The long-winded roller coaster known as the 2017 Phillies has finally come to a close, and with it a ton of optimism. The Phillies started the season at 26-51 through June 28 with pretty much everything going wrong. Then the first offensive weapon arrived in Nick Williams and that slowly started things until Jorge Alfaro and Rhys Hoskins joined the club about a week apart in August. Finally JP Crawford used his scorching hot 2nd half to join the club in September. Since the Nick Williams call-up, the Phillies finished the season at 40-45. Their post-All-Star break record was 37-38 and when Rhys arrived on August 10th their offense took off. For the first time since 2011, the Phillies might have a lineup that won’t be mediocre or worse entering 2018. Their near .500 2nd half was positive, but it also took them out of selecting #1 overall which might not be as bad as one thinks. They entered the weekend in a tussle with Detroit and San Francisco for baseball’s worst team. By winning two of three from the Mets, they ended up finishing with the third worst record in baseball to claim the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. Here’s is what next year’s top five looks like:
- Detroit Tigers (64-98)
- San Francisco Giants (64-98)
- Philadelphia Phillies (66-96)
- Chicago White Sox (67-95)
- Cincinnati Reds (68-94)
The draft maybe eight months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about it. So what does having the third overall pick mean historically? Let’s look at just the recent history since the turn of the century. Since 2000, the results have been a mixed bag, with a lot more positives coming out lately. From 2000 to 2005, the best pick (based on WAR) was Phillip Humber at 0.9 with the other five candidates producing a negative WAR or never reaching the big leagues. Things started to turn when the Rays picked Evan Longoria in 2006, who has the third best WAR all time among #3 overall picks. Here is the rest of the list for the third overall pick since 2006:
2006 Evan Longoria, 3B, Long Beach State, Tampa Bay Rays
2007 Josh Vitters, 3B, Cypress HS (CA), Chicago Cubs
2008 Eric Hosmer, 1B, American Heritage HS (FL), Kansas City Royals
2009 Donovan Tate, OF, Cartersville HS (GA), San Diego Padres
2010 Manny Machado, SS, Brito Miami Private School (FL), Baltimore Orioles
2011 Trevor Bauer, RHP, UCLA, Arizona Diamondbacks
2012 Mike Zunino, C, Florida, Seattle Mariners
2013 Jon Gray, RHP, Oklahoma, Colorado Rockies
2014 Carlos Rodon, LHP, NC State, Chicago White Sox
2015 Brendan Rodgers, SS, Lake Mary HS (FL), Colorado Rockies
2016 Ian Anderson, RHP, Shenendehowa HS (NY), Atlanta Braves
2017 Mackenzie Gore, LHP, Whiteville HS (NC), San Diego Padres
Just looking at 2006-2014, all but Tate have reached the big leagues and Vitters is the only one who reached who flunked out. Longoria, Hosmer and Machado are clearly perennial All-Star-type players; Gray and Rodon have high potential but had injury-riddled seasons; while Bauer and Zunino finally broke out. The success rate of getting a contributing big leaguer has greatly improved at this spot over the last decade plus and the Phillies should thank their stars they aren’t picking fourth where it’s been a real mixed bag. Since 2000, the only fourth overall picks who deserve attention have been Gavin Floyd, Ryan Zimmerman, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman and Kyle Schwarber. Only Zimmerman has been consistent with the last three names suffering a number of injuries or inconsistencies. Even if you put in the last three years where none of the six draft picks have made their debut, the third overall picks have much more upside, and have performed at a high level, than the prospects that were picked right after them (Brendan Mckay ’17, Riley Pint ’16, Dillon Tate ’15). And while having the second overall pick would have been nice to acquire a better talent (history tells us this too), the thought process entering the weekend should have been to end up with a top three pick and they ended up with it. Plus the Phillies have picked in this position three other times and they haven’t done some pretty good picking with it (Larry Christenson ’72, Lonnie Smith ’74, Mike Lieberthal ’90).
