Phillies’ lack of superstar potential is normal


JP Crawford on draft night, 2013.

Take one scroll through Twitter during a Phillies loss or turn on sports radio (painful, I know) and you’ll hear fans lament the current state of the Phillies. While the team is giving us plenty of things to complain about, the theme that has been dominating the conversation is how despite four consecutive losing seasons, the Phillies still don’t have a “superstar” prospect.

After having the worst record in baseball 2015, the Phillies selected high school outfielder Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick in the 2016 MLB First Year Player Draft. While he is projected to be a good player, he is still at least two seasons away from even sniffing a major league lineup, and that is if all goes better than plan. The Phillies top-rated prospect, JP Crawford, has not adjusted well to triple-A over the past season or so, hitting just .194/.313/.252 this season.

To heighten the frustration, fans have been burned by some of the Phils’ top prospects lately – Jesse Biddle, Larry Greene and Trevor May, just to name a few. Remember when Ruben Amaro Jr. hung onto Domonic Brown no matter what team called asking? Plus, Maikel Franco hasn’t lived up to expectations.

It has been a tough stretch for fans. What we forget, however, is how incredibly difficult it is to draft and develop an elite player. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are considered generational players for a reason. They don’t come around too often.

Data backs it up

In 2013, Baseball America examined every draft since 1987 to see what percentage of draft picks make the big leagues. The result: 17.2 percent of signed draft picks will reach the majors, and further, only 5.5 percent of those players who get the call will spend more than three seasons in the majors.

The likelihood of drafting a contributing player is difficult, let alone a superstar. Unlike what we’re seeing across the street at the Wells Fargo Center, having a high draft pick in baseball doesn’t automatically mean you get a player who will instantly change the shape of your franchise. It’s much harder to – for a lack of a better phrase – “trust the process” when your team is officially three seasons into a rebuild with no Harper or Trout waiting to save the team.

Phillies fans have every right to be frustrated. But part of the chatter surrounding the team has been the notion that the team has never been able to draft or develop players. And that’s simply not true.

Pretty recent history

I know I promised to let go of the past, but are we forgetting the 2008 team? Eight players on the world championship roster were drafted and developed by the Phillies – four being first-round picks. Ryan Howard was drafted in the fifth round of the 2001 draft. Ryan Madson, who was a critical piece of the bullpen, was drafted in the ninth round.

Not only were eight players homegrown on the 2008 squad, you can argue four of them were the best or one of the best at their position for a five-year stretch. Cole Hamels, Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Howard won five-straight division titles, a championship, two season MVPs, one World Series MVP, one Rookie of the Year award and made 15 all-star appearances.

Those four all-stars, however, were just four of the more than 600 players the Phillies drafted from 1996-2008. The Phillies still missed on nearly 98 percent of their draft picks in a 12-year span. And that was considered lucky.

There might not be an apparent all-star yet, but General Manager Matt Klentak and his scouting staff have done a nice job stocking the farm system through the draft and trades, seemingly taking the quantity over quality approach. That’s not to say there aren’t quality players in the system, but Klentak’s vision seems to be gain as many assets as possible with the thought – and hope – that they’ll get lucky on a few.

And luck is what they’ll need.

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