Drafting mature pitching arms easier said than done
About six hours from now, the Phillies will makes the 27th overall selection in the 2010 first-year player draft, also known as the Rule 4 draft. And while their standing in major league baseball has changed dramatically over the past few years, their draft strategy is not expected to follow suit. The Phillies are like most teams - they do not believe in drafting for need, or drafting with the thought of fast-tracking a player to the big leagues. So even though the most immediate need for the big league club is a few good pitching arms, do not expect that need to dictate the strategy they employ tonight.
"Atlanta did that a few years ago with a kid named Joey Devine, a pitcher they thought could jump right in," Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said yesterday. "[Ryan] Wagner in Cincinnati. There have been several guys. 'Hey, we need a reliever and this college guy can do it.' Well, I look back now and I'm sure there are some successes, but there have been a lot of failures, too. So, short term, yes, it sounds great. But I think you've got to think long term here.
"We try to stay with the philosophy we've had over the years. We've had our misses, no doubt. But, overall, it's been pretty successful."
In other words, the current baseball season, where recently-graduated pitchers like Mike Leake, Drew Storen, and Stephen Strasburg either have made or are expected to make big impacts, is a rare bar of gold in a chasm of pyrite.
There aren't many quick fixes in the Major League Baseball draft - no Matt Ryans or Adrian Petersons or Troy Polamalus.
And the few that exist are not found in the bottom quarter of the first round, where the Phillies are slated to pick.
Strasburg, who is scheduled to make his MLB debut tomorrow for Washington, was selected with the top overall pick last season. Leake, who is 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA in 11 starts for the Reds, was taken at No. 8. Storen, a flame-throwing reliever who dominated the minors and was recently called up to the Nationals, was taken at No. 10.
Instances of fast-tracked players who were drafted in the bottom half of the first round are rare.
Wolever mentioned Devine, who is the classic case of what can happen to a team if it allows its big-league needs to dictate its strategy.
The Braves drafted the hard-throwing righthander out of North Carolina State in 2005. Coincidentally, they took him with 27th-overall pick. His senior year at NC State, Devine made 28 relief appearances, striking out 13.3 batters per nine and walking just 1.8. He allowed one home run, recorded 12 saves, and posted a 2.03 ERA.
At the time, the first-place and defending division champion Braves were in dire need of bullpen arms at the major league level. John Smoltz had moved back into the rotation after three seasons as closer, and by the end of the season 19 different relievers had appeared in relief for them.
One of those pitchers was Devine, who appeared in less than 30 minor league games before the Braves promoted him to the majors on Aug. 20. But in he allowed seven runs in his five appearances, and by the end of 2007 season had made just 20 more appearances in the majors. He pitched well for Oakland in 2008, going 6-1 with a 0.59 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 42 appearances, but had elbow surgery last season and is still on the disabled list.
There are some instances of players making quick jumps to the big leagues.
Joba Chamberlain was selected with the 41st overall pick in the 2006 draft and was on the Yankees' major league roster a little more than a year later. After debuting on Aug. 7, 2007, the hard-throwing starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever posted a 0.38 ERA and 12.8 K/9 in 19 games during the stretch run.
That same year, the Yankees drafted Southern Cal standout Ian Kennedy with the 21st overall selection and promoted him to the big league roster in September of 2007, when he threw 19 innings and posted a 1.89 ERA in three starts.
The Red Sox seem to like college pitchers, and have hit big on several, most notably Jonathan Papelbon, selected in the fourth round in 2003. But even then, the turnaround is usually not lightning-quick (Papelbon didn't debut until mid-2005, which relative to tonight's draft would be mid-2012).
Here are how some other college pitchers drafted after the first half of the first round have fared:
Matt Garza: Drafted 25th overall in 2005, debuted for Twins on Aug. 11, 2006, posted 5.76 ERA in 10 games, 9 starts.
Craig Hansen: Drafted 26th overall out of St. John's in 2005, he debuted for the Red Sox on Sept. 19, 2005 but appeared in just four games. He has struggled since, walking 6.1 per nine and posting a 6.34 ERA in 95 big league games for the Red Sox and Pirates.
Daniel Bard: Selected 28th overall in 2006, he struggled as a starter in the minor leagues but has developed into a reliable back-of-the-bullpen power arm. He debuted on May 13, 2009 and went on to post a 3.65 ERA and 11.5 K/9 in 49 games for the Red Sox.
Chris Perez: Cardinals took him out of Miami at No. 42 in 2006. He debuted May 16, 2008 and immediately filled a bullpen role, posting a 3.46 ERA and 9.1 K/9 in 41 games.
Justin Masterson: Selected by the Red Sox out of San Diego State with the 27th pick of the second round in 2006, he debuted on April 24, 2008 and posted a 3.16 ERA in 36 games, nine starts.
Wade LeBlanc: Starting tonight for the Padres, he was taken out of University of Alabama with the 17th pick in the second round in 2006. He debuted in September of 2008.
Brett Cecil: Selected No. 38 in the second round in 2007 by the Blue Jays out of Maryland, he debuted last May and went 7-4 with a 5.30 ERA in 18 games, 17 of them starts. Through nine starts this season, he is 6-2 with a 3.43 ERA.
The way the Phillies see it, they are better off taking the player they think will turn into the best prospect, regardless of the year they project him to be ready.
Take, for example, Jason Knapp, the 17-year-old high schooler they took in the second round in 2008. Although he wasn't expected to help the Phillies until at least 2013, Knapp was one of the key pieces of the trade that landed Cliff Lee last season.
So who might the Phillies land tonight and over the next few days?
Mike Kvasnicka, a right-handed hitting catcher/outfielder at the University of Minnesota, is one intriguing name to watch, although he could be gone by the time the Phillies pick. Same goes for Texas pitcher Brandon Workman, who once upon a time was a Phillies draft pick. Germantown Friends lefty Jess Biddle is a player who has drawn plenty of media attention. California prep outfielders Austin Wilson and Christian Yelich have been mentioned in a couple of mock drafts.
Best Available doesn't always mean a high school position player with big upside, although they have snagged plenty of them. They took Rice lefty Joe Savery in the first round in 2007, and Long Beach State righty Andrew Carpenter in the second round in 2006.
We'll find out for sure tonight. Just don't expect any immediate dividends.