For a few minutes Monday night, while the Phillies are on the clock to make their first selection in the annual amateur draft, all the pain from all the losing of the past five seasons will once again be replaced by hope.
The Phillies hold the third overall pick, the fourth consecutive year in which they have drafted in the top 10. In past drafts, the No. 3 pick has yielded a franchise-changing player, from Hall of Famers Robin Yount in 1973 and Paul Molitor in 1977 to perennial All-Star third baseman Evan Longoria in 2006. Matt Williams went third overall in 1986. So did Troy Glaus in 1997 and Eric Hosmer in 2008. Before Manny Machado became the object of the Phillies' free-agent lust, he was picked third overall by the Baltimore Orioles in 2010.
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So, yes, there's an opportunity here to add a difference-maker to the organization. But the Major League Baseball draft is different from the NFL's and the NBA's. Regardless of which player the Phillies select, he isn't likely to impact the big-league club for several seasons.
It stands to reason, then, that the Phillies won't attempt to fill a specific positional need through the draft. Just because they haven't had a lefthander in the starting rotation since the end of the 2016 season doesn't necessarily mean they will pounce on, say, Arizona high school product Matthew Liberatore at the expense of another talented player at a different position.
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"My philosophy is you have to draft the best talent available," Phillies amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz said. "You never know what each draft has to offer. If it happens that you desperately need a catcher and there's a catcher who's a fit in the first 20 picks in the country and you get him, you're going to be lucky to accomplish that. You never have enough pitching. You can never acquire enough bats. It's never been [about] organizational need for me."
Almaraz made that point in his first three Phillies drafts. With the 10th, first and eighth overall picks in 2015, 2016 and 2017, respectively, the Phils selected three outfielders. And although Cornelius Randolph, Mickey Moniak and Adam Haseley have struggled badly thus far in their brief minor-league careers, they stand as proof that the amateur scouting staff operates with positional blinders.
But the Phillies' approach to their top pick will be informed by other variables, including money. They have nearly $8.9 million to spend on signing bonuses, and the No. 3 overall pick is valued at about $6.9 million.
Almaraz noted the abundance of college pitchers — hard-throwing relievers, in particular — available in the upper rounds. If the Phillies believe the draft is deeper in pitching, they could snag a position player in the first round and circle back to arms later. They seemed to take that approach in 2015, for example, when they took Randolph, Scott Kingery, shortstop Luke Williams and first baseman Kyle Martin in the first four rounds before grabbing pitchers in the fifth, sixth and seventh.
The Phillies have been linked to several position players. They are known to be keen on Georgia Tech catcher Joey Bart, power-hitting Wichita State third baseman Alec Bohm and Oregon State second baseman Nick Madrigal, who, at 5-foot-7, is cut from the Kingery mold.
But the Phillies won't pick in the second and third rounds, their penance for signing free agents Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta. It follows, then, that they might pay even closer attention to the draft's depth and make their first pick accordingly. If they anticipate a run on pitching in the second and third rounds, perhaps they will take a shot at University of Florida righthander Brady Singer or one of the draft's other top pitchers.
Almaraz, for one, doesn't feel hamstrung by the long wait between the third overall pick and the 107th.
"You look at 2016, the [double-A lefthander] JoJo Romero pick [in the fourth round], there are some really good players in the draft, [rounds] four through 10, four through 20," Almaraz said. "There are a lot of college arms every year. It seems to be that there are a lot of bullpen college arms. We just had these conference tournaments and we covered a lot of talented pitchers out there, and we expect to get our fair share."
Almaraz said the Phillies are considering a group of 10 players in the first round. Two, presumably, will be off the board when the Phils' pick comes around. Auburn righthander Casey Mize is the preemptive first overall choice, though it's possible the Detroit Tigers could go another route, especially because their farm system is stocked with pitching.
One thing seems all but certain: The Phillies won't pick in the top 10 again next year.
The rebuild is progressing swimmingly, with the Phillies jockeying for position near the top of the National League East. This might be their best chance for a while to add an impact player through the draft, and the slow progression of Randolph, Moniak and Haseley only amplify this next opportunity, a point that isn't lost on Almaraz.
"Having the third pick overall is still a lot of work," he said. "There is a lot of work because we have to go through all the medicals, and we have to make sure that our entire staff has their homework done as far as psychological profiling, how [players] are wired. We need to make sure we are getting that winning player we want for the organization. So, it is going to take some time and some effort in the draft room, and on June 4, we will have that pick ready for us."