October 22, 2008
Building the Better Ballclub
When I think about the World Series, I think about it from my skewed view through scouting and player development, so here are a few random things that I've been considering in terms of this year's Fall Classic. The one thing that I keep coming back to is that the Phillies deserve as much credit as the Rays do, if not more, for building a team in all of the right ways.
Where They Came From
Tampa Bay gets credit for doing everything right here, and for being the product of some outstanding scouting and player development over the past few years-and all of those laurels are richly deserved. At the same time, you cannot discount the Phillies, where just as much core talent has come from within.
Phillies Source C Carlos Ruiz NDFA 1998 1B Ryan Howard Draft 2001 (5) 2B Chase Utley Draft 2000 (1) 3B Pedro Feliz FA 2008 SS Jimmy Rollins Draft 1996 (2) LF Pat Burrell Draft 1998 (1) CF Shane Victorino Rule5 2004 RF Jayson Werth FA 2007 Rays Source C Dioner Navarro Trade 2006 1B Carlos Pena FA 2007 2B Akinori Iwamura FA 2006 3B Evan Longoria Draft 2006 (1) SS Jason Bartlett Trade 2007 LF Carl Crawford Draft 1999 (2) CF B.J. Upton Draft 2002 (1) RF Gabe Gross Trade 2008 DH Willy Aybar Trade 2008
That's right folks, the Phillies have more homegrown players than the Rays do in their everyday lineup, though the Rays even the score when Rocco Baldelli is in right field. Not to mention the fact that the four draftees in the Phillies lineup also constitute their four best players.
What about the rotations?
Phillies Source Year Cole Hamels Draft 2002 (1) Brett Myers Draft 1999 (1) Jamie Moyer Trade 2006 Joe Blanton Trade 2008 Rays Source Scott Kazmir Trade 2004 James Shields Draft 2000 (16) Matt Garza Trade 2007 Andy Sonnanstine Draft 2004 (13)
Even up by the count certainly, but the Phillies' got their first and second starters from the draft, while the Rays got their second(-ish) and fourth, so again, advantage Phillies. Mad props go to the Rays for some late signings, however: Sonnanstine is a kind of a modern-day Bob Tewksbury, and that's a great find in the 13th round, and is the only player from that round that year to reach the big leagues. Shields was a great find on a different level, as he was a much better talent than a 16th-round selection suggests, but most teams took a pass on picking him, assuming that he would honor his college commitment. Only the Rays properly assessed his signability.
The lesson here is that when anyone mentions the Rays having built their team from the ground up, they miss the fact that Philadelphia actually has more players in the fold that were scouted, drafted, and developed to get them where they are.
Gifts in the Draft
The Rays have done an absolutely incredible job in the draft. One can argue that they were always drafting early because of their status as consistent basement dwellers, but that can be said for many teams who have not had anywhere near this much success. Even so, they have had a pair of gifts from above fall into their lap that have provided them with their two biggest offensive threats in this postseason.
The best talent in the 2000 draft was B.J. Upton, and it wasn't even close. It was one of those years when you had Upton up top, and then an argument over all of the possible distant seconds. It might have been the best college arm (Bryan Bullington), or it might have been one of many high-school arms in a strong class that included Adam Loewen, Clint Everts, Zack Greinke, Scott Kazmir, and Hamels. With the first pick in the draft, and fearful of Upton's signing price, the Pirates selected Bullington, dropping Upton to the Rays with the second overall pick. Upton has more home runs in the postseason this year than Bullington made starts for the Pirates before being released this summer. (The Pirates failed to learn their lesson and drafted Daniel Moskos, awful in High-A this year, over Matt Wieters, arguably the best position prospect in baseball-again making a choice driven by money. Luckily for Pirates fans, the people who made those decisions are no longer with the club.)
Flash forward to six years later, and the Rays selecting third. Somehow, for some reason, and at the very last minute, the Rockies, selecting second overall, passed on Evan Longoria, the best position player in the draft by a country mile, and instead took Stanford right-hander Greg Reynolds. Passing up Longoria was bad enough, but if they wanted an arm, the pick looks especially awful in light of some of the players taken soon thereafter, like Brandon Morrow, Clayton Kershaw, and Tim Lincecum. Once again, the Rays had an easy selection at hand, and happily took Longoria.
Those are two All-Star-level players who, with smarter selections in front of the Rays, would not be on their roster. Credit still goes to them for not looking a gift horse in the mouth, something that happens far too often in the draft.
Patience Is A Virtue
Two of the Phillies' most important players were talents that had scared other teams off during their draft year. Both Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels wound up sending up warning signals in their junior seasons in college.
Going into the 2001 college season, Howard looked like a sure-fire first-round pick, but he completely tanked in his junior year; his batting average dropped from .379 as a sophomore to a paltry .271, and his strikeout rate rose dramatically. This plummeted Howard to the fifth round, and his struggles continued early into his pro career-as a 22-year-old in the Sally League in 2002, he hit an unspectacular .280/.365/.469 (considering his age and the level), with just 19 home runs and 145 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. The strikeout rate would never improve, but the power finally clicked, and two years later he led the minors with 46 home runs in just 485 at-bats.
The following year (2002), many saw Cole Hamels as the top pitching prospect on talent alone, but his medical history had become a concern after he had missed his entire junior year due to a broken bone in his pitching arm. That dropped him to the 17th overall selection, and those that feared his inability to stay healthy looked awfully smart early on. His full-season debut in 2003 was cut short by a minor shoulder injury, and over the next two seasons a variety of muscle pulls, as well as a broken hand suffered in an altercation, would limit him to a grand total of just 51 innings. Some wrote him off completely, but since 2006, he's been pretty much the picture of health, and when he was available for duty, he was one of the most dominating arms in recent minor league history, finishing his pre-MLB career with a 1.43 ERA in 201 innings while allowing just 117 hits, walking 74, and striking out 276.