Some have expressed their concerns on Twitter that the Phillies big loss in all of this is that they won’t have the top financial pool in the draft. However in the new CBA, the slot value money has been spread around more. In the 2017 draft, the value of the number one slot value dropped by nearly $1.25 million from the previous year to around $7.77 million. The second overall pick value actually dropped by over half a million to just under $7.2 million. The third overall pick gained around $157,000 annd increased to just under $6.67 million. The difference in value between the first pick and the third pick went from $2.5 million down to about $1.1 million. The CBA wanted to try and even out the difference in slot values between picks, so there wasn’t such a wide gap in bonus pool money. The Padres owned the third pick last year and if you subtract their second round supplemental pick (something the Phillies likely won’t have), their pool would’ve ended up being just under $11 million. The Twins (minus their first round supplemental) would’ve been just over $12 million. The real gap in bonus pool money is in teams that have supplemental picks and those go to team’s who lose free agents or are a small market team. So there’s nothing really totally lost in the Phillies having (currently) the third biggest draft pool.
Finally, let’s address this year’s talent, specifically the top five. I’ve been a hard core draft maniac the last couple of years now, really following not just the spring but the summer circuits as well. Right now I would say that this year’s top five is better than 2016 was entering the fall of 2015, when the Phillies picked first overall. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a Hunter Greene, Royce Lewis or Brendan McKay at this same point either last year. I would say three prospects have clearly established themselves as top five candidates when we get into the spring: Florida RHP Brady Singer and high school prospects SS Brice Turang and RHP Ethan Hankins. After that there are a number of prospects on the bubble of solidifying themselves with high school talents RHP Kumar Rocker and 3B Nolan Gorman the best of the bunch, in my opinion. As always, the MLB draft is always about getting the best player available regardless of need. But it’s pretty clear the Phillies might have to tweak that a bit since they’ve drafted position players with advanced approaches with their last three first round picks under amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz. Amongst their full season teams, the Phillies really only have one pitcher who has frontline starter projection (Sixto Sanchez) and then one #2/#3 projection (Adonis Medina, with Spencer Howard only playing short season thus far). Everybody else projects more as a fringe-average #3 to backend starter, which they have enough of competing for spots in their big league rotation. So the Phillies really lack highly touted arms and their pick seems recently trendy towards pitching.
In the last seven drafts, a pitcher has been selected third overall five times (two high school, three college). Now some of this is based on a team’s lack of depth or their organizational philosophy but there’s not the same amount of pressure to be hesitant on a pitcher compared to picking first overall where only 17 have ever been picked at that spot; also, taking a high school arm is pretty much off the table (only three picked #1 ever). So they’ve opened the door to a number of more options by avoiding number one. Based on Almaraz’s history and where the Phillies pitching depth is now, they maybe looking to find a fast riser which would point to Brady Singer, who in Baseball America’s first mock draft is selected by the Tigers in the top spot. The mock has the Giants taking Ethan Hankins at two and the Phillies taking Brice Turang at three, which would continue their trend of selecting advanced hitters. But unlike Moniak, as the mock points out, Turang has big league bloodlines and a longer track record of being a top prospect. These are things that don’t diminish Moniak but really elevate Turang. That said there are a number of pitching options that could make a jump from now until June. While the Phillies will pay close attention to arms like Jackson Kowar (Singer’s teammate), Shane McClanahan and Casey Mize among others mentioned in this mock, I wouldn’t sleep on high school arms like Kumar Rocker or Matthew Liberatore. But if you asked me of the top three in this particular mock I think is the best right now it’s Hankins and if he was there when the Phillies pick, I wouldn’t hesitate. His mid-90s fastball with his wipeout curve and understanding of throwing hitters’ off balance with his timing really has me intrigued and he ended up dominating the summer circuit. That said if the Phillies can’t ignore Turang, I wouldn’t blame them but I also think they do strongly need to consider the lack of highly projectable pitchers they have in full season ball right now (there maybe some international prospects lurking in Rookie ball, but they are way too far away to project right now).
While the Phillies scouting department began their work for 2018 the moment the 2017 draft ended, the draft process is about to kick into the next gear. And you can be sure of one thing: this will could likely be the last top 10 pick the Phillies have in awhile (for some reference, Blue Jays pick 12th after winning 76 games, so I don’t mean winning record).