Crash Bag, Vol. 101: Phillies Draft Scenarios

Let’s start with the Question of the Week, which I’d like to rename, because Drew Magary uses that name in his Funbag column on Deadspin, so if you have a better idea, I’m all ears. This email has been edited somewhat for brevity, though Peter said a lot of really nice shit about me, for which I thank him. If you want any question answered at length, send it to crashbaumann (at) gmail (dot) com, or on Twitter to @MJ_Baumann.

Peter, via Email: “Let’s say it’s a perfect world – ie, Selig has finally allowed draft picks to be traded, Monty has named you the GM of the Phillies. How would you play this draft for the Phillies? Would you Hinkie it and trade the 7 and maybe JPC or Tocci or JBJ (er, LGJr, well, Cozens?) for a lower first round pick this year as well as a first or second rounder next year for asset stockpiling purposes, or would you try to use those chips to move up to get Rodon/Aiken, et al?

Additionally, what’s your best and worst case scenario for the draft this year? I suppose that could be too oblique of a question to ask, in that the worst case scenario would be something like “Phillies draft Touki, and his arm explodes after 3 pitches in Lakewood”, but I’m curious about your hope for how the front office approaches both the first rounder and the rest of the draft.”

I was actually going to write a post about this last week, when Keith Law’s first mock draft came out, but Peter’s question was interesting enough that I decided to hold off. I’m going to answer it backwards, with the real-world draft scenarios first.

So here’s the thing. Law has the Phillies drafting LSU righthander Aaron Nola with the No. 7 pick. I adore Aaron Nola. I’ve had Twitter conversations with Chris Branch, the Phillies beat writer for the News Journal and an LSU grad himself, that consist only of the word “Nola” over and over. He’s a stupendous college pitcher and the kind of high-floor, relatively low-ceiling major college draft prospect I once clamored for the Phillies to draft–including a certain Jackie Bradley Jr., once upon a time. Nola is as close as there is to a sure thing to make the transition to mid-rotation big league starter. And I view taking him at No. 7 as the worst-case scenario, or close to it.

Here’s why. You take a guy like Nola if you want help for your big league club fast. He’s a supporting piece, not the kind of crown jewel of the system you want to be shooting for with your first top-10 pick in 13 years. And according to Law, the Phillies would take Nola because there’s pressure to win in the near future. If Ruben Amaro signs off on picking Nola at No. 7, it will be for one of two reasons: either he doesn’t realize that the ship has sailed on the Phillies contending in the next three years or so, no matter what he does, or he’s getting pressure from management to win now or lose his job, which recalls the moral hazard of the embattled GM: the GM under fire will act in his own short-term interests rather than the long-term interests of the franchise. Drafting Nola would be a statement–either by RAJ or by ownership, it’s impossible to know which–that they don’t recognize or appreciate the franchise’s current situation and how it got there. If the Phillies draft Nola and don’t hit a home run on a later pick, they’ll go into 2016 or 2017 with three decent starting pitchers–Nola, Jesse Biddle and an aging Cole Hamels–and two decent infielders: J.P. Crawford and Maikel Franco. That’s not a contender, and the free agent market isn’t deep enough anymore to fill in the holes around a core that weak. It’s a matter of fit. Nola is exactly the kind of player the Phillies should’ve drafted five years ago, if they’d had first-rounders back then, but right now, they need more upside.

And here’s the thing: you can miss on a high-floor, low-ceiling college pitcher. In 2011, the Seattle Mariners, looking for a sure-thing pitcher to reach the majors soon, took Virginia lefthander Danny Hultzen No. 2 overall. Hultzen has been hurt and/or ineffective, and is currently recovering from shoulder surgery, which will keep him on the shelf this entire season and may keep him from ever pitching in the major leagues. Here are some of the players the Mariners passed on in one of the best draft classes in recent memory: Dylan Bundy, Anthony Rendon, Archie Bradley, Francisco Lindor, Javier Baez and Jose Fernandez. Sometimes the floor is lower than you think.

Nowadays, you build a championship contender through the draft and amateur free agents. The best way to get a star in his prime is to acquire him before he hits his prime, and much as I love Nola, he doesn’t have star potential. The best-case scenario is that Nick Gordon, a relatively low-risk prospect, but a high school bat with big upside, falls to No. 7, but that seems unlikely. Even less likely is one of the draft’s big ace-potential pitchers: Brady Aiken, Tyler Kolek and Carlos Rodon, falls to the Phillies.

I’d actually be okay with Touki Toussaint or a higher-upside college pitcher like Sean Newcomb or Tyler Beede. The Phillies need talent–not necessarily talent as raw as Larry Greene or Anthony Hewitt, but I’d take a little less certainty for a little more potential for a No. 1 starter or an MVP-caliber hitter. One possibility that intrigues me is ECU righthander Jeff Hoffman, a potential No. 1 starter and onetime contender for No. 1 overall pick before he hurt his elbow.

