Earlier this week, I wrote a piece on the current standing of the Phillies best minor league players on recently released top prospect lists. For nearly three decades, one of the most respected of the resources tracking and producing such lists has been Baseball America.
The same day as my Phillies Nation article was released, Baseball America was publishing their own piece on the history of their top prospect coverage. Specifically, the BA staff was re-visiting every prospect ranked either #1 or #2 on their annual Top 100 Prospects list.
Before even bothering to look down the entire list, which covered every top prospect and runner-up since 1990, a thought popped into my head – have the Phillies ever had someone finish in either spot? I follow the prospect game pretty closely and couldn’t recall the team ever having a prospect ranked that highly.
Sure enough, the list revealed that no Phillies prospect has been ranked as the best in all of baseball on the annual Top 100 list. Only one of the club’s prospects has ever found themselves in the #2 spot. That would be Pat Burrell back in 2000.
A look around the National League East Division reveals that the Atlanta Braves have seen five of their prospects ranked as the best in the game: Steve Avery (1990), Chipper Jones (93), Andruw Jones (96-97), Jason Heyward (2010), and Ronald Acuna just last year. Jones was also the #2 prospect of 1994.
The Washington Nationals/Montreal Expos organization has produced a pair of top prospects: Cliff Floyd (94) and Bryce Harper in both 2011 and 2012. While still in Montreal, Vladimir Guerrero was the #2 prospect in 1997. After the franchise had moved to D.C., Stephen Strasburg finished in the runner-up slot for 2010.
Two of those divisional rivals, the New York Mets and Florida/Miami Marlins, have fared even worse than the Phillies in placing prospects at the top of the ranking lists.
The Mets had Paul Wilson rank #2 in 1996. Wilson pitched just one disappointing season in the Big Apple at age 23 in 1996 before his career was derailed for four years by injuries. He finally recovered enough to appear in parts of three seasons with Tampa Bay and three more in Cincinnati.
The Marlins, established as an expansion organization in 1993, have never placed a prospect in either of the top two slots on the Baseball America rankings. But despite not joining Major League Baseball until the 1998 season, the best at producing top prospects has been another expansion club, the Tampa Bay Rays.
There have been a pair of Rays at the top: Josh Hamilton in 2001 and Delmon Young in 2006. Five Rays prospects have finished in the runner-up slot: Rocco Baldelli (03), B.J. Upton (04), Evan Longoria (08), David Price (09), and Matt Moore in 2012.
In recent years, Baseball America has been spreading the love around. Nine different organizations have placed prospects in either the #1 or #2 slots over the last five years. Only the Minnesota Twins, with Byron Buxton ranked second in both 2015 and 2016, have appeared twice.
The Phillies have now selected in the top 10 spots of the MLB Amateur Draft in each of the last five straight years: Alec Bohm (3-2018), Adam Haseley (8-2017), Mickey Moniak (1-2016), Cornelius Randolph (10-2015), Aaron Nola (7-2014), and they also picked J.P. Crawford at #16 overall in 2013.
During the 1989-2019 MLB Draft periods where prospects would have been covered by the Baseball America rankings, the Phillies selected within the first four overall picks on a half-dozen occasions: Jeff Jackson (4-1989), Mike Lieberthal (3-1990), Wayne Gomes (4-1993), J.D. Drew (2-1997), Gavin Floyd (4-2001), and Burrell, who was the top overall pick of the 1998 Draft.
Here are the instances where the Phillies placed someone within the top 20 of the Baseball America Top 100 prospects: 1990 – Pat Combs (20), 1997 – Scott Rolen (13), 1999 – Burrell (19), 2000 – Burrell (2), 2003 – Floyd (9), 2004 – Cole Hamels (17), 2010 – Domonic Brown (15), 2011 – Brown (4), 2014 – Maikel Franco (17), 2015 – J.P. Crawford (14), 2016 – Crawford (6), 2017 – Crawford (12) & Moniak (17), 2018 – Crawford (16) and finally Sixto Sanchez (13) this year.
The Phillies clearly were able to develop strong players without them having been ranked near the very top of the list. Key players from the 2000’s heyday including Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, and Brett Myers were never top 20 overall prospects.
The inability to develop a truly marquee prospect was not a hindrance to the Phillies ability to develop a consistent contender in the last decade. Big props go out to vastly under-rated former GM Ed Wade‘s ability to unearth gems. But the club is about to wrap a three-decade stretch in which that inability helped result in two of the three becoming losing decades.
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