In the last several days, comments by both Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. have clarified the team’s strategy in the upcoming 2014 MLB Draft, to take place this Thursday, June 5th.
In past years, the Phillies have focused their early picks on high-upside, high-risk athletic players, several of which haven’t panned out recently. A column by CSN Philly’s Jim Salisbury noted that the Phillies are likely to change their draft philosophy entering the first round of the 2014 draft, instead focusing on safer, faster moving players.
In the column, Wolever explained:
“We certainly would like to have … a guy that could get in here quickly and contribute to this club … But you have to weigh your options. If the option is a guy who you think has a chance to be a No. 1 starter in the rotation down the road, what do you want to do?”
“…[We] need to try to single out maybe some more advanced hitters, per se, and try to focus on that versus maybe the high-ceiling, what-they-could-possibly-be player.”
It would be a strategy that makes sense, given the team’s need for immediate talent. In a world where the Phillies seem intent on not sacrificing too many immediate games to rebuild, retool, revamp, or whatever re- prefix one prefers, it could quickly flesh out the middle/high minors with lower upside, but relatively safe major league talent.
One could also argue that, at least in terms of the highest pick, the team departed the “toolsy athlete” strategy last draft as well. While first round pick J.P. Crawford is a good athlete, he more importantly displays strong baseball instincts and already demonstrates a strong hit tool. Unlike first picks from earlier drafts, Crawford isn’t purely a physical specimen who needs to be taught baseball.
In this Todd Zolecki piece, Amaro and Wolever clarify the team’s strategy further:
- Wolever tells Zolecki that the team will not pursue a pitcher with health issues, presumably like top talent RHP Jeff Hoffman, who recently had Tommy John surgery.
- Amaro states that he “[hopes] we have the choice between a high-ceiling high school guy and a close-to-Major League-ready player.” At the top of the first round, that’s pretty much all that anyone considers, it’s not saying much.
- He follows that quote with a more interesting comment: “You always like to get a guy that’s going to be close to the big leagues. But if that guy doesn’t exist, if that player isn’t there to be taken, then you want to take the best player you possibly can.”
This final quote seemingly shows a preference of Amaro towards the fast-moving college player. Combining these statements with reports of prospects the team has been tied to, a list of likely targets can be created.
Note: This list presumes that LHP Brady Aiken, LHP Carlos Rodon, RHP Tyler Kolek, and C/OF Alex Jackson are all unavailable. In no projections have any of them lasted until pick seven, and I’d agree with that assessment. Were any available at seven for any reason short of health concerns, expect them to be the selection.
RHP Aaron Nola
There’s a growing consensus that Nola is likely to be the Phillies’ pick if available, and I’m in line with that notion. He’s the fast-moving college arm, widely considered to be the closest to the majors of any top talent. Experts have graded him to be a future 2/3 starter, citing his plus command, above-average-to-plus change-up, and hard sinking fastball that sits at 91-93 mph.
He’s a little bit undersized, at 6’1″, 195 lbs, but Nola is considered the most likely to reach his ceiling. There’s a late-growing idea that he could get grabbed early by either the White Sox or Cubs (at three or four, respectively), but most mock drafts backed up by team sources (for what they’re worth) leave Nola available at seven.
Amaro has been especially active this season, and seen at least a dozen potential prospects in person, including Nola. He’s not quite the exciting pick that other likely available options would be, but I’m a fan of the idea of having a pitcher with control, which would be a breath of fresh air in this farm system.
As the Friday Starter for LSU this season, he’s dominated with 10.37 K/9, 2.09 BB/9, and a 1.57 ERA. I’d enjoy seeing the team taking a higher upside pitcher like Touki Toussaint or Grant Holmes, but I believe Nola’s the most likely choice, and if he’s available, he won’t get past the Phillies. Overall, I can’t consider him a “disappointing” pick.
SS Nick Gordon
Nick Gordon is the least-likely of this list to be available at draft time. The Phillies are known to treasure him, but his helium in recent weeks has made it incredibly unlikely he makes it past the Twins at pick five. He recently worked out at Citizens Bank Park for the front office, but it was described by CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman as being a courtesy by Gordon’s father, Tom, who is a former Phillie.
The younger Gordon is considered a true future shortstop, along with having a mid-90’s fastball. He reportedly wants to focus on being a position player, and his bat should end up hitting for decent-strong average (despite below-average power) when all is said and done. If Gordon were available to the Phillies, it would be because someone else already popped Nola instead, so it would never really come to a real philosophical decision for the team.
He represents the best tools-y high school player to be feasibly available at number seven, so he’s likely the “if the fast-moving player isn’t available…” option Amaro hopes is available. Hoping for RHP/velocity freak Tyler Kolek to fall just seems impossible, despite Ruben Amaro recently doing due diligence by attending his April 4 start.
RHP Touki Toussaint
Touki Toussaint is the pitching equivalent of Nick Gordon, in terms of being a high-upside high schooler. He’s a potential top of the rotation starter, but is incredibly raw and would require significant development time and tweaking.
He has all of the raw stuff you want to see in a pitcher, with lots of movement and a mid/high 90’s fastball with a nice looping curve. This comes despite currently being all over the place with his mechanics/release point. He lacks all of Nola’s polish, but far exceeds his stuff.
Unless an earlier team gets cute with their selection, Toussaint should be available to the Phillies if they want him. An increasingly-common “best-available” draft board have Gordon and Nola as the fifth and sixth best prospects in the draft, and in that scenario, Touki Toussaint is my preferred pick.
While the idea of the team changing strategy sounds intuitively good due to recent busts, Toussaint is a relatively fresh arm with one of the highest upsides in the draft. It’s almost as impressive a combination as the name “Touki Toussaint” itself.
RHP Grant Holmes
Grant Holmes is a South Carolina high school arm that’s a marriage of the two player types the Phillies front office is reportedly focusing on. He’s listed as 6’2″, 190 lbs but looks stockier than that, and doesn’t offer much in the way of physical projection. Reports are his fastball has hit as high as 97 in recent starts, but sits in the low 90’s in later innings.
He gets a lot of sink on his fastball, and scouts call his curveball is a plus offering, with potential seen in his change-up. He’s listed as high as a top-5 talent in some draft power rankings, and should be a relatively quick mover, for a high schooler. The downside is his ceiling, which is slightly less than elite but nothing to sneeze at, as a potential #2 starter.
This season, Holmes had a remarkable 0.52 ERA with 82 K/16 BB in only 40 IP for the season. Those are rates of 3.6 BB/9, and a stupid 18.45 K/9. I’d be perfectly happy if the team bites on Holmes.
One Last Note
Between these four options and the conventional top four (Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon, Tyler Kolek, and Alex Jackson), there are eight players towards the top of this draft class that I’d be happy with the Phillies selecting at number seven, meaning there are guaranteed to be multiple good options for the team when they pick.
In this draft, I’m itching for the team to end up with a quality pitching prospect, which is expected to pick in most scenarios. The only way I would end up disappointed is if the team goes in a wildly different direction than what they’ve publicly described.
Which is entirely possible.
Because, you know. Lying.