Phillies Draft Retrospective: Chase Utley

Gib Bodet is one of the best scouts in the business. Currently the Dodgers National Crosschecking and Amateur Scouting Special Advisor, Gib Bodet has been scouting baseball for over forty years. He’s been working for the Dodgers for more than thirty of those and has been crosschecking for more than twenty. He’s been involved in signing Mike Piazza, Eric Karros and Todd Hollandsworth, all of whom won Rookie of the Year awards. Gib Bodet knows when he sees a good baseball player. And he knew it when he saw Chase Utley.

Let’s jump right into his scouting report.

Utley scouting report

The C+ grade Bodet gave Utley overall is a little misleading. It’s not something we’d want on a math test or a research paper but it essentially means Bodet thinks Utley will be a slightly above average regular, as evidenced by the 55 OFP. There’s a lot of fun stuff on this report. First off, Bodet lists Utley as 6’1”, 175lbs. Utley is listed today as 6’1”, 200lbs. So, over the last 13 years Chase Utley has put on 25 pounds of mostly good weight. I wonder how much weight the average player puts on during the course of their career? Someone should research that.

The most impressive thing Bodet does here is project Utley’s hit tool. He grades it as a 40 at the present moment but puts a future 70 on it. Scouts do not throw 70s around like Tootsie Rolls at a Halloween parade, they hem and haw and make all sorts of uncomfortable faces before they pen that number on a report. For Bodet to slap a 7 on Utley’s bat is, on its own, notable. For him to project it to a 7 all the way from a 4? That’s prescient. The bottom of Bodet’s report notes that he liked him coming out of high school in the ’97 draft. The Dodgers did in fact select him that year (2nd round, 76th overall), but he didn’t sign and opted to attend UCLA so he could hang out with Freddie Mitchell. We don’t know if the Dodgers would have pulled the trigger on Utley with the 17th pick of the 2000 draft. They didn’t have a chance as Utley went two picks ahead of them at #15. Los Angeles selected Arizona pitcher Ben Diggins instead. Diggins made five career Major League starts for Milwaukee after the Dodgers traded him for Tyler Houston.

Here’s Baseball America’s report on Utley entering the draft:

Utley is the spitting image of Angels second baseman Adam Kennedy, a lefthanded-hitting middle infielder who was a first-round pick out of Cal State Northridge in 1997. Kennedy was a hitting machine in college, twice leading the nation in hits. Utley, a .394-18-61 hitter, has similar hitting skills, though his tendency to be pull-conscious has resulted in teams effectively using a Ted Williams shift on him a number of times this spring. He has excellent hands to hit, enabling him to wait on balls until the last moment to make adjustments. Like Kennedy, Utley lacks a true position. He was drafted in the second round out of high school as a shortstop, but he lacks the range, hands and ability to read hops to be a true middle infielder–even as he switched to second base.

This is why I feel bad that I don’t have time to do the intensive research a piece like this might need to be spectacular. Teams were shifting Utley in college yet, to me, it seems as though it took teams a long time to shift Utley in the Major Leagues and even now lots of teams don’t do it. I might have to dig up data on this at BIS this week.

BA’s prospect handbook (go get a subscription, folks and you can have all this information at your own fingertips) on Utley after the 2000 season, when they rated him as the #5 prospect in the system:

Drafted as a shortstop in the second round out of high school by the Dodgers, Utley spurned their offer to attend UCLA. He achieved All-America honors as a junior, batting .382 and leading the Pacific-10 Conference with 82 runs scored, before the Phillies used the 15th overall pick and $1.7 million to sign him. Utley was considered the best pure hitter available among college draft prospects, and he has plenty of sock for a middle infielder. He lived up to his reputation in his pro debut. He always has demonstrated a good idea of the strike zone and handles the bat well. Utley has drawn comparisons to Todd Walker (Rockies) and Adam Kennedy (Angels), two former first-round picks, based on both his offensive prowess and defensive shortcomings. At the plate, Utley needs to use the whole field more effectively. He’s improving in that regard by staying inside pitches better and driving them to left-center. He’s adjusting to the finer points of playing second base and will have to prove he can stick there. The Phillies envision Utley’s bat fitting in nicely with their young nucleus in the near future. He’s expected to begin a rapid ascent through the system by beginning 2001 in Clearwater.

