Hewitt, Collier, and the 2008 MLB Draft’s First Round

Anthony Hewitt, Photo by Jay Floyd

When Tim Beckham took the field last night for the Tampa Bay Rays, he became the 34th first round or supplemental first round pick from the 2008 MLB Draft to reach the Major Leagues. It took the former number-one overall pick six seasons, including two-and-a-half seasons in Triple-A, to have enough seasoning to join the Tampa Bay Rays. Somewhat surprisingly, Beckham is the first player drafted by the Rays since 2007 to reach the Major Leagues.

To be fair, the Rays did draft Zach Rosscup in 2009 and Derek Dietrich in 2010, players who reached the Majors but did so after being traded by the Rays. Compared to the Rays’ seemingly-paltry tally of just three players drafted after 2007 reaching the Majors, the Phillies have had 20 (seven from 2007’s class, nine from 2008’s class, two from 2009’s class, one from 2010’s class, and one from 2011’s class). Some, Brian Schlitter, Travis d’Arnaud, Michael Taylor, Jarred Cosart, Josh Zeid among others, reached the big leagues with other teams after being traded with others, including 2007 30th round pick, bullpen impact arm Jake Diekman, slugging 2009 20th round pick Darin Ruf, and 2011’s fourth round pick Cody Asche reached the Bigs with the Phils.

Diekman and Ruf are examples of the Phillies doing well in the later rounds of the draft and this is an area of the draft the Phillies have excelled in discovering value. For example, the Phillies found a slew of Major League-caliber bullpen arms after the tenth round of the 2008 draft: Michael Stutes (11th), B.J. Rosenberg (13th), and Michael Schwimer (14th). And the 2008 crop also produced Vance Worley (3rd), Jonathan Pettibone (3rd), and Cosart (38th).  But it was the big misses in the first round of that draft that is one of the big reasons the Phillies are hurting in 2013.

For the 2008 draft, the Phillies had a first round selection and a supplemental first round selection. For winning the 2007 NL East division title, and in turn, having the seventh best record in the Majors and not signing a Type-A free agent in the 2007/2008 off-season, the Phillies selected 24th. And because the San Francisco Giants signed Aaron Rowand away from the Phillies, the Phillies received a supplemental pick, the 34th selection.

Until recently, the 24th pick has a history of producing a Major Leaguer. From 1978 through 2005, the pick has produced a Major Leaguer 19 out of 27 times (70.37%), one more than the fifth overall pick has produced (18 out of 27 times, 66.67%). And among the 24th picks from 1978 through 2005, there have been four 10+ bWAR players: Chad Billingsley, Terry Mulholland, Rondell White, and Alex Fernandez. The latter two produced over 28 bWAR each for their careers.

The Phillies selected 18-year old Anthony Hewitt, a “toolsy”, “raw” shortstop from Salisbury Prep in Connecticut with the 24th pick in 2008. The now-24-year-old outfielder has hit just .228/.271/.382 in six minor league seasons, topping out so far at Double-A Reading last season. Hewitt has not earned a spot on the Major League 40-man roster and may become a Minor League free agent if he is not placed on the 40-man roster at the season’s conclusion.

The 34th pick has not been as much of a slam-dunk to produce a Major Leaguer, but has produced many. In the same 1978-2005 time period, the pick missed producing a Major Leaguer only 12 times out of 27 for a 55.5% success rate, including Mark Gubicza (38.0 bWAR) and Arthur Rhodes (15.4 bWAR).  The Phillies selected 17-year old outfielder Zach Collier with the 34th pick in 2008. To Collier’s credit, Collier is among the 40 players on the Phillies active roster after an impressive Arizona Fall League campaign last season. Collier missed the entire 2010 campaign but reached Reading in 2013 after being among the youngest players drafted in the first round in 2008. Collier, now just 23, has hit just .241/.313/.351 in five minor league seasons.

It is not uncommon for a handful of first round picks or supplemental first rounders to not make the Majors. The 2004 MLB Draft saw only 33 out of 41 first rounders reach the Majors, with the misses including number one pick Matt Bush and number eight pick Wade Townsend. And it is not uncommon for first rounders to reach the Majors, only to become fringe players, like the Phillies 2007 first round pick Joe Savery. But six years out, it worrisome that the Phillies did not hit on either of the first round picks, particularly considering the talent taken after Hewitt and Collier.

If the Phillies wanted an infielder, Lonnie Chisenhall was available until pick 29. Chisenhall has been worth 2.5 wins according to Baseball Reference since his MLB debut in 2011 as a 22-year old at third base.  It may have been seen as a reach, but fellow prep-shortstop Danny Espinosa was still on the board until the Nationals took him with the 87th overall pick. Espinosa has been worth 5.4 wins over his MLB career. If the Phillies wanted toolsy shortstop, Casey Kelly was available until pick 30. Kelly would reach the Majors in 2012 but as a starting pitcher. They could have even taken Anthony Gose (51st overall) a few picks earlier if they were locked into selecting a toolsy player.

Where the Phillies really missed out, however, is not selecting any one of the selection of high quality prep arms that would be selected. Future aces Gerrit Cole, Lance Lynn, and Wade Miley would go 28th, 39th, and 43rd respectively. Although Cole would end up not signing, the Yankees ended up with pick 29 in the 2009 draft instead. Robbie Ross and Tyler Chatwood, two more prep arms to reach the Majors from the 2008 class, would end up going in the second round as well.

So, what does this say about the Phillies? The 2008 draft wasn’t all bad. They nailed a number of picks, including Worley and Pettibone in the third round, and turned Gose, second rounder Jason Knapp, and Cosart into Major Leaguers through trades while developing some bullpen arms. But they missed, and missed big, on their first round picks. Collier looks on target to play in Lehigh Valley next season and will likely see time in Philadelphia at some point in his career. Hewitt, at age 24, is not done either, but may be done within the Phillies system. As the trees of the 2008 MLB draft begin to bare such ripe fruit, it is tough to look back and think of what might have been and what may be had the Phillies gone in different directions with their first picks.

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