Phillies and the Draft: What Could Have Been

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Sep 8, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) pitches during the second inning against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

As the Phillies begin to wind down the 2015 season, there are a number of “homegrown” players on the roster. Promotions due to roster expansion on September 1st mean that more minor leaguers are getting innings for the big club. Fans are getting to watch some players they probably haven’t seen at all this year before this month. It got me thinking about where many of these players have come from.

During the Phillies’ fall from grace, much has been made about how general manager Ruben Amaro ruined the team by trading away prospects in order to prop up the once-veteran club for previous postseason success. The argument has been that Amaro pillaged the farm system, and that he and the team would pay for it in the future.

The first half of this season was marked by a number of national writers playing the game of “I told you so” on seeing how abysmal the team had gotten. They “knew” this would happen, because Amaro had left the minor league cupboard bare, with trades leaving the organization unable to produce cheap replacement values needed in order to enjoy sustained success at the big league level.

However, a fantastic article written by Matt Swartz this past December highlighted the real cause for the Phillies’ demise: they stunk at the draft process. This article is amazingly accurate in its reasoning, one that is well worth reading.

Swartz talks about the concept of “non-market WAR” and “auction-market WAR”, and how the Phillies have failed to capitalize when it comes to developing players who would give them positive value, as opposed to having to go out and buy that value on the free agent market.

He also cites an article written by Schmenkman for ‘The Good Fight’, detailing exactly what the Phils received from their draft picks, another article well worth your time.

Prior to the MLB Draft of June 2014, Todd Zolecki wrote a brief piece about how little the team has produced from the draft, highlighting that prior to that particular draft, Phillies’ picks from the years 2004-2013 have accumulated just a 20.7 bWAR, far and away the worst in baseball over that time.

It has been well established that the team’s downfall has been its lack of success in the MLB Amateur Draft in prior years. Things have been trending upward, as the last three drafts have given the system J.P. Crawford, Aaron Nola and Cornelius Randolph, all potential impact talents that should help the cumulative WAR total head north in future years.

But what if they had drafted better in that previous time frame, as the 2008 champions were coming together, winning, and then aging? What I wanted to do, mostly for no other reason than just to have a little fun, is look at what might have been.

Going back to the 2002 draft, the Phillies have had a lot of swings and misses in the first round. Names like Greg Golson and Anthony Hewitt will haunt this organization until they hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy once again.

Knowing that “hindsight is 20-20“, I wanted to go back to 2002 and look at who the Phillies drafted in the first round, what they did in their career, and see who they could have drafted, based on who was available. I won’t be going past the first round, as I’m not enough of a prospect/draft expert to be able to accurately tell you who was a “tough sign”, and may have fallen in that particular year due to signability concerns.

I also wanted to stay with the first round because, for the most part, those  who consider themselves “experts” know who will and won’t be selected in the first round of each particular draft. Where the players then actually fall is up to the teams doing the drafting.

So, you won’t find me saying that the team “should have” taken this player or that player, guys who were selected in the 15th round. Players drafted at that point, unless they fell because of signability, usually are just drafted as minor league roster filler.

2002 is also a relevant starting point, as that was the first draft in which Marti Wolever was in charge of the Phillies’ evaluation and selection process. Wolever was relieved of his duties this past fall after years of failed draft selections.

Wolever was fairly transparent in his draft preferences, going for “tools” and “ceiling” over tangible baseball skills and college-level experience. This drafting philosophy, while great if it works, just so happened to miss more often than it hit for the Phillies. So, let’s go back and see who could have been in red pinstripes.

Next: Phillies Draft 2002: What Was and Could Have Been