The evaluation of Utley’s defense is interesting. We know Chase Utley became one of the better defensive second basemen in baseball but, as you can see, he didn’t always look like a competent defender there, let alone an elite one. You’ll see as we go that his development there takes a long while. From the BA Handbook after 2001…

Utley was drafted out of Long Beach Poly High, the same school that produced Tony Gwynn and Milton Bradley, before spurning the Dodgers to attend UCLA. A Little League teammate of Padres prospect Sean Burroughs, Utley was reunited with him at the 2001 Futures Game. After Marlon Anderson hit .228 in 2000, the Philadelphia press hailed Utley as his successor. While Anderson had a career year in 2001, Utley was challenged by the Florida State League. Utley profiles as a productive hitter for average and generates good power with a quick bat. He has become more conscious of using the entire field. He will never be a Gold Glover, but the Phillies are thrilled with the progress he made with his range and double-play pivot. He has enough arm to play second base but lacks natural actions around the bag. Utley hit .203 against southpaws and his swing can get long through the strike zone. Utley could have debuted at Lakewood and posted better offensive numbers, but the Phillies wanted to test him. He’ll make the jump to Reading with doubleplay partner Anderson Machado.

It’s important to note at this point that the Scott Rolen era was ending in Philadelphia. Utley did not, as the previous paragraph’s end tell us, go to Reading. He skipped Double-A and moved right to the International League where he was moved off of second base and tried at third.  He played there for all of the 2002 season and it went alright. 2003 BA handbook…

While his Little League teammate Sean Burroughs‘ move from third base to second failed in 2002, Utley’s switch from second to third was successful. He also improved his offensive numbers while making the jump from high Class A to Triple-A. Utley’s sweet line-drive stroke and alley-to-alley power produced an International League-leading 39 doubles last year. He displayed a solid approach and handled breaking pitches well, especially for a player skipping Double-A. He moved closer to the plate and showed the ability to drive the ball hard to the opposite field. Utley’s makeup allowed him to handle the position switch and skip a level at the same time. Utley never was a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman, and he won’t win the award at the hot corner either. There are questions about his footwork and arm strength at third base. With hard work, he can be an average defender at either position.

Speculation about Utley replacing Rolen at third base was rampant even though Placido Polanco came back from St. Louis in the Rolen deal. An ESPN mailbag from John Sickels, former prospect guy at the Worldwide Leader, addresses that question. Travis Chapman had one career Major League at-bat.

Utley was a rare college bat selection for the Phillies and they absolutely nailed his scouting and development. He’s a walking reminder of the importance of prioitizing scouting instead of statistics when evaluating lower level minor league talent.  Utley hit just .257/.324/.422 as a 22-year-old in the Florida State League but the organization knew what they had and pushed him all the way to Scranton the next year. He is also a keepsake for patience. Utley spent two full years at Triple-A, one adjusting to the level and the other pulverizing it, before finally getting a serious chance in the Majors after a month of the 2004 season had passed. He went through a similar adjustment phase in the Majors, sporting an OPS+ of just 91 after his first 400 MLB at-bats. Remember that when Tommy Joseph opens the 2015 season at Triple-A and everyone wonders why he hasn’t developed. Time is an important ingredient.

Of course I don’t have to tell you about the career Chase Utley has had. He’s been one of the city’s most beloved athletes of the 21st century along with Allen Iverson and Brian Dawkins. There are two conversations left to have regarding Chase Utley. The first one will play out this July and will likely be quite painful. The next will be in about a decade when he’s eligible for Hall of Fame voting.

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78 comments

  1. LTG

    June 04, 2013 10:53 PM

    Oh, I see. When I said above average, I meant that the 1.2 WAR is 1.2 WAR more than the league average 2B. I don’t think Utley is just an above average defender. I think he is great. And he is great because he positioned himself extremely well and had great hands.

  2. LTG

    June 04, 2013 10:58 PM

    Interestingly, UZR pins Utley as often a below average DP-turner. For his career he has -0.8 runs saved via DP relative to the average 2B. So, his value is not coming from turning DPs. I’m surprised to learn that.

  3. LTG

    June 04, 2013 10:59 PM

    Oh hey, Dan K. made the argument that I claimed hadn’t been mentioned yet. Sorry, Dan.

  4. LTG

    June 04, 2013 11:05 PM

    It’s not quite right to say Utley has limited range, if range means the amount of balls he gets to versus other 2Bs. He might not be able to cover as much territory per time-slice as other 2Bs, but he gets to more balls anyway because of his positioning. We don’t care about territory per time-slice. We care about balls gotten to.

