The Philadelphia Phillies sorely need young talent to help offset the contracts of Bryce Harper, Zack Wheeler, and JT Realmuto, just to name a few. The Phillies have also not been very successful at developing their prospects into everyday big leaguers. A few examples are Scott Kingery, Spencer Howard, and Adam Haseley. With their history of not being great developers, the MLB begins on Sunday. This is an opportunity for them to right the ship when it comes to finding talent and developing it. This will be a breakdown of different routes the Phillies could go in the first round of the MLB Draft, and at the end, where they should go.
In the last two drafts, the Phillies have taken a high school pitcher. In 2020, it was Mick Abel, in 2021, it was Andrew Painter. Painter has had great success throughout his professional career so far. After being drafted at 18, he is now 19 and has already been promoted to A+. Abel has dealt with a bit more adversity than Painter has.
Abel missed some time last year due to a shoulder injury. Abel, like Painter, has been pitching at A+. Abel hasn’t put up great numbers, as he posts a 5-7 record, 4.23 ERA, and a 1.36 WHIP. He has walked 29 in 66 innings, meaning opponents are getting on by actually recording hits against him. One area he has improved on is the number of home runs he’s allowed. In 44.2 innings in 2021, he allowed five. In over 20 more innings this year, he’s only allowed six. His walk rate is down, but opposing hitters are now batting .241 against him, as compared to .174 in 2021.
Nonetheless, the Phillies deciding to go with prep arms early in back-to-back years should spell a lot of confidence in their development system. The Phillies are pretty well stocked on the farm with pitching prospects. According to MLB.com’s rankings, six of the Phillies’ top-10 prospects are pitchers. To fill out the rest of that top-10, there are two outfielders, a catcher, and an infielder. Also of those top-10, only one is at AAA. So this leaves the Phillies leaning on young prospects. There are some guys like Juan Soto who are just ready at 19. Then there are others, like Bryson Stott, Mickey Moniak, and more who are still figuring things out for themselves at 22 and 23. The average age of their top-10 guys is 21.7 years old. It’s good and bad. Good, because they have time to develop and learn how to be a pro. Bad, because these guys aren’t getting to the show anytime soon. The top two guys, Painter and Abel, aren’t projected to reach Philadelphia until 2024 at the earliest.
If the Phillies want to keep taking prep players, it’s going to continue to put a lot of the weight of the future of the franchise on a player development system with a spotty track record, at best. Some former Phillies prospects that turned into good MLB players weren’t first-round picks. Rhys Hoskins was a 5th round-pick back in 2014. Darick Hall was a 14th-round pick. Matt Vierling was also a 5th rounder.
Some prep guys that could fall to the Phillies on Sunday are Justin Crawford (OF), Dylan Lesko (LHP), and Brandon Barriera and Robby Snelling (LHPs). Of this group, Lesko won’t pitch until at least mid-2023 after having Tommy John surgery and is likely to now honor his commitment to Vanderbilt. He may still be the best pitcher in the draft, but it is a big risk to take him 17th overall. Crawford is a fast centerfielder who can hit at the top of a lineup while playing solid defense. Barriera has concerns about being able to stick as a starter due to his smaller frame, but the ability is there to be the third starter on a playoff team, maybe a second on a fringe team. Snelling is a bulldog on the mound. He won’t be an ace, but like Barriera, could be a number two or three depending on the team that takes him. He will stick as a starter, thanks to his background as a dual-sport athlete.
Looking at college players, guys like Daniel Susac (C), Zach Neto (SS), Chase DeLauter (OF), and Dylan Beavers (OF) could be available. There will obviously be more available for the Phillies to take, but these are the top guys who should go between 15-20. Susac is ranked as the second-best catcher in the draft, behind only Kevin Parada. He’ll be a future gold-glover behind the plate considering his rocket arm, and could hit in the middle of the order, 5th ideally, for any team. His speed is below average but speed isn’t much of a concern when looking at catchers. Neto could hit at the top of the lineup for any team and will stick as a middle infielder for the majority of his career. DeLauter is my pick for the Phillies. A future three-hole hitter with above-average contact and speed to go along with plus-power. DeLauter looks like a guy who can hit 30 homers while stealing 15 bases coupled with average defense in all three outfield spots. Beavers is a guy who would be best-suited batting in the middle of a lineup, ideally 4th, due to his above-average power, but below-average contact. He’ll most likely be a corner outfielder for the majority of his career but could start in centerfield.
After naming a few guys and seeing where they would fit into different teams, the Phillies need to take a college hitter. This leaves them Susac, Neto, DeLauter, and Beavers. Of those guys, DeLauter is the most pro-ready. He takes pressure off the player development system while also giving the Phillies a top prospect that could be ready by 2024. Starting him in A+ would be a good idea to help him get his feet wet before really testing him at AA and AAA next year. Since he’s 20 now, he could be in the big leagues by the time he’s 22, helping offset big money going to aging guys.
Cheap talent is hard to come by, but when you have a chance to get it, you take it. Especially when the player already has a solid foundation, can make an impact quickly, and won’t cost everything to sign him. If he’s there, Chase DeLauter should be the guy the Phillies take.
Photo by Getty Images