Confession: I'm not very good at answering email. I would like to get better. For starters, I am going to try to get into the routine of digging into my inbox and publishing the letters I get that might be of interest to the fan base as a whole.
Let today be the start of that routine. If you have a suggestion on what we should call this thing, drop it in the comments section. Cheese-Mail? P-Mail? Going Postal?
LETTER NO. 1: The Phillies' performance in the draft
I posted this same question to Matt Gelb as well – with Freddy Galvis' emergence as the everyday second baseman in Utley's absence, it got me thinking, have the Phillies drafted any position player since Michael Bourn in 2003 who has become an everyday major leaguer (>300 AB's in a season) for any team? Not sure that they have. Granted they've had to deplete the farm system so players they drafted might not have the shot to make it here, but even so, it seems like none of their draftees even make it anywhere. The players they've traded away (Marson, Donald, Golson, among others) certainly haven't amounted to much. Singleton and D'Arnaud haven't played in the big leagues yet. I'm curious to see how they stack up against other teams in this regard, especially teams with similar winning % over the last 10 years.
Also curious – it seems like the Phillies AA and AAA rosters are among the oldest in baseball. Feels like it's been that way for at least the past 10 years, if not longer. Again, a sign that they've probably drafted poorly, and not scouted internationally very well either. Would be interesting to see if their average team age at those levels is significantly higher than, say, the Red Sox, Yankees, Braves, etc.
Lack of organizational depth makes injuries like Howard and Utley's seem even worse. I know the Phillies have spent a lot on the major league payroll, but their player development model seems to be just like it was in the '80s and '90s, when they didn't develop an all-star caliber position player from Daulton and Samuel in '83-'84 until Scott Rolen 13 years later.
Interested in your thoughts on this, maybe in a future article around draft time in June.
You raised an interesting topic, one that prompted me to go back and do some quick research. You are correct: the Phillies have not had a position player drafted since 2003 who has logged 300 plate appearances in a season. But I don't think that is necessarily an indication of poor drafting. A bigger contributor might be the poor draft position the Phillies had in the earlier part of the time frame. In 2003, their first pick did not come until No. 85. In 2005, their first pick was No. 65. In 2009, their first pick was No. 75. The fact that they did not have first round picks in two drafts early in the time frame is a major contributor. And keep in mind that Domonic Brown was drafted way back in 2006, and he still is very much an unknown.
Let's take 2003, for example. I combed through the players drafted from No. 86 through the end of the 25th round. Matt Kemp (No. 181 overall), Ian Kinsler (496), Ryan Robers (530), Chris Coghlan (546) and Casey McGehee (283) are the most significant position players who went during the time frame. Obviously 29 other big league teams would go back and pick Kemp, Kinsler and Roberts if they had the chance.
The one issue you might quibble with is the Phillies' infatuation with young, toolsy players with big upside. That led them to draft Greg Golson in the first round, while college players Hunter Pence and Dustin Pedroia went in the late second round. But you also have to consider the fact that the strategy has helped facilitate some big trades: Bourn was the centerpiece in the Brad Lidge draft. Jonathan Singleton was the centerpiece in the Hunter Pence trade. Travis D'Arnaud was an important part of the Roy Halladay trade. Anthony Gose was an important part of the Roy Oswalt deal. Singleton, D'Arnaud and Gose are all Top 100 prospects right now.
The Phillies have also had good success with the pitchers they have drafted: Kyle Kendrick (2003), J.A. Happ (2004), Matt Maloney (2005, traded for Kyle Lohse), Josh Outman (2005, traded for Joe Blanton), Kyle Drabek (2006), Jason Knapp (2008, traded for Cliff Lee), Vance Worley (2008), Mike Stutes (2008), Jarrad Cosart (2008, traded for Hunter Pence) and Trevor May (2008, currently a Top 75 prospect).
Granted, it is hard to put any of this into perspective without a comparison to other teams. That's something I'll start to work on as we get closer to the draft. But at first glance, the dearth of young position talent in the minors and majors has more to do with the trades the Phillies have made (Gose, Singleton, D'Arnaud) than with the drafting they have done. Every team is going to have misses like Anthony Hewitt and Zach Collier in 2008. But you have to go all the way to the third round and Danny Espinosa before you come to a player that they passed up who has had even a modicum of big league success. And the Phillies ended up drafting Worley in that third round. He and Craig Kimbrel are the only two players besides Espinosa who have found big league success who were drafted in that round.
As for the ages of the upper minor league teams…
Triple-A teams are usually going to be older players who are in the system to provide depth at the big league level. As for Double-A, the Reading Phillies are actually the fourth-youngest team in the Eastern League, according to the average age of the roster as calculated by Baseball-Reference.com (24.3 years old):
1. Altoona 23.1
2. Portland 23.8
3. Bowie 24.1
4. Reading 24.3
5. Trenton 24.5
6. Binghamton 24.5
7. Richmond 24.5
8. New Britain 24.9
9. New Hampshire 24.9
10. Akron 25.0
11. Erie 25.4
12. Harrisburg 25.5
LETTER NO. 2: Options at third base
I love your blog and read it every day. Like every other Philadelphian my buddies and I email about Philly sports everyday. The most discussed topic is Polanco is done, what is the solution? (Second of course is hating Nix and demanding that Pods get put on the roster).
I am wondering what your thoughts are on replacing Polanco. With little in the farm and no clear trade options I am of the opinion that the Phillies will have to put Galvis, Rollins, or Utley at third.
The way I see it, the biggest thing to keep in mind is that Polanco continues to play Gold Glove defense. His play on the soft Jose Reyes grounder against the Mets could have been the difference between a win and a loss. As long as he continues to do that, the smart play is to give him time. We are only 11 games into the season, keep in mind. Yes, he struggled last year. But the Phillies simply do not have a better option at this point.
We also need to adjust our expectations. Third base isn't the power position that it once was. Last year, fewer than half the teams in the majors had a third baseman who hit more than 10 home runs. Five third baseman hit more than 20, and seven hit more than 15. Ten years ago, 21 third baseman hit more than 10 home runs, 16 hit more than 15, and 10 hit more than 20. This season, only eight third baseman have hit more than one home run.
As home runs have dropped, the position seems to be evolving into a defense/OBP position. Of course, Polanco isn't an OBP guy. His .337 OBP ranked 16th among players who had at least 300 plate appearances at third base last year. He has made up for that with a good contact rate and the ability to hit line drives. If the Phillies had a better option, it might be worth considering a change. But keep in mind Galvis is still only hitting .229 with a .250 OBP. Polanco is hitting .179 with a .220 OBP. If Galvis is still slugging .400 in June and Polanco is still hitting .179/.220/.205, you'll have a case. At the same time, Galvis has never played third base. Rollins certainly has the arm, but he has not played the position either.
The Phillies showed last year that when everybody is healthy they can win with two no-hit utility types in the line-up. Which is why I think you can't discuss Polanco without discussing the situation in first base and left field. Because those are power positions. It is going to be a lot easier to upgrade the offense there than it is at third, where the options across the league are limited.