  5. Larry

    June 05, 2013 12:04 AM

    This site is heavily biased with people who think Utley should have won MVPS and gold gloves. WE all want all the Phillies to be MVPs and I understand that, but the experts say Utley is not a great defensive player and thats a fact. Even guys that are Philliy guys like Missinelli and a bunch of other Phillies insiders say the same thing. Sometimes stats don’t say it all, that’s why we watch the games.

    “Interestingly, UZR pins Utley as often a below average DP-turner. For his career he has -0.8 runs saved via DP relative to the average 2B. So, his value is not coming from turning DPs. I’m surprised to learn that.”

    LTG I watch every game so I’ve seen the blown double plays many times that never show up in the stat sheet.

    How bout this play earlier this year when Utley said he was in such great shape and felt great. This never showed up negative in the stat sheet. Polanco isn’t a fast runner.This lost us the game.

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=K01NIgRRvVg

    And yes Chase has made smart plays, but sometimes he’s not so smart. In the playoffs a few years ago against the Cardinals down 3-2 in the 6th inning Utley makes the 1st out at 3rd. That’s a big no-no.

    And what in the world is he doing here???
    www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6XM5Brtm-U

    Calm down Utley fans he should go to the Hall of Very Good. He needs some big years that maybe he can get in The AL to have any shot at the Hall of Fame.

  6. Dan K.

    June 05, 2013 12:30 AM

    No problem LTG. And, as I understand the term, range is a factor comprised of speed and reaction time that allows a player to get to the ball. Utley in those terms isn’t great in a vacuum, but as you rightly mentioned his positioning not only allowed his range to play up but to make him ridiculously effective. And then you have plays like his throw home in the World Series. As I said before, intelligence can mask a lot of things, and Utley’s got intelligence in spades.

    And Larry, cherry picking sentences (from me) and rare instances of bad plays (by Utley) don’t make you correct. It just means you’re not seeing the whole picture. No matter how good you are at something, you will occasionally make mistakes. Utley has made some, but the good has far outweighed the bad. In fact, it outweighs it so much that he would have been an above average player in some of his seasons even if he had hit like a replacement level player. Fortunately he was also blessed with incredible hitting ability, but that does not detract from his fantastic defense.

  7. Scott G

    June 05, 2013 05:14 AM

    Larry, you are SOOOOO right. I completely forgot these advanced metrics that say Utley is elite at defense were invented in Philly by people trying to help Chase Utley out..

    Are you a troll? It makes me really sad that there’s people out there that think like you do. Mike missanelli as a source??? Surely you jest.

  8. Scott G

    June 05, 2013 05:32 AM

    Also, Richard, there’s no way he should be allowed to use that PA as a learning experience. Over the last month he has proven that he swings at a high percentage of pitches out of the strike zone. He even hit a homer on a 3-0 count last week, in which, I still maintain he should have had a take sign. This luck when swinging at pitches out of the zone won’t continue forever.

  9. hk

    June 05, 2013 05:35 AM

    Larry: LTG I watch every game so I’ve seen the blown double plays many times that never show up in the stat sheet.

    Larry,

    The funny thing is that the blown double plays do show up in the stat (UZR) sheet that LTG is using. That’s part of the bigger point. Despite the blown double plays, UZR still says Utley’s a great fielder in large part because of the things you didn’t see, namely the number of plays that Utley made that most other 2B would not have made. After all, how could you be watching all of the other 2B’s when you were watching every Phillies game?

  10. Richard

    June 05, 2013 06:34 AM

    “Over the last month he has proven that he swings at a high percentage of pitches out of the strike zone.”

    He has proven no such thing. His swings on balls out of the zone ticked up a bit, yes, and I’m not at all disputing that that’s something to be potentially concerned about. But your position seems to always be that players should never swing 3-0, which is simply silly. His 3-0 homer came in the first inning. A great time to ambush the opposing pitcher.

    I don’t know what you mean by “there’s no way he should be allowed to use that PA as a learning experience”. Are you being sarcastic? I already said it should be: he definitely should not have swung at that 3-0 pitch last night, as it was not a good pitch to hit. That’s the learning experience.

  11. Richard

    June 05, 2013 06:36 AM

    Regarding Utley again: it’s worth noting that even his less than stellar DP rating noted by UZR, that still amounts to roughly average at turning the DP.

    Oh, and that play where he was thrown out trying to go 1st-to-3rd in the NLDS? Smart baseball. Just didn’t work.