On the surface, it might seem weird to pick an injured college pitcher, but Hoffman’s injury might make him more attractive for two reasons. First is the Nerlens Noel theory: you get a potential No. 1 overall talent at No. 7 (No. 6 in the Sixers’ case) if you’re willing to essentially redshirt him a year and accept a risk that he might not recover fully. The added benefit in the Phillies’ case is that because of baseball’s idiotic rules about the draft, it’s important not only to draft the right player, but to factor in how much of his slot bonus he’d be willing to sign for. Hoffman is up against it: as a junior who stands to miss almost a full year, his options are to sign for what he can get now, or hope that recovers from Tommy John in 12 months on a Conference USA medical program, and that based on maybe four or five starts he winds up making it back to the top 10, then gets offered more money even though, as a senior, he won’t be able to use the threat of going back to school as leverage. Smart money is on Hoffman signing for under slot.

If the Phillies could nab Hoffman at No. 7, sign him for under slot, then use the savings to entice a second or third-round high schooler to skip college and turn pro, that would be the best-case scenario for me. Not only do I think it would rejuvenate the farm system more quickly, it would require the Phillies’ front office to show even a modicum of creativity and self-awareness, and I’d need a lot of both to restore my faith in the organization.

Now, what if you could trade draft picks? Most baseball fans are unaware (and credit to Peter for not being one of them) that you can’t actually trade most draft picks in baseball. If you could, I think the Phillies, who sit just out of the top prospect tier, would be in prime position to move. I’d be okay with moving up to get Rodon, Kolek, Gordon, Aiken or Alex Jackson, but given the relative paucity of talent in the Phillies’ system, I don’t know what such a move would cost, and whether that cost would be worth it. However, judging not only by Law’s mock draft, but by Kiley McDaniel‘s and Chris Crawford’s, there would still be enticing talent in the late teens and early 20s. If I were the Phillies’ GM, my first goal would be to get as much talent into the farm system as quickly as possible, so if I could pick up another second-rounder or a top-10 organizational prospect by moving down from No. 7 to No. 20 or so, I’d do that in a second, and take my chances that someone like Beede or Grant Holmes or Indiana catcher Kyle Schwarber could be around. (Schwarber is the top college power hitter in the draft, and while it’s far from a lock that he’ll stay at catcher, he’ll be a star if he does. I’ve got a profile on him coming out on Grantland tomorrow, so stay tuned.)

Because of how high this pick is and because of the possibility that the Phillies’ front office might not be attuned to how entirely it has fucked itself, this draft is going to be huge, and it is of paramount importance that the Phillies break their current run: the Phillies haven’t picked a worthwhile player in the first round since Cole Hamels, all the way back in 2002.

@TonyMcIV: “how bad do the Phillies end up being if Cliff Lee is out for an extended period of time?”

Not a hell of a lot worse. Let’s say it’s the worst-case scenario and Lee needs Tommy John. The difference between him and whatever shitheel gets called up from AAA is probably pretty big over a season, but even if it’s, like, eight wins, those wins would knock the Phillies from being a team that plays around .500 to a team that’s a few games below .500. How much more will it hurt if the Phillies win 73 games instead of 79 this year?

@thefilmjerk_: “is Brad Penny still in baseball?”

He has thrown 28 innings since 2011, but Wikipedia calls him a free agent instead of retired, so he might not think he’s out of baseball yet. I was a huge Brad Penny fan back in the day, btw. Loved that guy.

@tholzerman: “aside from Mitch Williams (whom we already know would), what retired MLB player can you most see ordering high and tight in Little League?”

Jack Morris. He calls for little 11-year-old Cayden to brush the batter back, and when Cayden says that might not be a good idea, he goes: “This ain’t my first fuckin’ rodeo, son.

@PhilaBCoulter: “At this point, what can Larry Greene Jr. do correctly in the game of baseball? What can he do correctly in life, itself?”

You know, I do feel bad for Larry Greene, because I’ve given him a lot of crap for what he isn’t, and some people–not many, but some–jumped on him for that reason. The truth is that I was going to lose my shit over any raw high schooler who got drafted one spot before Jackie Bradley, and it’s also true that just about nobody liked the Greene pick when it happened. He was a football player who played baseball like a football player, and who needed to hit his best-case developmental scenario to even become a decent major league player. The juxtaposition of the two is unfortunate, because Bradley was a top-15 talent who dropped because he missed part of his junior year and Scott Boras was his agent, while Greene had no business going within 50 picks of where he went. So I really bear Larry Greene no ill will. None of this is his fault.

@Wzeiders: “Could you weigh in on the phenomenon of wearing the jersey of one team and the hat of another at the same time? “

Is that a thing? You can’t do that. I’m all for sports bigamy, but on the day of the game? You gotta pick a side. I sometimes get antsy wearing, for instance, a Temple t-shirt with a Phillies hat, even though the two aren’t related. Just seems a bit much.

