What Are the Phillies Going to Do With the Top Pick in the MLB Draft?
This isn't a great year to have the first overall pick in the MLB Draft. There is no Bryce Harper. There is no Stephen Strasburg. There is no Ken Griffey Jr. There is no sure-fire superstar waiting to be drafted first overall this year.
It kinda sucks for the Philadelphia Phillies, who hold the first pick in Thursday's Draft. The team is reportedly unsure of what to do with their top pick, as no amateur has separated himself from the rest of the pack.
Do the Phillies take one of the high-ceiling high school arms like Jason Groome or Riley Pint? Do they go with a high school hitter, like Mickey Moniak or Blake Rutherford? Do they take the best college pitcher in the country in A.J. Puk? Or do they select a college position player, like Corey Ray or Kyle Lewis?
There is no clear choice, so let's break down the Phils' options at 1-1.
No High School Arms
Despite one of the best high school pitchers hurling not far from Philadelphia, South Jersey's Groome, the Phillies are reportedly shying away from drafting any high school pitcher with the top pick in the draft.
Only four high school pitchers have ever been drafted first overall, David Clyde, in 1973 by the Rangers, Brien Taylor in 1991 by the Yankees, Matt Bush, in 2004 by the Padres, and Brady Aiken, in 2014 by the Astros. Among those three, Clyde has the highest fWAR, at 0.7.
High school pitchers, even ones with high ceilings like Groome or Pint, have more risk attached to them than college pitchers, and that's played out in recent years with Bush and Aiken. Bush got into trouble with the law and just now is having something of an impact as a relief pitcher, and Aiken suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery not long after being drafted.
Our own Jim Sannes broke down the unreliability of drafting high schoolers versus college players, and the numbers are overwhelming.
So even though Groome is a left-handed stud who pitches in the mid-to-high 90s with a quality breaking ball, far advanced for his age, the Phils have not even put him or Pint among their top five. High school arms take longer to develop and have a greater risk of both injury and/or flameout.
The Florida Gators left-hander has all the tools to be a quality Major League starter. In my latest weekly podcast that I host called "The Felske Files," Editor of Baseball America John Manuel said Puk has the highest floor of any pitcher available and "checks all the boxes" for what you'd want in a top overall pick. And most mock drafts seem to be coalescing around Puk going to the Phillies first overall.
One look at watching him pitch and it's easy to see why.
Here's the problem, though. He has been very up-and-down this season.
He is 2-3 with a 3.21 ERA in 15 starts this season, with a ton of strikeouts (95) but also a lot of walks (31) in 70.0 innings. And yet that is the best strikeout-to-walk ratio he's had in his collegiate career. His longest outing is 7 1/3 innings pitched, done in his penultimate start of the season, and in his final start before the draft lasted just 4 1/3 innings and gave up 5 earned runs.
Still, process is more important than results, and he is a tall left-hander who throws about 97 mph. Most insiders seem to think it will be Puk selected by the Phillies on Thursday.
High School Bats
There is one factor here that needs to be talked about, and may be the main reason the Phils could look to select one of the top high school bats available. Money.
The Phils have a little over $9 million that they can give to their first selection, but no one prospect is worth that kind of cash. So the Phillies will sign somebody with a good portion of that first round slot money and then use the rest to try and convince a high school kid to skip college and overpay him for way more than the second or third round slot is valued.
In other words, the Phillies might be able to sign Puk for $6.5 million, but if they don't think he's a whole lot better than, say, high schooler Mickey Moniak, who they could sign for $5 million (this is an example, actual dollar figures are just guesses on my part), the Phillies could sign Moniak for $5 million, which gives them $4 million to put toward the cost of their second round pick as opposed to the $2.5 million they would have left over if they signed Puk.
If the Phils are thinking this way, it is Moniak who could end up being their selection.
@FelskeFiles @LOLPhillies guessing Moniak even more
— keithlaw (@keithlaw) June 6, 2016
It's a strategy that has been employed by multiple teams over the last few years, allowing a team like the Phils to get a first round talent with their second round pick. If they go that route, Moniak is seen as the guy they're targeting, who has been compared to Steve Finley. Rutherford is also a possibility, although at 19, he is old for a high school prospect and has a lower floor than Moniak.
College Position Players
The Phillies welcomed Mercer University outfielder Kyle Lewis, seen as the draft's top power prospect, to Philadelphia for a workout on Monday. This is not an unusual thing to have happen, but may be an indication which direction they're headed.
With so few power bats available in baseball and quality position players far more scarce than top pitching prospects, it might make sense for the Phillies to select a guy like Lewis with their first pick. And while Lewis plays for a small school and hasn't faced top competition, the power in his bat is legitimate.
The other college position player most often connected to the top pick is Louisville outfielder Corey Ray, who ESPN's Keith Law has as the top overall prospect available in the draft. Ray is seen as having the most complete bat of any college player, with a better hit tool than Lewis but with less power.
It appears as though the Phils have narrowed their choices to five players: Lewis, Ray, Puk, Moniak and Rutherford. And seeing as how there is no clear "best player available" here, it would make sense for Philadelphia to take the player who will cost the least so they can potentially get an impact player in the second round, too.
That would point to the selection of Moniak. However, if they settle on someone they like more than the others, they should pick that person and not worry about the money. When you pick first in the draft, you want to get a prospect that has both a high floor and a high ceiling and, if you believe the insiders, that player is A.J. Puk. Lewis would also be a fine selection for a team without a lot of power in their system.
The Phillies are on the clock, and don't surprised if they use all of it before making their decision.