Baseball Prospectus identified what has become a notoriously high-risk/high-reward approach by the Phils in selecting amateur talent. [Subscription only]
If we assembled a list of the best quotes from the 2008 season, behind the scenes scouting director Marti Wolever would make the list for his offering on why the Phillies reached on toolsy high school prep star Anthony Hewitt with their first pick in the June draft: "These are the kind of players we (Wolever, Mike Arbuckle, Pat Gillick) grew up liking and wanting in the organization. Because when these guys hit - and not all of them do - you're not talking about an average major-league player. You're talking about a well-above-average player. And to me, that's what you win championships with."
For one, it’s a great quote because it makes no bones about the Phillies’ draft philosophy. And second, whether you agree or disagree with the high ceiling/high risk approach – well-documented in publications like Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and on sites like ESPN, Beerleaguer, Phuture Phillies and The Good Phight - the point about above-average players is well taken. After all, the Phillies finally won the big one because the cavernous gap between the top and bottom rungs was filled with the right amount players who were great at their jobs.
The question, as it relates to drafting, is whether these players blossomed from the bottom or possessed excellent baseball skills from the start. While the current team includes excellent athletes who fall into both camps, most of them became professionals with some level of doubt surrounding their overall game; many of them, including players like Jayson Werth, Brett Myers and Shane Victorino, continue to refine their game into their late 20s. With someone like Hewitt, as raw as any 18-year-old can be, the Phillies won’t know what they have for years and years.
“There is arguably not a single player in professional baseball with a larger gap between his tools and his baseball skills,” Kevin Goldstein writes for Baseball Prospectus in their ranking of the Top 10 Phillies prospects. Goldstein then concludes this way: "While the Phillies' system lacks talent at the top, they have as much high-ceiling talent as anyone, and they need to hit gold on just one or two of them to see the organization take a dramatic step forward."
Wolever and the Phils would be thrilled.