In just one week, baseball begins its annual amateur draft, and once again the first round will be shown live on MLB Network. However, this year it comes with some changes thanks to the new CBA. The most noticeable will be the bonus pool teams are restricted to when it comes to signing their picks. This likely won’t affect the Phillies too much spending wise because they rarely spend really big money on picks, but it will change their strategy. The pool applies to the first 10 rounds of the draft but also any pick after the 10th that signs a six figure bonus. While they traditionally don’t pay huge bonuses to players, they often sign players in late rounds that other teams did not believe were signable. This includes players such as Domonic Brown, Jarred Cosart, Jiwan James and a host of others in recent years. If the Phillies want to continue to pursue that kind of talent, they’ll have to either draft those players in the top 10 rounds or make some disappointing, low ceiling picks in the top 10 rounds to save money for later.
Because of the limits on teams, pre-draft deals and nailing down what a player will sign for before the draft will be more critical. This is an area the Phillies have excelled in for the most part thanks to the diligence of their scouting staff. This year, the Phillies bonus pool sits at $4,916,900 million. This is about $300,000 more than they spent in last year’s draft when they had one fewer pick than they will this year. For comparison, Minnesota has the most to spend at $12,368,200 million, and Anaheim has the least at $1,645,700. These are calculated by adding up the slot values that MLB and its players’ union agreed on. While the slot prices have been contentious issues in the past, they’re now higher than they used to be to reflect what teams actually spend in drafts. To be clear, there is no cap on how much a team can spend on an individual, but if they pay a huge bonus to one player, they’ll have to cut back on other picks. Teams will face penalties for exceeding their limits, but it’s expected that teams will comply.
There are two major positive changes when it comes to signings. The deadline has been moved up a month to July instead of August because of how many players were signing late and not being able to make their pro debuts until the next season, such as the Phillies’ first two picks, Larry Greene and Roman Quinn. Players will still wait to the deadline because that’s how they get the most money out of teams, but there will still be plenty of time to get to the minor league complexes and kick their careers off. In prior seasons, the commissioner’s office had an entire department dedicated holding up overslot signings because they believed it would prevent bonuses from around the league piling up since the announced overslot signings would give players and “advisers” more leverage. Not anymore. If a player and team agree to a deal, it will be approved immediately. Starting next year, the free agent compensation system gets a makeover, and extra picks will be awarded to small market and poor teams. In addition, the draft is down to 40 rounds from 50, so if Ruben Amaro has any more nephews to draft and not sign, he’ll have to do it a bit earlier.
While last year’s draft was one of the best in recent memory, this year’s is anything but. Once again, there is no clear-cut standout player like a Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. In fact, many analysts say that none of this draft’s top players would even be selected in the top five had they been eligible for the 2011 draft. It’s especially a weak year for college hitters, and one of the worst in a long time at that. Houston holds the first pick, and while high school outfielder Byron Buxton is at the top of most analysts’ boards, they’re expected to be leaning towards drafting a college pitcher, such as Mark Appel from Stanford, Kevin Gausman from LSU or Kyle Zimmer from San Francisco.
There will still be players to be had though, and here are 12 I think the Phillies should keep in mind in the first few rounds. Boston has what would’ve been their first rounder at 31 overall, but thanks to compensation picks from Cincinnati and the Yankees signing Ryan Madson and Raul Ibanez respectively, the Phillies will have 42 picks. They’ll pick 40th and 54th in the first round, 77th and 95th in the second round, 125th in the third round and every 30th pick starting at 158 after that.
LHP Logan Ehlers, Howard: Ehlers was an 8th round pick by Toronto two years ago but didn’t sign and went to Nebraska. He was suspended by the NCAA for enlisting the services of an adviser during negotiations which is something that everyone uses, so it’s odd that he was singled out for it. After his “season” with the Cornhuskers, he transferred to Howard JC in Texas so he could be drafted again in 2012. The 6’2, 200 lefty is pitching well after shoulder surgery in the offseason, still sitting in the low 90’s and touching 94. His curveball is his best pitch, and the Howard coaching staff has been working on his changeup. He’s most likely a 3rd-7th rounder, and he should be a pretty easy sign with his desire to start his professional career.
RHP Pierce Johnson, Missouri State: Johnson is in the midst of a breakout season at a university that’s had success getting pitchers selected high in the draft. He’s one of the best strikeout pitchers in college (ranking in the top 20 in K/9) and has the stuff to back that up. His fastball sits 92-93 with movement and can touch a little higher, and his hard breaking ball is his best pitch. He’s working on both a cutter and changeup to help him against lefties. After walking 64 batters in 116.1 innings between his freshman and sophomore seasons, his control has improved in his junior season, only walking 25 in 83.2 innings. The concern with Johnson is injuries; he’s missed time with forearm problems a couple times in his career, and sometimes that can be a precursor to elbow problems. Johnson should be off the board by the time the first round ends, and he might not even be there with the Phillies pick at 40.
RHP Pat Light, Monmouth: Light’s stock has improved dramatically this year, going from a fastball-only future reliever to someone who has a nice chance to start. Monmouth has only had 21 players ever drafted, and he’s going to be the highest drafted player in their history. Like Johnson, Light’s arm slot is a bit lower than usual, and that could hurt him against lefties, especially because his changeup is still developing. His slider has developed into another plus pitch to go along with his fastball that sits in the low 90’s and could get higher if he were to pitch in a relief role. If the Phillies are interested, they’ll be looking at him 54th overall because it’s no guarantee that he would get to them in the second round. It’s possible he ends up in the bullpen, but he’s certainly made strides this season.
