Lacking Faith in the Phillies’ Player Development
One of the news items I covered over at HardballTalk yesterday concerned Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas. The 25-year-old, currently in his fourth season, is off to yet another slow start, slashing .147/.215/.321 over 121 plate appearances. As a result, the Royals are considering demoting him to Triple-A Omaha on Tuesday, which would open up another roster spot for a reliever.
The Royals drafted Moustakas in the first round, second overall behind David Price, in the 2007 draft. He was a consensus top-100 prospect between 2007-11, including rating as the #9 prospect by Baseball America and #7 by Baseball Prospectus going into the 2011 season. In 2010, with Omaha, Moustakas hit 36 home runs with 124 RBI with a .999 OPS, prompting the Royals to promote Moustakas to the big leagues on June 10, 2011.
Kevin Goldsten, current director of pro scouting for the Astros and former writer for Baseball Prospectus, said of Moustakas in July 2010, “He might have the best pure bat speed in the minors,” and called him an “offensive monster”. Baseball America named him the best pure power hitter in the Royals’ system in 2011.
Why am I writing about a former Royals prospect on a Phillies blog? I was thinking about what a great change-of-scenery candidate he is and how the Phillies ought to try to acquire him. The Royals are built to contend for the playoffs this season and might be willing to give him up for an MLB-polished player. Sadly, I remembered that the Phillies have enough trouble turning their own prospects into capable big leaguers and squelched the idea.
As a result of their scorched-earth method of building a contender between 2009-11, the Phillies traded away a large portion of their Minor League system. Observe:
- Blue Jays: Roy Halladay for Travis d’Arnaud, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor
- Indians: Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco for Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, and Jason Knapp
- Astros: Roy Oswalt for J.A. Happ, Jonathan Villar, and Anthony Gose
- Astros: Hunter Pence for Jarred Cosart, Jonathan Singleton, Domingo Santana, and Josh Zeid
While the Phillies recouped some value back — or at least appeared to at the time — in the Lee trade with the Seattle Mariners and in the Pence trade with the San Francisco Giants, the Phillies were left with a farm system that ranked close to the bottom in baseball. They were 25th in 2012 according to ESPN’s Keith Law; 27th in 2013, also per Law.
So a weak farm system explains the Phillies’ lack of successful young players. But it doesn’t explain how they have not developed a single player over the past five years to come up and be a consistently reliable contributor.
The Phillies traded for center Ben Revere, knowing his flaws. But he has shown no improvement on his ability to read balls off the bat, still taking loopy routes in the outfield in his second year with the team. Reliever Antonio Bastardo has regressed since a dominant 2011, walking close to 12 percent of batters since, including 14.5 percent this season. Aside from a hot May last season, Domonic Brown has shown an inability to adapt to how Major League pitchers are approaching him, and is just as bad defensively in the outfield now as he was three years ago. Out of at least a dozen projectable young arms, not a single one has joined the bullpen and become dependable, though I’d be willing to put blind faith in Jake Diekman. There haven’t been any observable adjustments.
If the Phillies had a success rate over, say, five percent, molding flawed young players into capable Major Leaguers, I’d be frothing at the mouth for the Phillies to take Moustakas off the Royals’ hands. (Just to make it clear: there’s no evidence that the Royals have made him available. He is simply my jumping-off point for my overarching criticism.). He still projects well offensively with the right coaching. He plays an excellent third base. And yet, I have absolutely no confidence that the Phillies would be able to do any better of a job with Moustakas than the Royals — famously inept themselves — did.
Buying low on players like Moustakas is one element to building a team that contends over the long term. Former GM Pat Gillick and even Ed Wade did it well, picking up Shane Victorino through the Rule 5 draft and Jayson Werth off the scrap heap. If the Phillies can’t find and develop talent, then they are even more reliant on doing well in the free agent market and through trades involving big-name players, but we all know how that has turned out in recent years.