Much of the attention surrounding Major League Baseball's draft, which begins tonight and runs through Thursday, will be focused on the first round.
It's only natural.
San Diego State righthander Stephen Strasburg, he of the triple-digit fastball, is expected to be the first overall pick, by the Washington Nationals. The hype and buzz surrounding Strasburg has been incredible. There isn't a scout in America who hasn't predicted stardom for him, and you can bet a number of other future stars will come out of the first round, as well.
The Phillies will not be part of the first-round fun this year. They forfeited their first-round selection, the 27th, to Seattle when they signed free agent Raul Ibanez. No one is second-guessing that move, not with the season Ibanez has had.
Not having a first-rounder doesn't preclude the Phils from finding a future star in one of the subsequent rounds. In fact, they have a history of doing well in later rounds.
Mike Schmidt, Jimmy Rollins, Scott Rolen, and Randy Wolf were all second-round draft picks. Ryan Madson was a ninth-rounder. Ryan Howard was a fifth-rounder.
The Phils' first pick will come in the second round, the 75th overall.
"It's difficult to know what you'll be looking at at 75," scouting director Marti Wolever said yesterday. "You just have to sit and watch the names go by and hope somebody you like and spent lots of time [scouting] is still there."
Losing high draft picks is the price of doing business in the free-agent market. In 2003, the Phils lost their first- and second-round picks for signing Jim Thome and David Bell. In 2005, they forfeited their first-rounder for signing Jon Lieber. The Phils did not get a compensatory draft pick this year for Pat Burrell's signing with Tampa Bay because they did not offer him salary arbitration.
In 2003, the Phils' first pick was third-rounder Tim Moss, a second baseman who never made it past double A. Their second pick was Michael Bourn, who is now Houston's centerfielder.
In 2005, the Phils' first pick was second-rounder Mike Costanzo, a third baseman who along with Bourn was part of the trade that brought Brad Lidge to Philadelphia from Houston. Costanzo is in double A in the Baltimore organization.
Phillies scouts have prepared for months for this draft. For the first time since 1993, Mike Arbuckle will not be in the Phils' draft room. Arbuckle oversaw scouting and player development as an assistant general manager before joining the Kansas City Royals and being replaced by Chuck LaMar last fall.
Wolever has run the Phillies' draft since 2002, and despite personnel changes in the front office, his draft philosophy remains the same.
"We'll look to take the best player we can," he said. "We like high-ceiling players, guys where there's some risk and high reward. We like athletic kids with aptitude, kids who are aggressive. That combination is what we're looking for."
Wolever would not discuss specific players he and his staff were keying on, but did say the team would likely end up with a high school player with the 75th pick. Wolever believes the farm system is well-stocked with young righthanders, catchers, and outfielders. He would like to add lefthanders, middle-infield prospects, third basemen, and, of course, effective hitters of all stripes.
"I've always liked bats," said Wolever, who championed the drafting of Chase Utley in the first round of the 2000 draft.
Finances are always a major consideration in the draft. The Phils had a bounty of early picks last year (six in the top 110) and drafted a number of high-ceiling talents such as infielder Anthony Hewitt, outfielders Anthony Gose and Zach Collier, and pitcher Jason Knapp. The team spent $6.7 million on signing bonuses last year, up $2.5 million from the previous draft.
Last year, the 27th pick, pitcher Carlos Gutierrez of the University of Miami, received a $1.29 million signing bonus from Minnesota. Is there a chance the Phils would use some of the money that would have been earmarked for the first-round pick to woo some top high school prospects out of their college commitments?
"I won't say yes and I won't say no," Wolever said. "Time will tell. It's contingent on how we draft and what we draft."