tool. The same could have been said if a player blossoms (like Gavin Floyd in Chicago and Gio Gonzalez in Oakland), it isn’t always that the Phillies missed, but also that another team may have found something.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the struggles of the Phillies. Do not lay the blame at the feet of scouts, talent evaluators, and organization coaches. The farm system may not be churning out a stream of talented players yet, but it might also not be in their control.