This afternoon at Wrigley Field in Chicago, the Cubs and their fans will excitedly welcome slugging phenom 3rd baseman Kris Bryant to their lineup for what almost all baseball experts believe will be the start of a tremendous big league career.
Depending on the evaluator, Bryant is either the #1 or #2 (Byron Buxton, an outfielder with the Twins being the other contender) prospect in the game today. His calling card is his prodigious power – think Giancarlo Stanton caliber power. Bryant led the minor leagues with 43 homers in 2014, then put on a show in spring training, blasting 9 round-trippers off Cactus League pitching in just 40 at-bats.
The Cubs, at least partially due to the presence of Bryant, have been ranked as the #1 overall organization in all of baseball by Baseball America, the industry leaders in such evaluations. With the major league club floundering and a publicly proclaimed rebuild having begun, Phillies fans certainly have a right to demand: where is our Kris Bryant?
Frankly, the Phillies don’t have a Bryant. There is no one in the current minor league system at any level who is of the impact talent level that Bryant is bringing to Chicago today. And for that, there are three men who are directly to blame: club President Pat Gillick, General Manager Ruben Amaro, and former Scouting Director Marti Wolever.
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Those three men have been tasked for years now with scouting, drafting, and developing the talent that should have both bolstered the Phillies major league roster as the great 2004-11 nucleus aged, and then replaced that nucleus as new stars to lead a new generation of winning at Citizens Bank Park.
Those three men have abjectly failed at their jobs, and yet just one, Wolever, has paid the price with the loss of their position of responsibility. In fact, Gillick, riding a Hall of Fame reputation that is largely decades in the past, has been promoted, when it is he who, either by direct decisions or indirectly through his influence, has been the worst culprit.
Former GM Wade must be credited with at least being the co-architect of the ’08 world champs
We’ve gone over this before, but let’s cover it again to catch everyone up, and to better educate fans who simply don’t know the facts. Gillick was hired as the Phillies GM on November 2nd, 2005 to replace Ed Wade, who allegedly couldn’t put together a winner.
Gillick then presided over the rise to power and ultimately the winning of the 2008 World Series and the first two of five consecutive NL East crowns for the Phillies. For this he was given much praise. Following that Series win, he was replaced by Amaro, but remained very much in the organizational structure as an “advisor”, a role in which he was very active.
What sometimes gets forgotten, however, is the simple fact that a large portion of that 2008 World Series championship roster, the homegrown portion, was here from the Wade era. We’re talking about the core of those teams: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Carlos Ruiz, Pat Burrell, Cole Hamels, Ryan Madson, Brett Myers. All came to the organization prior to Gillick.
The first three rounds of the first five MLB Amateur Drafts over which Gillick and his organization, including his Assistant GM Amaro and Scouting Director Wolever, presided from 2006-10, which were supposed to keep the talent flowing, yielded the following 15 players: Kyle Drabek, Adrian Cardenas, Andrew Carpenter, Joe Savery, Travis d’Arnaud, Travis Mattair, Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Anthony Gose, Kelly Dugan, Kyrell Hudson, Adam Buschini, Jesse Biddle, Perci Garner and Cameron Rupp.
Amaro ultimately dealt Drabek and d’Arnaud to Toronto in the Roy Halladay trade, and Gose to Houston as the lesser of three pieces in the Roy Oswalt deal. But any benefit in that Halladay deal was off-set by Amaro’s trading away of Cliff Lee on that same mid-December 2009 day.
Under Amaro, the Phillies declined slowly but steadily in their ultimate performance. After winning the 2008 World Series, his teams have done the following: 2009 – lost World Series, 2010 – lost NLCS, 2011 – lost NDLS, 2012 – a .500 record, 2013 – a losing record, 2014 – a last place finish. In 2015, things look so bad that, incredibly, Amaro could preside over an even worse team once again.
The fact is that none of those 15 prospects has ever advanced to the big leagues in Phillies pinstripes and made any significant impact on the major league roster. They were chosen for their supposed talent, and the Phillies brain trust making the decisions – largely Gillick, Amaro and Wolever – were proven wrong in the vast majority of cases.
The argument would be made that drafting prospects is an inexact science or art or skill, and that all teams will hit on some and miss on others. That’s true. It’s also a fact of baseball life that when you have enough misses over enough years, baseball men will pay with their jobs for those failures. Only Wolever has paid thus far for the Phillies failures to produce anything close to a Kris Bryant.
The Phillies top three prospects at the current moment are fairly universally considered to be shortstop J.P. Crawford, pitcher Aaron Nola, and 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Crawford at the moment is easily the most exciting, but he is also likely the furthest away, probably not ready to see Philly until late 2016 at the earliest.
Nola was just drafted last summer, but should come fast. If he progresses as hoped, there is even the chance that he could see a September cameo in 2015, if not even sooner. Franco should be up in Philly any time, as long as he too continues to progress. Off to a good start at AAA Lehigh Valley, the should be ready by some time in May.
But the call-up of Franco will not elicit Bryant-level excitement, not in Philly, and not across the wider baseball landscape. He is a nice player, possibly a star player if it all comes together for him. But Franco never was, and never will be, a superstar caliber talent.
That is what Kris Bryant is, a superstar caliber talent, and Phillies fans are still waiting for the Gillick-Amaro duo, still sitting comfortably in their lofty offices down at The Bank all these years later, to bring one to them.