YOU MIGHT EXPECT, with a minor league system so depleted after a series of headline-making trades that one of the rationales for not keeping Cliff Lee was the need to replenish it, that the Phillies' focus in this year's draft would be on more experienced players closer to being ready to contribute in the big leagues.

Good guess. Incorrect, however.

"You think about it. It crosses your mind," scouting director Marti Wolever said yesterday. "But I think you have to stay pretty true to the program. Sometimes people overlook the fact that, yeah, we do like high-level, high-ceiling athletes. But you have to have a balance as you go through this. I don't think you can take all high-ceiling players. We like those guys, but you have to have a balance of college players, too."

The Phillies will have the 27th overall pick when the annual talent grab begins tonight. Subsequent rounds will be held tomorrow and Wednesday.

To acquire players like Joe Blanton, Lee and Roy Halladay, the Phillies have strip-mined the system, dealing away Adrian Cardenas, Josh Outman, Carlos Carrasco, Jason Knapp, Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Kyle Drabek, Michael Taylor and Travis D'Arnaud.

Wolever offered a pair of reasons for not altering the blueprint.

The first is that if the players he drafts this week end up helping another organization, that's just the way it goes. Especially if the players the Phillies get in return contribute to more postseason appearances.

"I think our job is to provide [general manager Ruben Amaro Jr.] with the ability to move those types of players that are attractive to other clubs for pieces that we need to keep this club in contention and continue to be a championship club," he said.

The other reason is that, in his experience, deviating from normal standards and practice tends to backfire.

"Atlanta did that a few years ago with a kid named Joey Devine, a pitcher they thought could jump right in," he said. "[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."

There is no way to accurately predict whom the Phillies might end up with late in the first round, especially not in a year Baseball America calls one of the most wide-open ever.

The BA mock draft has them going for Georgia high schooler Kaleb Cowart, a third baseman and righthanded pitcher, while also mentioning Los Angeles high school outfielder Austin Wilson and Cal State-Fullerton outfielder Gary Brown.

Form rarely holds, as some teams select players not highly valued by most clubs and some top prospects slip because of signability issues; the Phillies typically take a chance on a couple of such players in the later rounds. That said, in its Top 50 draft prospects list, players clustered around the Phillies' draft position include: Middle Tennessee State outfielder Bryce Bentz (24), University of Texas righthander Brandon Workman (25), University of Arkansas righthander/outfielder Brett Ebner (26), Ohio high school righthander Stetson Allie (27), Clemson outfielder Kyle Parker (28), Louisiana State catcher Micah Gibbs (29) and University of Miami catcher Yasmani Grandal (30).

Most of the focus is on the first round, but the real success of a baseball draft is its depth. And, as the process goes on, the Phillies will start trying to match players still available to organizational needs.

"It's certainly on your mind," Wolever said. "We'd like to get some catching. We look back and I see Jason Jaramillo and see Lou Marson, and see Rob Johnson, who we had taken, is catching up in Seattle. D'Arnaud is no longer here. That's four guys - of which one we didn't sign, I thought we were going to - that's three big-league guys.

"So I'd like to get some catching at some point. Lefthanded pitching would be nice to get. Some middle infielders would be something else we'd like. We're going to take the best player available early, and as we go through the draft if two guys are equal we'll certainly make that maybe a little bit more of a priority."

There are also three local players who bear watching this year, although none is projected as a first-round pick: shortstop Sean Coyle from Germantown Academy, lefthander Jesse Biddle from Germantown Friends and Villanova outfielder Matt Szczur, also a star wide receiver of the Wildcats' national championship team in football.