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.
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.