So, yeah, technically the Phillies won't have a first-round pick when baseball's annual amateur draft cranks up.

The reality, of course, is that they made that selection last December by signing Raul Ibanez, forfeiting their choice as compensation. And nobody is going to argue with that, not with Ibanez batting .329 with 19 home runs, a league-leading 54 RBI and the most votes of all National League outfielders in the All-Star balloting.

The Phillies will have to sit around for a couple hours tonight before they have the opportunity to claim a player with the 75th overall selection. It won't be the first time, either. In 2005, they gave up their first-rounder for signing Jon Lieber. In 2003 they were without a first- or second-round pick after signing Jim Thome and David Bell.

And no matter how well Ibanez is playing, that's still a big deal.

Scouting director Marti Wolever was talking yesterday about how watching the Phillies win the World Series last October with a core of homegrown talent was the baseball highlight of his 17 years with the organization.

But the reality is that the vast majority of those players - Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Brett Myers, Pat Burrell - were first-round picks. And Jimmy Rollins was taken in the second round.

Not only that, 2006 first-rounder Kyle Drabek appears to be on the fast track to be an above-average, big-league pitcher. Outfielder Dominic Brown, the best prospect in the organization according to Baseball America, went in the 20th round 3 years ago.

"I can't deny that. That's obviously why most [good] players are taken high. The better ones go right away," Wolever said yesterday. "But even from an industry standpoint, gosh darn, if you had known what Scott Rolen was going to do you wouldn't have waited until the second round or Ryan Howard wouldn't have gone in the fifth. So, as an industry, sometimes we misjudge what players are capable of doing."

The first four rounds will be held tonight with the Phillies also holding the 106th and 137th overall picks. Tomorrow all selections through the 30th round will be made and the draft will wrap up Thursday.

Wolever said the Phillies won't approach this draft any differently than they would if they had one of the first overall picks.

And while the percentage of players who make an impact drops sharply after the first round, there are enough players from down the list who have made it to keep teams bearing down until the final player is chosen.

The most obvious example is Howard, whose stock fell after a mediocre year at Southwest Missouri State.

J.A. Happ was taken in the third round in 2004, Kyle Kendrick in the seventh round in 2003 and Ryan Madson in the ninth round in 1998.

Then there are the players who were drafted in the later rounds and then used as part of trades to fill-in spots on the big-league roster.

The Phillies were able to get Joe Blanton from Oakland last year in exchange for infielder Adrian Cardenas (sandwich pick in 2006), lefthander Josh Outman (10th round in 2005) and outfielder Matt Spencer (third round in 2007). And, without Blanton, who knows if the Phillies make it to the playoffs, much less win the World Series.

Two winters ago, outfielder Michael Bourn (fourth round in 2003), Mike Costanzo (second round in 2005) and Geoff Geary (15th round in 1998) were bundled and sent to Houston for Brad Lidge. Lidge helped the Phillies win the big trophy; Bourn currently leads the league in stolen bases.

"We kind of hang our hats or the Bourns, the [Michael] Taylors [fifth round last year], the Howards," Wolever said. "Some of those guys who were at the back end of the draft who have contributed in one way or the other. Those guys, I think, make the draft. So [not having a first-rounder] really doesn't affect what we do."

In 2003 the Phillies' first pick, in the third round, was infielder Tim Moss. But they got Bourn and Kendrick later. In 2005, they took Costanzo in the second round then selected Outman and Mike Zagurski later.

Wolever said the Phillies' philosophy hasn't wavered in all his time here, no matter when the first pick comes around. "Take the best player. We like high-ceiling guys. Athletes with aptitude," he recited.

He thinks the Phillies are well-stocked in righthanded arms, catching and the outfield so, all things being equal, would try to fill in the gaps. "I'm kind of a hitting guy," he said. "And lefthanded pitching is always hard to come by.

"We've been down this road a couple times before. So we'll just sit and watch the names go by and just hope that somebody that you really like and put a lot of time in is still there."

And then hope the player ends up helping somewhere down the road.

By the way, Ibanez was a 36th round pick of the Seattle Mariners in 1992. *