If you and your spouse are of divided loyalty, maybe you do that to your baby, but never to a person who’s old enough to have feelings. And even then…I married into a family of people who cheer for the Atlanta Braves and the University of Georgia football team, perhaps my two least favorite sporting institutions, and my offspring will be raised Phillies fans. If Grandma and Grandpa buy a Braves onesie for the future Cole Hamels Baumann (and I say this because I know my mother-in-law reads this), that Braves onesie will never see the light of day. No child of mine will be seen waving a foam tomahawk.

@XanderMcMahon: “ok: I understand chooch hitting 2nd; he’s good there. But why / how does it make sense to put Nieves there? Why did that work?”

Yeah, Bill wrote about this earlier, and he is, of course, correct. Carlos Ruiz walks a lot, so of course you’d want him getting on base in front of Utley and whoever else. Nieves batted second on Sunday because sometimes a manager will give a player a day off without reoptimizing his lineup to account for that player’s absence. It’s lazy, and foolish, and it worked because life is dictated largely by random chance and the sun shines on the righteous and the wicked alike.

@gberry523: “so now that the lottery is set who are the sixers picking next month?”

With the caveat that the Sixers are one of the most secretive organizations in the league, I’d say Dante Exum at 3, maybe Rodney Hood at 10? The first SBN mock draft has Andrew Wiggins lasting to 3, and if he does, I think the Sixers take him for sure. But it could be Joel Embiid, and it could be Jabari Parker. I really have no idea.

@cdgoldstein: “Who is the next most likely MLB player to attempt to eat a teammate?”

Jonathan Broxton.

@wkgreen06: “if promised to receive 100% honesty, 5 questions u would ask RAJ”

  1. How much of this current roster will be on the next Phillies team that’s good?
  2. How much of the public optimism is genuine? How much is because of pressure from ownership to win now? How much is a PR act? (I’d frame this as one question.)
  3. Where will the players on the next good Phillies team come from? (Draft, free agency, current roster)
  4. With amateur signing rules and draft bonus slotting, as well as the free agent pool becoming less and less enticing over time, how will the Phillies leverage their financial advantage into wins?
  5. What’s the most interesting trade or transaction you almost pulled the trigger on but didn’t?

That’s all for the Crash Bag this week. The college baseball postseason is ongoing as we speak, by the way, so if you have access to ESPN3, there is live, meaningful baseball going on pretty much around the clock this weekend. What a country we live in.

Leave a Reply

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5 comments

  1. WayneKerrins

    May 21, 2014 11:37 AM

    You live in a big world Michael and some of your readers are neither American nor live in the USA. You need to broaden your horizons son.

  2. Peter

    May 21, 2014 02:05 PM

    Thanks for answering my questions! I figured you’d enjoy a chance to expound on that (sadly) hypothetical situation a bit.

    I have to say, I understand your rationale behind it, but man, for a farm system like the Phils’, you have to be really confident that Hoffman would come back and be the pitcher he was before he blew out his arm AND that he would sign well below slot to pick him at 7. Love the similarity to his and Noel’s situations, but I feel like the scale is a little different here, if only because I think baseball prospects are a good bit riskier than basketball prospects (even injured ones). You’d have to hope he signs well below slot so they can maybe get 2 guys they wouldn’t have normally, and with the Wetzler shenanigans, I’m not sure how likely it is that happens. Jealous of the Jays for having two top-13 picks – I agree with KLaw in that he’ll end up with them.

    I guess my hope is that for some strange reason, one of the big offensive players falls to 7 (even Gordon, because you can’t have too much up the middle) and they get a bunch of high-upside arms/bats later in the draft. None of the pitchers outside of the guys that will go high (Rodon, Kolek, et al) are hugely appealing to me. Above all else, the system needs an injection of depth, both at the top of the system (ie the guy they get should be #2-5 in the system by the end of the year) and around the edges (again, high-upside arms and bats). Here’s hoping your worst-case doesn’t play out – that the FO directs Ruben to “win now”.

  3. crow

    May 21, 2014 06:34 PM

    *so he might not think he’s out of baseball yet.*

    The Brad Penny always turns up.

    • ECS

      May 21, 2014 11:15 PM

      “Semi-fortnightly inquisition”

      Short. Sweet. Totally unpretentious. Boom.

  4. catch22hman

    May 23, 2014 08:50 AM

    I basically liked this article, but then you said this: “the Phillies haven’t picked a worthwhile player in the first round since Cole Hamels, all the way back in 2002.”

    Say what?

    You cannot possibly mean this. J.P. Crawford is going to be a huge star in the majors – huge. He’s known for his defense, but he’s taking the Sally League by storm as an 18 year old with his bat and his plate discipline. I think you must have just forgot about Crawford when you wrote this, but if you mean what you said and don’t think Crawford is worthwhile, frankly, you could not possibly be more wrong.

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