  12. Larry

    June 05, 2013 07:04 AM

    Galvis plays a better second base defensively and I don’t have to look at any stats or UZR to figure that out.

  13. Richard

    June 05, 2013 07:37 AM

    Larry, he simply doesn’t.

    But you don’t care in the least about the arguments being made on Utley’s behalf, so there’s no point in explaining why.

  14. LTG

    June 05, 2013 07:41 AM

    Whether Galvis is better than Utley has no bearing on whether Utley is a great defender. You like that kind of argument but it is a non-sequitor.

    And Galvis isn’t. He might look better because he has a strong arm and seems to run quickly. But so far he grades out as almost or not quite as good as Utley.

    Galvis looks better because he gets to a lot of balls up the middle. Utley was only average at that. But Utley shut down the hole between 1st and 2nd. I wager if we charted the balls hit around Galvis we would find he is not getting to nearly the rate of balls between 1st and 2nd that Utley did.

    Certainly Galvis is flashier than Utley. But flashiness doesn’t get more outs just for being flashy.

  15. Scott G

    June 05, 2013 07:50 AM

    Richard,

    Dom Brown is 36th out of 167 qualified hitters in percentage of swings at pitches out of the strike zone. He swings at 1/3 of the “balls” that he sees. That’s a lot.

    Also,
    Re: using the 3-0 count last night as a learning experience. No, I’m not being sarcastic. If this team has any realistic shot at winning this year, Charlie should not let players who are prone to swinging at pitches out of the strike zone swing 3-0 in a tie ball game during a last at bat with 0 outs. His job is to get on base there. If he gets on base, and everything else goes as it did (not safe to assume that it would), the game would have been over in the bottom of the 9th, and Bastardo and Stutes might not have been used.

  16. Larry

    June 05, 2013 07:53 AM

    If some of you think Utley plays second base better defensively than Galvis, then stop right there. Seriously. Please, that’s ridiculous.

  17. pedro3131

    June 05, 2013 08:30 AM

    Hmmm. 2 bad plays a bad defender makes? That Ozzie Smith guy must have been the worst defender ever, what with his 281 lifetime errors and all. And by the transitive property of gold gloves that means that every shortstop that played from 1980-1992 was terrible as well.

    Side note, Galvis is garbage at fielding because some writers didn’t vote him in as a GG last year, and Ted Williams wasn’t the best hitter in baseball in 1942/7

  18. TomG

    June 05, 2013 08:50 AM

    Full Disclosure: I feel compelled to be upfront and admit that I am totally in the tank for Chase Utley to the point that if he brutally murdered a busload of nuns I’d be all, “Chase … you’re not gonna do that again, are you? Promise me? Chaaaaaase … don’t you give me that death stare! [Grabs Utley in headlock and gives him noogies] Now run along and play some Hall of Fame-level baseball, you scamp, and stop murdering brides of Christ! [*sigh*] O, that boy!”

    That said, I always attributed Utley’s getting caught trying to go first to third in the NLDS to Pujols’ making a really great heads-up defensive play, rather than a baserunning mistake by Utley. I thought it was worth the risk given the baserunner (i.e., Utley). As Richard says, it just didn’t work. I’m not a big Pujols fan, but on that play, I just had to grit my teeth and give him props for a really good play.

    Plus those nuns probably had it coming.

  19. Richard

    June 05, 2013 09:30 AM

    “Dom Brown is 36th out of 167 qualified hitters in percentage of swings at pitches out of the strike zone. He swings at 1/3 of the “balls” that he sees. That’s a lot.”

    Average is 28%. It’s not a huge difference, nor necessarily sign of an overarching tendency. I suspect there are a lot of players grouped in that area where Brown is so far this season.

    Anyway, I can be persuaded he should have had a take last night (that is, your point, put a different way, that Brown should be protected from himself a little, as a Good Phight commenter put it, is valid here). But you also said he should not have swung 3-0 on the homerun he hit earlier this week, with two outs in the first inning, and that’s just too blanket a policy against lights.

  20. Scott G

    June 05, 2013 09:40 AM

    It may be too blanket a policy, but as I’ve had to point out on my site too many times over the last 5-6 years, I don’t think a take sign exists on this team. I probably get frustrated every single time a player who is not Chase Utley swings at a 3-0 pitch.

    This team does not work counts, and does not value walks. My response to that is that no one on this current active roster should swing 3-0 (some beautiful pitches would be missed, yes).

