I wanted to spend all of my words today talking about the upcoming MLB draft, which starts on June 8th. I’ve written about the draft in all of my previous notes columns, and I’ll write about it again here. After the draft, I’ll start focusing more on our prospects, the breakouts, the disappointments, etc. But for now, my focus is the draft. Check below the fold
As I’ve written in this space previously, the 2015 draft isn’t looking great. Before a pitch was thrown in 2015, many had labeled it as a down year. That was before 2 of the top talents, Brady Aiken and Mike Matuella, both suffered injuries. A number of other high profile guys have either had minor injuries, down springs, or have been misused by their college coaches, leading to a lot more questions than answers. The various outlets are starting to roll out their mock drafts. You can check out the fangraphs mock here, the ESPN mock here (Insider, obviously) and the BA mock here.
If you read each mock draft, you’ll come away with a few consistent points:
* There are 3-4 guys who are going to go in the first 6-7 picks, that is almost a guarantee. They are Dillon Tate, Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, and Brendon Rodgers.
* There is no consensus #1 overall. Kiley McDaniel and Keith Law have Dansby Swanson going 1st overall to Arizona, while Baseball America has a wildcard at the pick, in Tyler Jay, the misused LHP from Illinois. Swanson was considered a top 8 pick heading into this season and has performed well, but everyone seems to think he’d go #1 for a discount
* When you get past the 4 guys mentioned above, names are all over the board. A few weeks ago when Kiley put his first mock out, he had Kyle Funkhouser going in the top 4. Now it looks like he might slip into the late teens or even further back. Carson Fulmer was in the teens a few months ago, and is now a candidate to go in the top 6 or 7.
* There haven’t been many “pop-up” guys this spring. Guys who were not getting much press and now are suddenly in the top 10 or so on draft boards. Kyle Tucker’s stock is rising, as is Jon Harris from Missouri State, a guy I mentioned last time. But there have been far more guys falling back (like Stroudsburg’s Mike Nikorak) than there have been jumping forward.
So now that the dream of landing Alex Bregman or Dansby Swanson appears dead, what should the Phillies do with their pick? Well, that is a good question, and I am not sure I really have the answer. If we’re trying to figure out what they will do, I think that is even less clear. The Phillies have a new scouting director. Marti Wolever had a big say in previous drafts, based on everything that was written, and I’d imagine the new guy will be given a chance to do his thing with minimal interference from the rest of the front office. What will his style be? He was previously focused on the international markets for Atlanta and Cincinnati, so I don’t think we can look at the drafts of those two teams when he was there and make any kind of assumptions. Prior to last season, the Phillies were always heavily focused on prep players in the first few rounds, then they’d take college guys who could potentially move quickly, and then take prep guys late. Last year they went really heavy on the college front, and at least the Aaron Nola gambit looks a wise decision right now. This year? Who knows. But I have some suggestions for the Phillies in terms of mapping out there draft plan for this year:
1. Get Brady Aiken’s medicals and study them very closely. Consult every orthopedist in country. Then try to figure out what Aiken’s number is. And then figure out if it makes sense for the Phillies. Right now, there are lots of rumors swirling about Aiken. They range from “his surgery wasn’t just a routine TJ surgery” to “he is actually a mutant alien without a left elbow”…and really, no one knows. To the best of my knowledge, no team has seen his medicals yet, they haven’t seen the surgeon’s notes from the TJ, and they haven’t seen anything regarding his follow up. The rumors are that his surgery was not straightforward and there are other concerns about his elbow. If that is the case, then yes, you shouldn’t draft him in the top 10. Taking a player with a 10% chance of making it to the majors because he has a time bomb in his left arm is a bad strategy. That said, if this is all Yeti-esque rumor mongering (and different people have different motives for making up rumors) and his elbow is fine, then he is the most talented player that will be available at #10.
2. Do not draft Mike Matuella unless he is willing to sign for less than slot money. Matuella’s TJ surgery was supposedly routine, so you’d think he would be more of solid bet, but he has no real track record of sustained success or health. This spring, before blowing out his arm, he barely pitched because of back trouble. Assuming they have the same elbow health, he is a bigger risk than Aiken, even though Aiken is a prep pitcher.
3. If the board doesn’t fall the way you want in the first 9 picks, and there is no one there at 10 that you feel is the full value of the pick, then take someone you have in the 20s that will sign for below slot and use that money to take more chances later. If the Phillies don’t feel good about Aiken, the odds of an elite talent falling to them at 10 is very low. The player they end up with there is likely to have a number of warts or flaws, and there really is no sense in paying full freight in terms of the slot bonus if the guy isn’t worth it. The Phillies have about $7M to spend in this draft. They should maximize that amount. If that means taking someone they like who will sign for $2M at #10, so they can spread that saved $1.2M around to high upside prep guys later, they should.
4. The downside of this, of course, is that they are not the only team that will try this strategy. The Cubs have done it successfully the last few years, as have the Astros. Because of this, and because of the high volatility of the draft after the first round, I tend to lean toward strategy #1. If Aiken is okay and your doctors are comfortable with his medicals, take him. He turned down $5M last year from the Astros, but that was before he blew his arm out. I have to think he’d be willing to take $4M this year. That leaves the Phillies with $3M to spend for the rest of their draft. They’ll have to take a college guy or two who will sign for under slot, but it is manageable.
5. If they decide to pass on Aiken, and they want to pay a guy full value at #10, try to take a player who isn’t extremely limited with 1 or 2 plus tools. Right now, given the way the board looks, my suggested pick would by Kevin Newman, SS from Arizona. I know what you are thinking…why draft a SS when JP Crawford is a bonafide stud and locked in at the position? Well, because JP Crawford hasn’t made it to the majors yet, and because Newman was considered one of the best players in the college ranks all spring. Newman has a .391/.441/.481 line this season, with more walks than strikeouts. He hasn’t hit for over the fence power, but hes a fantastic pure hitter, makes tons of contact, is a smart baserunner, and if he moved to 2B as a pro (in deference to Crawford) he would be an elite defender at the position. The Phillies do not have an upper echelon 2B prospect in their system. Newman would fill that void. As a seasoned college performer who has hit all 3 seasons in a good conference, he could jump on the fast track. An up the middle duo of Crawford and Newman could sort the Phillies out for the next decade. The new Rollins/Utley….obviously I’m not comparing either guy to Rollins or Utley, relax.
Newman’s stock seems to have stagnated. He was a potential top 4-5 pick to start the year, and is now looking like he might fall into the teens or even further. He’s a college junior, so he doesn’t have a ton of leverage, given his profile moving forward. The Phillies may be able to get him for less than the slot value at #10. He’d be a quick moving college player at a position of need and an important position at that. Of course if the Phillies believe that the Freddy Galvis mini-breakout is real, they may shy away from drafting a middle infielder at #10. Though I think that might not be a great decision.
If the Phillies go a different direction, I hope they take a guy with not only upside and potential, but also at least a 50 hit tool.
I’ll have more thoughts on the draft next weekend. Thanks for reading.