Johnny Almaraz voluntarily stepped down as the Phillies director of scouting Tuesday and his departure from that role is unlikely to lend itself to any sentimental sendoffs. He will remain with the club in a different scouting capacity. By comparison to his predecessor Marti Wolever, who was with the organization for two decades before being shown the door after drafting Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins in 2014, Almaraz was only around for a short time.
Five years is barely enough time to evaluate his first two drafts, let alone his entire body of work. Plus, in this era of analytics, it’s difficult to tell exactly how much influence an old-school scout like Almaraz had in the Phillies’ selections since the 2015 season.
One thing we can say with certainty about Almaraz’s drafts is that his very first pick – Georgia high schooler Cornelius Randolph – was a mistake. Almaraz, at a time when Ruben Amaro Jr. was still the general manager and analytics were not yet playing a huge role in the Phillies’ draft selections, took Randolph 10th overall because he thought he was a pure hitter.
It was a risky choice for a number of reasons. Randolph had just turned 18 years old one week before the draft and it’s far more difficult to project what high school kids will become as they mature than it is a kid with college experience. Randolph was touted as a first-round pick by most draft experts, but more in the 20 to 30 range.
“We love his bat,” Almaraz said while also declaring that Randolph was the unanimous choice in the Phillies’ 2015 draft room. “There’s no doubt we feel he’s got a chance to be a hitter in the major leagues that hits for both average and power.”
In five minor-league seasons, Randolph has not hit for average or power and even though he is still only 22 years old, it is unlikely that the Phillies will protect him in this year’s Rule 5 draft. A total of 20 first-round picks from the 2015 draft have reached the big leagues and only one player (Minnesota pitcher Tyler Jay) drafted higher than Randolph’s 10th overall selection has failed to make it to the big leagues. Braves All-Star pitcher and 2019 ace Mike Soroka went 28th overall and Dodgers rotation mainstay Walker Buehler was selected 24th.
Even though Randolph’s selection was a failure, it does not mean the entire 2015 draft was also. With the 42nd overall pick, the Phillies took Scott Kingery, who right now is the best player to come out of the second round of that draft. In fact, he is among the top 12 players taken in that draft to this point.
A year later, the Phillies went the high school route again, selecting outfielder Mickey Moniak out of La Costa Canyon High School in Southern California with the hope that they could sign him under slot and get a better player in the second round by overpaying.
As of right now that strategy looks suspect for a couple of reasons. There is certainly still hope that Moniak will develop into a quality big-league player, if not an All-Star, especially after he had his best minor-league season this year after competing in the Eastern League at the age of 21. The league’s average age is 24.
But Kevin Gowdy, the second-round pick they paid nearly $2 million over his suggested draft slot, had a rough season at low-A Lakewood after missing all of 2018 following Tommy John surgery. Gowdy allowed runs in nine of his final 10 games this season and 69 runners reached base against him in 31 1/3 innings during that span. The only Phillies pick to make it to the big leagues from the 2016 draft is pitcher Cole Irvin and there’s no reason to believe anybody else from that class other than Moniak will one day join him.
If Kingery, Moniak and Irvin are the only players to reach the big leagues from Almaraz’s first two drafts, it will not reflect well on him unless one of them becomes a superstar. The Dodgers have already had nine players reach the big leagues from those two draft classes and the Cardinals have had eight.
A total of nine players taken in the first round in 2016 have made it to the big leagues, but only one was a high school player. The player lots of teams missed on in that draft was Mets first baseman Pete Alonso, who was taken 64th overall in the second round.
Even though it appears as if Almaraz’s tenure got off to a rocky start, his last three drafts have an outstanding chance of being good ones based on the way things are going to this point.
The Phillies are one of only four teams to already get their 2017 first-rounder to the big leagues, and Adam Haseley has held his own in his rookie year. Milwaukee’s second baseman Keston Hiura was taken one pick after Haseley and has played spectacularly since his mid-May call up, but if the Phillies end up using the eighth overall selection on one of the 10 best players in the class of 2017, that would be just fine.
It’s also possible the Phillies got another top 10 selection in pitcher Spencer Howard with the 45th overall pick in the second round of the 2017 draft. Looking at the prospects from that class, it appears to have the best chance of yielding the most big-leaguers during Almaraz’s tenure.
As for 2018 and 2019, everybody is happy right now with the first-round selections of Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott, a couple of college kids who could make up the left side of the Phillies’ infield for much of the 2020s.