2016: Philadelphia’s Year of the Draft
Continuing our draft coverage, I took a macro look at the Phillies’ draft day situation in relation to the rest of the city’s pro teams. For a good read on just how convoluted the MLB Draft is a la “slot values” and high schoolers attempting to exert leverage over multi-billion dollar organizations, check out Corinne’s rundown. It’s the Wild Wild West…in Secaucus, New Jersey. It’s all meaningful for the Phils, who control the board with the first overall selection. For a taste of what Klentak, MacPhail and Co. may do with 1/1, read Brad Engler’s preview.
The folklore surrounding the first overall selection in professional sports drafts is unparalleled. It’s the sole factor linking the Greg Odens, Ryan Leafs (Leaves?) and Brien Taylors of the sporting universe, whose immense expectations are met only with more significant letdowns.
But here in Philadelphia, the first city ever bestowed with three top-two picks in the same calendar year (Phillies and Sixers with no. 1 overall, Eagles with no. 2), the repercussions of each selection could not be more different.
Securing the first overall pick in the MLB Draft is, comparatively, less likely to quickly turn around a team or make any relatively immediate impact than similar a pick in the NBA and NFL. Predicting and evaluating talent in baseball is the toughest to do among the three sports and, in addition, one single baseball player makes the least individual impact on any team. Despite this disadvantage, the Phillies separate themselves from the Eagles and Sixers as a beacon of hope.
Both the Eagles and Sixers have been subject to autocratic, my-way-or-the-highway style dictatorships over the past three years. One mortgaged the next eight to ten years to select a DI-AA gunslinger from Bismarck, North Dakota, to play the most important position in sports. The other, guided by an out-of-the-box, lose-to-win mantra, has been patiently amassing both talent and assets, but has yet to see that strategy yield tangible results in any way, shape or form.
It had previously been the Phillies themselves, run at the highest levels by a change-resistant management philosophy that refused to adapt to the times, that looked to be in the worst position of the three. And it is precisely because of former general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.’s unwillingness to part with aging stars that the Phillies have the first overall selection in the 2016 draft.
So why are the Phillies in the best position of the three teams? It began with a few shrewd trades made by Amaro on his way out the door, combined with the direction and poise of Matt Klentak and Andy MacPhail now firmly in the driver’s seat, that have turned around the franchise with the league’s worst record less than one year ago.
The Phillies are now run under an understandable, palpable style of management that values pitching and defense and has (finally) jumpstarted their own analytics branch. A high payroll, bolstered by an influx of TV money, always affords the ability to buy bats when needed, but stockpiling and growing pitching talent from within is, and has already proven to be, a boon to a rebuilding team.
Not only do the Phillies have a plan in place, they’ve slowly begun to visualize some of the early results. While still years from the finished product, the firepower in the minors—not to mention production at the major league level—is a welcome relief from a bottom-dwelling farm system in years past.
So take tonight for what it is, and enjoy it. It won’t be ping-pong balls that determine the Phillies’ fate, and they haven’t sacrificed a sizable haul of draft picks for the right to dictate the direction of the draft. They have the chance to add a bona fide piece of the long-term puzzle that, for a few years, won’t be subject to the boom or bust labels our hot-take society so hastily thrusts upon anyone and everyone. It’s an unusual notion for Philadelphia sports fans, but take my word: the future doesn’t depend on this pick, it can only make it brighter.
Now, for fun, take a peek at the only ten times in the last 51 years (when all four major leagues have held amateur drafts) that a city held concurrent first overall picks, as the Phillies and Sixers do in 2016.