The Phillies draft ended Wednesday night with a meeting inside Citizens Bank Park as the team's scouts, cross-checkers, and decision makers toasted another year with hope.
It is nearly impossible to judge a baseball draft in the immediate aftermath. Many of the players drafted in the 40 rounds will not even sign with the team that drafted them. Even more will never reach the major leagues. And the ones who do will still be years away.
But it is possible to see the strategy the Phillies used to leave the ballpark on Wednesday feeling hopeful.
It's not crazy to think that the first three players the Phillies picked — third baseman Alec Bohm, righthander Colton Eastman, and centerfielder Matt Vierling — could reach triple A by the end of their second full professional seasons. The Phillies are nearing contention and could use some reinforcements.
Bohm is a slugger with great plate discipline and should breeze through the lower levels. He had a .399 on-base percentage last summer in the Cape Cod League, swinging with a wooden bat against some of the stiffest pitching he has faced. It will be interesting to see if the Phillies start Bohm at low-A Lakewood or push him straight to high-A Clearwater.
Eastman is a strike thrower and it's too easy to compare him to Phillies prospect Tom Eshelman, another strike thrower from Cal State Fullerton. Eshelman reached triple A last season in his second full season after 33 minor-league starts. It's fair to think Eastman, who will turn 22 in August, could do the same.
Vierling is not as polished as Bohm, but he increased his walk rate and lowered his strikeout rate this season at Notre Dame. He impressed the Phillies enough last week in a workout at Citizens Bank Park that they labeled him a quick mover. He will start at Lakewood.
The Phillies loaded up on college arms, drafting six college pitchers among their first 17 picks. Consider those six lottery tickets. And if two or three pan out as back-of-the-rotation starters or dependable bullpen arms, then the Phillies will be cashing in. They have a proven No. 1 starter in Aaron Nola and think they have another potential ace in Sixto Sanchez, who could reach double A before he turns 20 in July.
The Phillies didn't have a second- or third-round pick after signing free agents Jake Arrieta and Carlos Santana. That's where they could have zeroed in on premier college pitchers such as Spencer Howard and Connor Seabold, whom they drafted last June with the second and third picks and who are racking up strikeouts and limiting walks in A ball. So the Phillies gobbled up a surplus of pitchers this year and hope at least a couple pan out.
Two of the better-value picks of the draft could be the selections the Phillies made in the ninth and 23rd rounds: Dominic Pipkin, a righthanded pitcher from Northern California, and Logan O'Hoppe, a catcher from Long Island. Pipkin is committed to Cal, but the Phillies will likely be able to lure him away from that commitment with a nice bonus. MLB.com ranked him as one of the draft's 100 best prospects. He has a fastball in the low 90s and a simple delivery that gives his 6-foot-4 frame some serious potential.
"He's an extraordinary talent," amateur scouting director Johnny Almaraz said.
O'Hoppe will likely choose to sign with the Phillies over his commitment to East Carolina. He was discovered by fellow Long Islander Sal Agostinelli, who is the Phillies' director of international scouting and was a minor-league catcher. Reaching the majors as a catcher without playing in college is a challenge. The Phillies have had just three home-grown catchers — Carlos Ruiz, Lou Marson, and Mike Lieberthal — in the last 18 years who did not go to college. O'Hoppe, who was touted for his defense along with his hitting, comes with a stamp of approval.
"He's definitely someone who has the chance to be an outstanding receiver with some power down the road," Almaraz said.