MLB Draft: The greatest first round draft picks in Philadelphia Phillies history
By Mike Lacy
Chase Utley. Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
In preparation for tonight’s Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft, I’m going to take a look back at some of the Philadelphia Phillies’ history in the draft. The draft has been held in some form since 1965, and in that time, the Phillies have had their share of hits and misses.
While quality players can be found in any round, the most important is obviously the first. That’s where you expect to select players who will become the next stars for the franchise.
Here is my opinion of the top five (plus one) players the Phillies have chosen in the first round:
Honorable Mention: Ricky Jordan
In the 1980’s, minor leaguers weren’t thoroughly analyzed and debated like they are today. Fans generally didn’t know much about prospects before they reached the majors. So when the Phillies called up their former first round draft pick and told us, “this guy is good,” we believed them.
It certainly helped that he hit a home run in his first at bat. After that, most Phillies fans were convinced that we had a future superstar on our hands.
Jordan had a strong showing as a rookie, hitting 11 homers in a little under half a season. Unfortunately, he never really built upon that. He hit 12 homers in 1989, but that turned out to be his peak. He continued with the Phillies for a few years, mostly as a bench piece, but never reached the heights we once imagined he would reach.
5. Pat Burrell
There seems to be some divide among Phillies fans in regards to “Pat the Bat.” Some people think he was an underrated player whose strong on-base percentage would have been more appreciated on a different team. Other fans consider him to be an overrated slugger who struck out too much. And others are just bitter because he slept with their girlfriend:
The problem with Burrell was mostly that of expectations. He was the #1 overall pick in the 1998 draft, so fans expected superstardom. And he was never able to quite live up to the standards he set in his outstanding 2002 season when he hit 37 home runs with an OPS of .920.
In the end, Burrell was simply a very good player who could never quite live up to the massive expectations fans and management had for him.
4. Mike Lieberthal
My friend Jason hates Mike Lieberthal, and pretty much blames him for the downfall of the Phillies franchise.
His reasoning is as follows:
The Phillies won the National League pennant in 1993. The following year, they called up Lieberthal, and he remained a member of the Phillies for the next 13 years. The Phillies did not qualify for the playoffs in any of those seasons.
In 2007, Lieberthal left as a free agent. The Phillies won the National League East that season, and they went on to win it the next four years as well.
In 2012, the Phillies inducted Lieberthal onto their “Wall of Fame.” The Phillies missed the playoffs that season, and based on the looks of things, they’re going to make it three straight seasons in 2014.
Basically, if they ever discovered that Lieberthal’s plaque has been forcibly ripped off the Wall of Fame, I know who is responsible.
Despite ruining the franchise, Lieberthal was a good catcher for many years and made two All-Star teams, and that warrants placement on this list.
3. Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels. Image Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
By the time his career is done, Hamels may rank higher on this list. (Unless, of course, he’s sent away in a trade deadline fire sale this year.)
Hamels has pretty much pitched like a star since entering the league, and was the team’s best pitcher when they won the World Series in 2008. Only two Phillies have ever been named World Series MVP, and Hamels is one of them.
You’d think that being one of the best “homegrown” pitchers in team history would make him beloved by the fans. But it never seems to be that simple when it comes to Phillies fans. For some reason, the fans have been harder on him than he probably deserves.
2. Greg Luzinski
In the late 70’s, the Phillies were one of the best offensive teams in baseball. A large part of that was due to Mike Schmidt who entering the prime of a Hall of Fame career. But for a time, some people weren’t even sure that Schmidt was the best offensive player on his own team.
“The Bull” broke into the majors as a 19-year-old in 1970, and it didn’t take long for the massive left fielder to establish himself as a dangerous hitter. During a four-year stretch from 1975 to 1978, Luzinski averaged 33 home runs and finished in the top ten of MVP voting every season. His 1977 season (39 HR, .988 OPS) was one of the best in team history.
Unfortunately, Luzinski’s large size began to work against him. His knees became a problem, and eventually, he was sent to the Chicago White Sox so he could serve as a designated hitter.
1. Chase Utley
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it is this: White people love Chase Utley.
Honestly, the love isn’t just from white people. “Old schoolers” love him because he always plays hard and appears to give full effort on every play. Sabermetrics fans love him because the numbers indicate that he’s a great player. Utley never won an MVP award, but you could argue that if they issued a cumulative MVP award for the period from 2006 to 2010, Utley would have won it.
Unfortunately, bad knees have slowed him down considerably in recent years, putting a hamper on what once looked like a sure Hall of Fame career. But considering his resurgence in 2014, there’s still hope that we may one day see him in Cooperstown.