Hello, its me. I apologize for not writing up a final draft prep piece on Sunday, life sort of got in the way. I did want to pop back in and write up some thoughts on the first two days of the draft. This is not going to rival the draft recaps I wrote up for 5 years, where I spent waaaay too much time dissecting draft picks and potential signability concerns, but I do have some thoughts, so I figured I’d share them with the masses, in case you were interested to see what I thought.
Before I dig in, I want to mention a few caveats. When I stepped back in 2012, I really did step back. Prior to my departure from this space, I spent an inordinate amount of time reading, studying and trying to understand amateur baseball and the minor leagues. I wrote volumes of words, trying to figure out the formula for predicting and projecting success, and in most cases, I was really wrong in a lot of the things I wrote. Some of the philosophical stuff panned out, most of it didn’t. And really, when you step back, you realize that is the nature of this game. Its a small white baseball, thrown at crazy fast speeds, and a guy with a wooden stick tries to hit it even harder and avoid the 9 guys trying to catch it. Its a game of inches (or fractions of an inch) played by actual human beings, and as you probably have experienced in your life, human beings are largely unpredictable.
When I stepped back, I stopped following things obsessively. I still paid attention to the major league team, I casually followed the prospects I already knew and the high draft picks from 2012/2013/2014, but I wasn’t invested. And to a large degree, I am still not fully invested. But I think this change in perspective actually improved my understanding of how this game works, the prospect game. And as I stepped away from overanalyzing baseball prospects, I devoted more time to studying the human brain, psychology, neurology, and why we behave the way we do. Some of the things I learned in those areas have shaped how I look at prospects, baseball, and life in general.
Now that I got that out of the way, lets talk about actual baseball draft stuff. Here is what the Phillies have done so far:
10. Cornelius Randolph, OF (High School)
48. Scott Kingery, 2B (College Junior)
83. Lucas Williams, SS (High School)
114. Kyle Martin, 1B (College Senior)
144. Bailey Falter, LHP (High School)
174. Tyler Gilbert, LHP (College Junior)
204. Luke Leftwich, RHP (College Junior)
234. Greg Pickett, OF (High School)
264. Mark Laird, OF (College Junior)
294. Joshua Tobias, 3B (College Senior)
Before I talk about these picks, I have some general thoughts on the draft. The first thing is pre-draft rankings. When I used to immerse myself in this stuff, I obsessed over pre-draft rankings from Baseball America, Perfect Game, ESPN, Baseball Prospectus and pretty much anyone else who wrote stuff about these guys. There were always divergent opinions on many of the prospects. And I think this is one of the things that we, as fans on the outside, lose track of. In each draft class, there are normally very discernible tiers of talent. A “strong” draft and a “weak” draft will differ based on the quality of the first 15-20 prospects. If a draft has talents like Bryce Harper at the top, people are going to call it a strong draft. If the top 3-5 picks lack true potential superstars, people are going to say the draft is weak. The reality is, outside of the first 20 or so prospects, most drafts are the same. Between the 2nd and 10th rounds, teams are going to draft similar types of talents every year. The projectable righthanded pitchers who throw in the mid 80s now, but should throw in the low 90s in 3 years, the shortstops who will have to move to other positions, and then the college grinders, the guys who don’t have superstar tools, but who have well rounded tool sets and can make a contribution at the major league level. This section of the draft also contains a lot of guys who appear to be one thing now, at age 17/18, who will be completely different players in 5 years. Guys who look like non-prospects now, go to college, and turn into 1st/2nd round picks. Every draft is like this.
So, this year, the draft was considered weak, because it lacked the true superstar talent at the top. But of course there was plenty of talent to be had. As I read about the draft, I of course went to ESPN to see what Keith Law had to say, and Fangraphs to see what Kiley McDaniel had to say. These guys are good, they have solid reputations, and most importantly, they have front office experience, so they actually understand the process. But even they are limited. I know that both guys put extra emphasis on what they personally see when they scout these prospects. But they are likely only getting a few looks a year, if that, at each of the guys they rank. For Keith, that is 100 guys, for Kiley, that is 200 guys. 100 guys is roughly 3 rounds worth of talent, 200 guys is roughly 6 rounds of talent. The draft goes 40 rounds. There are going to be guys that flew under the radar for whatever reason, whether it is misuse by one of their coaches, weather, injury, or whatever else. Because one outlet ranks a player 158th and another ranks him 92nd, it doesn’t really mean all that much.
