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How the Phillies drafted a player most teams never heard of and other draft observations

The Phillies drafted Gavin Tonkel in the ninth round as they were just one of roughly six teams who knew about the speedy outfielder from Northern California.

Virginia pitcher Griff McGarry pitching in the College World Series. McGarry is among the power arms drafted by the Phillies.
Virginia pitcher Griff McGarry pitching in the College World Series. McGarry is among the power arms drafted by the Phillies.Read moreJohn Peterson / AP

The Phillies were scouting a different player in Northern California last summer when they spotted a 6-foot-3 outfielder with premier speed.

Who is that?

A year later, a lot of teams around baseball were asking the same thing after the Phillies used their ninth-round pick in this week’s MLB draft on 18-year-old Gavin Tonkel.

“Some of these guys aren’t known by the publications but are known within the industry,” Phillies director of amateur scouting Brian Barber said Tuesday after the 20-round draft concluded. “This was one of the guys who wasn’t known within the industry real well.”

Baseball America reported Tuesday that several scouts had never heard of Tonkel while others knew of him but had not seen him play. Tonkel, a right-handed batter, hit .400 with a 1.068 OPS this season for Heritage High, which is an hour east of San Francisco. He’s committed to play at Sacramento State, the school that produced Rhys Hoskins.

» READ MORE: Phillies draft pick Jason Ruffcorn will begin his major-league dream where his father left off

Barber said Tonkel runs to first base in roughly 3.9 seconds and has a strong arm in center. The Phillies brought him to Philadelphia last week to face college pitchers at Citizens Bank Park.

“He did really well against them,” Barber said. “We do think there’s some projection needed in the bat, but we also think it’s a really good starting point for him. He’s a bat that can go out and compete, put the ball in play, and let some of those tools play.”

Tonkel was identified by area scout Jason Waugh and cross-checkers Brad Holland and Shane Bowers. The Phillies knew Tonkel wasn’t a complete unknown as his stock had begun to grow in recent months. So they jumped on him in the ninth round.

“There was a group of about half a dozen teams and the interest was starting in that area,” Barber said. “I just thought it got to a point where I did not want to lose him.”

Young but not unknown

Six rounds before they grabbed Tonkel, the Phillies drafted one of the youngest players in the draft by selecting Texas high schooler Jordan Viars. The center fielder turns 18 on Sunday.

“He was unknown by publications but he was not unknown in the industry,” Barber said. “After certain guys, you get text messages from other teams and they’re like ‘You just stole our guy.’ We got multiple of them on that draft pick. It was ‘This was our favorite high school hitter’ and things like that. Jordan Viars jumps out to us as that kind of guy.”

The 6-foot-4 Viars is a left-handed hitter who can hit for power. He’s the 14th-youngest player in this year’s draft class and hit .464 with a 1.626 OPS in 34 games this season at Rick Reedy High. He can play all three outfield positions along with first base.

“The bat was the main attraction for him,” Barber said.

The complete package

Barber is high on Ethan Wilson, who was one of the nation’s top power-hitting freshmen before developing into more than just a slugger in three years at South Alabama. The Phillies drafted the outfielder in the second round after he hit .318 with a .947 OPS and eight homers this season. He hit a school-record 17 homers as a freshman, but his strikeout rate this season was cut in half from what he did two years ago.

“We think it’s a complete hitting package,” Barber said. “We just love the offensive potential and the offensive production. It’s high-contact skills with really good barrel control. A guy who hits the ball hard. We think it’s the complete offensive package with both hit and hit for power in the future.”

Wilson played left field at South Alabama and scaled the wall last month to rob a homer.

“This isn’t a stiff that you put in left field,” Barber said. “He’s a good left fielder.”

High-velo arms

The Phillies drafted a cast of pitchers who throw fastballs that near triple digits, including Missouri’s Seth Halvorsen in the 19th round. The right-hander had Tommy John surgery in 2019 and played last season in the outfield before returning this season to the mound. He had a 6.00 ERA this season, but his powerful arm and his nine strikeouts per nine innings attracted the Phillies.

The Phillies drafted hard-throwing college right-handers Griff McGarry of Virginia, Christian McGowan of Eastern Oklahoma Junior College, Jason Ruffcorn of Oklahoma, Andrew Baker of Chipola College, and Nebraska’s Cam Wynne. All of them throw fastballs in the upper 90s.

“You look at the big league level and you see what’s playing in the big leagues. It’s stuff. Really good stuff,” Barber said. “... If you can get 99 with a good breaking ball right now, I’m going to be interested.”

» READ MORE: Get to know the 10 players the Phillies drafted on the final day of the MLB Draft

Halvorsen is one of the few draft picks that the Phillies are unsure they’ll be able to sign. He’s currently pitching in the Cape Cod League will play next season at Tennessee.

“He’s one who we’re going to have to work on a little bit this summer and let him know how much we’d like him to be a Phillie,” Barber said. “He has a great arm and good stuff and he’s still newer to pitching. This was really his first full year ever pitching. You look at the body, the athleticism, and a guy who’s been up to 98, 99 miles per hour and say ‘Hey, let’s take a chance and see if we can make him become a Phillie.’”