High school pitchers
RHP Mitch Brown, Century HS: Brown isn’t the typical kind of pitcher the Phillies look into when they’re grabbing someone from the high school ranks, but he could still be considered. At 6’1, he’s a bit smaller than the projectable frames the Phillies look for, and his fastball probably isn’t going to get any better, generally sitting in the low 90’s. He’s pretty advanced for a high school arm, already throwing a pretty good cutter to get lefties out. His curveball is a plus pitch, and there’s some conflicting info on whether or not he’s working on a changeup. Although he’s a little shorter than most starters, he’s strong with a great makeup which the Phillies always look for. The Twins might pop him before the Phillies even pick, and he’s not guaranteed to make it to their second pick at 54 overall.
RHP Nick Travieso, Archbishop McCarthy HS (Florida): Travieso does have the size and projection the Phillies look for, and his present fastball velocity is already very good. He’s shown a lot of improvement in 2012, adding a hard slider and showing feel for a changeup already after just learning it. With his improving stuff, he’s now more than just a relief prospect headed to Miami. He still has a lot of work to do refining his secondary stuff and command, but he has great potential. Baseball America has Travieso ranked 40th in the draft, right where the Phillies pick, but other sources have him higher and he might already be gone.
RHP Shane Watson, Lakewood HS (California): Watson’s 6’4, 195 pound frame is ideal for high school arms and offers plenty of fastball projection. Right now, it can sit anywhere from 88-92, but as he gets stronger, that will improve and he should have plus velocity down the road. His high 70’s curveball is his best pitch, and that projects as plus too. He’s showing a bit of a feel for a changeup, but that pitch still needs a lot of work. He’s been working on a cutter as well. His command needs to improve as is usual for high school pitchers, but he has a nice delivery and should be fine down the road. Like Travieso, there’s no guarantee that he’ll be there when the Phillies pick at 40, and he might not make it to 54. Five years ago, the Phillies took another Lakewood grad, Travis d’Arnaud, in the first round.
High school position players
OF Anthony Alford, Petal HS: Writing about Alford in preparation for the MLB Draft could be an exercise in futility after he encouraged teams to not draft him because he wants to go to college. Whether this is just a negotiating ploy or genuine, he figures to be very difficult to sign. He’s committed to Southern Miss to play QB and baseball. It’s always possible to work around this; he can sign a baseball contract and get permission from his organization to play college football in the offseasons but not receive a signing bonus until he commits to baseball, and he can sign a dual-sport contract that allows the Phillies to give him a larger bonus spread out over a number of years (although I believe this issue has become murky with the new CBA.) On the diamond, teams hope they can land a potential five tool talent with game changing speed, power potential and the arm one would expect from a player that could’ve played QB at LSU or Nebraska.
OF Lewis Brinson, Coral Springs HS: A month ago, Keith Law quoted a scout saying, “the perfect Phillies draft.” Whether or not that’s a good thing based on some recent picks is certainly open to interpretation, but it’s clear he’s the kind of athlete the Phillies target. He’s tall and lanky which suggests future power, and he’ll remain athletic enough to play a good center field with a strong arm. Of course, the question as usual with players like Brinson: will he hit? He’s been inconsistent this spring, but teams will always pay the price for a player with this kind of physical talent. If the Phillies want him, they’ll probably need to grab him at #40.
C Wyatt Mathisen, Calallen HS: Adding catching depth should be a priority for the Phillies this draft, but unfortunately for them it’s not a great draft for the position. Mathisen is one option, even though he hasn’t even been playing catcher this spring. That’s where his future lies though, and he has the tools to be a really good receiver, especially with his arm that’s plus or better. His leadership and strong work ethic also bode well for the position. At the plate, he’s not going to have much home run power, but he’s strong enough that he’ll be able to hit plenty of doubles while batting .280-.290 annually. If the Phillies gamble a bit, they could wait until #54 to grab him.
College position players
MIF Kenny Diekroeger, Stanford: Diekroeger turned down a $2 million bonus three years ago as a Rays second rounder, and at this point it’s a regrettable decision. Once thought of as a potential top five pick in this draft, Diekroeger has fallen victim to the “Stanford swing”, Stanford’s infamous hitting style that takes players with power potential and spits out players who can’t work the count and only slap singles to the opposite field. Or in other words, Amaro’s kind of player. The Phillies have had success correcting the Stanford swing in the past, and if a team can fix Diekroeger, they’ll be getting a potential shortstop with 15-20 home run power, a good feel for contact and decent defender. It’s possible that he’s limited to second base though. A team that remembers what kind of player he could’ve been three years ago will take him before the Phillies pick at #77, but some believe he could fall as far as the 3rd round.
SS Nolan Fontana, Florida: I keep going back and forth on whether or not Fontana is a good fit for the Phillies. On one hand, their track record drafting and developing college hitters since Ryan Howard has been dismal, and they also spent a lot of money last year replenishing their infield depth. On the other hand, he should sign quickly and cheaply, allowing them to pay other picks more, and he has a skillset not really found in the Phillies system. He’s an above average defender at shortstop, a dying breed in the college ranks. He has 10-15 home run power at best and is an average runner, but he’s a smart baserunner and has great on base skills, something every team could use at the top of a lineup. The team taking Fontana in the supplemental or second round will hope he can hit .270 and become a nice #2 hitter.
OF Jeff Gelalich, UCLA: Gelalich is actually a former Phillies pick, a 41st rounder out of high school three years ago. He’s a five tool player which is rare for a college hitter, but he has no plus tools as well. After a couple unimpressive seasons with the Bruins, he had a breakout junior year in 2012, finally showing his power potential and improving his plate approach. He needs to use the whole field better, but he has the potential to bat .280 annually with 20 home run power. He’s a good athlete but will have to play in either right field or left. He could be there for the Phillies in the second round, but it’s possible a team really believes in him earlier than that.
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