Which brings me to these guys the Phillies picked. The Phillies, contrary to what some fans think, are not trying to sabotage the organization by picking bad players or non-prospects. I’ve outlined it before in great detail, how this whole process works. Every MLB team has area scouts, responsible for one state, or a collection of states. These guys watch amateur baseball 6-12 months a year. They see high school kids 25+ times over the course of their 4 year high school career. They sometimes see a guy 25 times in high school and another 20 times in college. These area scouts know these prospects inside and out. They aren’t writing up reports based on 45 seconds of grainy youtube footage. Above the area scouts, the area crosschecker will also see all of these guys multiple times. The crosschecker usually has more experience. Then you have the national crosschecker, and of course the scouting director. A prospect doesn’t get picked by an MLB team unless they know the prospect and have some base of knowledge with which to pick the player. And they’ve seen these players more than you, me, Keith Law, Kiley McDaniel and anyone else at any other media outlet.
That doesn’t mean the Phillies scouts are always right, or any team’s scouts are always right. Baseball is a high attrition sport. Most guys don’t make it. To play at the highest level, you need to not only have physical ability (tools) but you need to have the mental aspect as well, you need to stay healthy, and you have to put everything together all at once, for multiple seasons, to even get a shot. Its a difficult game. Things happen. High school kids ramp up their velocity their senior year of high school, pitching once a week, get drafted in the 3rd round, lose their velocity, and flame out of baseball 2 years later. College hitters rake with metal bats, but can’t make the necessary adjustments with a wood bat, don’t generate the same bat speed, and never make it to the majors, instead toiling at AA/AAA making up the numbers. It happens.
But I’ve realized that from where I am, with what I know, I’m in no position to tell you what pick is a good pick and what pick is a bad pick. For years, I either talked myself into or out of a prospect. I watched youtube videos, read the reports from ESPN or wherever, and I was convinced I knew what that player would become. And most times, I was wrong. Take a player like Joc Pederson, the rookie CF for the Dodgers. Out of high school, he was a good prospect, but BA calls his tools “average across the board”. He was drafted in the 11th round in 2010 by the Dodgers, one pick after the Phillies selected RHP Garett Claypool, a RHP from UCLA. At the time, I don’t remember sitting and hoping the Phillies would take Joc Pederson. I had no idea who Joc Pederson was. He got a $600,000 bonus, so clearly the Dodgers were big believers. He was ranked 154th overall by BA that year. His “average across the board” tools wound up being much better than that. He’s on course to hit 30 HR this year with a solid OB%.
I don’t know if the Phillies drafted the next Joc Pederson today. I honestly don’t know how any of these players will turn out. But that is the point. I don’t know, because I’ve never seen these guys play. I can watch a few clips on mlb.com or youtube, but what does that really tell me? A highlights compilation can make anyone look like a superstar or a total dud. If a guy strikes out 10 times in a high school season and you filmed all 10 at bats, you can make him look like a garbage hitter. Likewise, if a guy hit 8 HR, you can just show his home runs and you’d think hes a future superstar. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t draw conclusions on these 10 guys the Phillies took. Everyone has an opinion. I’m going to wait and see.
I can say that I do see the merits in drafting Randolph, if the scouting reports hold true. High school players that can control the strikezone are normally the easiest to project. I’m not sure how much power he’ll hit for, but power is so tough to project in general right now given the state of the game. If he puts up a .290/.360/.450 line in the majors, that will work. Moving him to LF right after drafting him is surprising, I suppose, but the best player on a high school team usually plays SS, even if he isn’t going to be a SS at the next level. If the Phillies feel that moving him to LF will expedite his bat and help him settle into pro ball, then cool, I am okay with it. I like the Kingery pick, for the same reason that I was high on Kevin Newman. He can hit, he is an even better runner, and he’ll be a solid defensive 2B. He’s also very advanced, so he can probably finish next season at AA, if not AAA.
The rest of the picks, I couldn’t really tell you much of anything. I do like the look of Kyle Martin, he’s another guy who can really hit. Will he hit enough to be a regular 1B in the majors? Who knows. But he has a pretty well rounded bat, and if they plan to save a bit of money there to do something else later, okay, cool. I know nothing about the rest of the picks. It appears they did not have a “college v prep” preference in this draft, they just took the guy they wanted. And again, it comes down to trusting the scouts. That is what you pay them for.
We’re not going to really know anything at all about this draft class until this time next year. If Randolph is raking at Lakewood and Kingery is already at Reading, things will look pretty good, even if they strike out from rounds 3-10. And the odds are, at least 1 or 2 of those guys taken from 3-10 will have a solid debut and show value. In 2 years, we should have an idea of what we got from this draft. Until then, its all conjecture, blurry youtube videos, and fragments of scouting reports.
The draft is of course still quite interesting, and with potential changes coming, it could be even more interesting in the years to come. I’m probably not going to write up rounds 11-40, for reasons you can probably figure out based on the above. My hope? That the Phillies find the next Joc Pederson. Thanks for reading.