  21. Larry

    June 05, 2013 10:07 AM

    @ Scott,
    “This team does not work counts, and does not value walks. My response to that is that no one on this current active roster should swing 3-0 (some beautiful pitches would be missed, yes).”

    Exactly what I always say. RAJ doesn’t care about walks, he cares about production. When this team had Victorino, Werth, and Utley in this lineup, they scored a lot more runs.

    These guys drove the pitch count up to opposing pitchers and made them throw mistakes as they got more tired. WE would get to the opponents bullpen a lot earlier and see relievers like a “Chad Durbin type” or other not so good middle relief guys where we would score a lot.

    Walks really help, seeing more pitches really help. We’ve seen way more solo home runs from the Phillies as opposed to 2 run, 3 run homers.

  22. Phillie697

    June 05, 2013 12:43 PM

    I had said I would stop responding to Larry for, well, a word I rather not direct at any one particular person, but seriously, calling the statements of anyone else who doesn’t agree with you as “opinions” while stating EVERYTHING you say as “fact” when they qualify even more as opinions is just… Well, another word I rather not direct at any one particular person.

    Yeah, I’m being more PC than usual today.

  23. Fish Fry

    June 05, 2013 04:45 PM

    Sweep completed, i miss the brooms, By the way, I never intimated that I wanted Chase traded, I said if the offer was outstanding I wouldn’t be against it. Hey if the Angels offered Trout for Chase, Ben and the entire LHV Iron Pigs, I be okay with the trade. (I am being sarcastic for those of you with no sense of humor or irony). I doubt Utley will be a Hall of Famer unless he can get back on the field and play three more complete seasons with excellent results. Doubtful. He’ll definitely be a Phils Wall of fame guy, he was that as soon as he screamed “World Fucking Champs” Hey if Gold Gloves were for outstanding fielders, how the hell did MY win one for Texas and Bobby Abreu win one for RF with the Phils. GG are 50% popularity, 30% offense and 20% how well you field. Or some combination of the three but popularity and offense are major portions of the voting. (Unless you were an absolute Wizard of Oz player whose defensive gems were things of beauty.)

    As to Dom swinging at the 3-0, it was a bad swing but overall his plate discipline has been decent. Good article on one of the links from Tuesday 10 concerning his hitting in the Month of May, swing rates and contact %. He has been seeing a decent amount of pitches in the past week but I am okay with him swinging if he continues to make good contact on good pitches.

    Good debate on Utley.

  24. Pete

    June 06, 2013 01:50 AM

    Abreu was a pretty good defensive right fielder for his first few years in Philly and would have been a fine choice for a GG (especially when you consider that Larry Walker was winning multiple GGs in right). When is the last time you remember a Phillies right fielder charging a one-hopper and throwing out a runner before he reached first base? Answer: Abreau, multiple times in his first few seasons with the Phillies. Just anecdotal evidence of the type of plays he was capable of and made early in his career.

    Then he eased up on the defensive effort a bit or lost a step (hard to believe the latter since he was still pretty youngish and within his prime) and that was that. The GG he did win definitely came a few seasons too late.

    Anyway, even the reminder not to sleep on Abreu’s early-career defense becomes another make weight argument that the GG may be the most worthless award in all of sports and no reason at all on which to base any opinion about defensive ability.

  25. Ryan

    June 06, 2013 07:35 AM

    You all got trolled by Larry.

  26. C

    June 09, 2013 09:33 AM

    I must have been watching another player because I never saw Utley as great as some are suggesting for his defense. He was steady and reliable but you never get the ‘great’ tag from me unless you have superior range and steal base hits from batters. What I saw in utley was guy who took a weakness and turned it into a strength but I would never ever even remotely consider him one best defensive 2B ever.

  27. Phillie697

    June 10, 2013 12:13 PM

    @C,

    Greatness is not flashiness. Greatness is one who gets the job done better than everyone else. Let’s just say he who can always position himself in front of a hit ball so that it becomes a play any 15 year old can make >>> he who has to rely on his superior athleticism to reach hit ball. The former can still do the latter, but he doesn’t have to. Therein lies the nature of Utley’s greatness on defense.

  28. Benjamen D. Kull

    October 22, 2013 05:01 PM

    Dear Mr.Utley,
    My name is Benjamen D.Kull,I live Pottsville,Pennsylvania.I am 10 years old and I go to D.H.H Lengal Middle School.I like to play baseball just like you.

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