Photo courtesy Lakewood BlueClaws

The quality of the Phillies first round draft picks has picked up in recent seasons, with picks like Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford

The Phillies went through a pretty rough dry period when it came to having success with first round picks. The past few years though have gone much better, with picks showing much more promise as potential major leaguers.

From 2008 through 2011, the Phillies first round picks were pretty much a waste. In 2008, there was Anthony Hewitt with the 24th overall pick and Zach Collier as a sandwich round pick at number-34. The Phillies didn't have a first round pick in 2009, because they had signed Raul Ibanez as a free agent. Seattle got that pick and turned it into Nick Franklin, who hasn't exactly become a superstar.

In 2010, the Phillies went with hometown favorite Jesse Biddle, who might have become something if not for a series of injuries and constant setbacks. The next year was Larry Greene, a big, powerful outfielder from Berrien County High School in Georgia. There were hopes of another Ryan Howard, but those hopes were dashed. 

That brings us to the last five drafts. Time to see how those have gone for the Phllies.

In 2012, the Phillies didn't have a true first-rounder because of signing Jonathan Papelbon. Say what you will about Pap, but he served a purpose in Philadelphia, at least for a while. In a somewhat ironic twist, the Phillies have wound up with Zach Eflin, who was acquired from the Dodgers by way of San Diego. The Padres took Eflin with the 33rd overall pick in the 2012 Draft, seven picks before the Phillies first pick.

The Phillies used the 40th overall pick to grab right-hander Shane Watson out of Lakewood High School in California. Watson has had some injury setbacks and opened the 2015 season serving a 50-game suspension for a drug of abuse violation. Shortly after being drafted, Watson was diagnosed with diabetes and lost a lot of weight and strength. The next season he was shut down with shoulder tendonitis and wound up needing offseason surgery and didn't pitch in 2014. Following that season came the suspension, followed by another surgery.

Watson opened 2016 at Lakewood and made seven starts there before being moved up to Clearwater. In 14 starts with the Threshers, Watson struggled to a 5.20 ERA with a 4-5 record. The Phillies need to protect Watson from the Rule 5 Draft this offseason, but it's unlikely that they will protect him, banking on the fact that his struggles won't make him very attractive to another club.

The Phillies had a second sandwich round pick - number-54 - in 2012 and used it on another high school right-hander, Mitch Gueller. Gueller spent three seasons at Williamsport before opening 2016 with the Lakewood BlueClaws. In three starts and two relief appearances, he was 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA and was released by the Phillies and hasn't caught on anywhere else in affiliated ball.

In 2013, the Phillies had the 16th overall pick, the highest they had since taking Chase Utley with the 15th overall pick in the 2000 Draft. As it turned out, they went back to Lakewood High School in California and found J.P. Crawford.

Since being selected, Crawford has moved up not just the ranks of Phillies prospects, but has become one of the better prospects in all of baseball. The Phillies had another shortstop prospect in Roman Quinn, but elected to move Quinn to the outfield to clear short for Crawford. The move worked well, because Crawford possesses a strong glove at short and Quinn has excelled in center field, thanks in part to his speed.

Crawford was challenged a little this past season with a quick promotion to Triple-A. After 86 games at Double-A in 2015 and another 36 this season, Crawford joined the Lehigh Valley IronPigs. In his 122 games at Reading, Crawford hit .265 with a .367 on-base percentage. At Triple-A, Crawford went through a definite adjustment period and hit just .190 through his first 100 at-bats with the IronPigs. It wouldn't be long though before Crawford started to find his old stroke at the plate and hit an even .300 in the month of July. The rest of the season was a roller coaster that saw him hit just .206 over the rest of the season to put him at .244 on the year at Lehigh Valley.

Many fans hoped for a September call-up for Crawford, but a couple of factors derailed those plans. First, was a late season swoon by Crawford at the plate. Second, was a resurgence by Freddy Galvis who started to hit the ball well in Philadelphia, including adding a longball to his arsenal. Third, and perhaps the biggest reason why Crawford didn't get a promotion, is the fact that the Phillies have a number of players that need to be protected in the Rule 5 Draft this December by being put on the 40-man roster. Crawford isn't one of those that needs to be protected, so the Phillies didn't want to use a 40-man roster spot that would be needed for someone else. 

Following the 2017 season, Crawford will have to be protected, if he's not already a member of the 40-man roster prior to then. It's likely that the 21-year old will return to Lehigh Valley next season until at least May, and possibly even later, for more work in the minors.

The Phillies hadn't had a top-10 pick in the draft since they chose Gavin Floyd in 2001 with the fourth overall pick. In 2014, they had the seventh overall pick and, like they did in 2001, took a right-handed pitcher in Aaron Nola out of LSU.

Nola, who is now 23, became the next great Phillies starter for the future. Immediate comparisons to the likes of Cole Hamels became the routine for Nola, who moved through the system quickly in an effort to hasten a rebuilding project that the Phillies refused to admit that they needed. After starting his pro career at Clearwater, Nola moved to Reading later in the 2014 season. In 2015, he went from Reading to Lehigh Valley and then to Philadelphia for his major league debut.

After the trade of Cole Hamels to the Rangers, Nola was the de facto ace of the Phillies staff until he started to struggle in 2016. Nola was fine for the first couple months of the 2016 season, posting a 4-4 record with a 2.88 ERA. Things quickly turned sour though and Nola's struggles became more and more pronounced as he posted a 10.42 ERA in the month of June. The Phillies gave him an extended break over the All-Star Break and hoped he would turn things around. His first start back was encouraging as he shut down the Marlins over six innings, allowing just two hits. After that though, the old struggles returned and after just two more starts, he was placed on the DL with a right elbow strain.

The injury cost Nola the rest of the season and he's just about to start a throwing regimen that the Phillies hope will go without a hitch. If it does, he'll rejoin the rotation in 2017 and be right back on course. If problems persist, the end result could be surgery.

Interestingly, Nola's older brother Austin is moving up in the Marlins organization. The 27-year old infield prospect, also a graduate of LSU, hit .261 at Triple-A New Orleans that saw him up his average from .231 at the end of May to .261 at the end of the season with the Zephyrs.

With the 10th overall pick in the 2015 Draft, the Phillies selected high school shortstop Cornelius Randolph, who was immediately converted to being a left fielder. The defensive conversion has gone well, as Randolph has made just two errors in two seasons in the minors and has a .988 fielding percentage. 

Offensively, Randolph had a big start to his career in 2015 when he hit .302 in 53 games in the Gulf Coast League. This season, he played in 63 games at Lakewood and needed a late season offensive push to get his average up to .274 with the BlueClaws. The 19-year old was hitting just .240 when he went on the DL in late April with a sore shoulder. Randolph had been hitting just .071 on April 12th, but had started to turn things around just before going on the DL. When he returned in July, it again took Randolph some time to find his stroke, but he hit .306 in August, driving in 16 runs during the month, and scoring 17. Over the second-half of the season, Randolph hit .283 for Lakewood.

It will be interesting to see if the Phillies start 2017 with Randolph back at Lakewood, or move him up to Clearwater to open the season.

And finally, this past June, the Phillies again went with a high school player, picking outfielder Mickey Moniak with the first overall pick. Moniak had his average in the .300s for much of the season, including hitting .322 coming into August. From there though, he tailed off, hitting just .247 in August to finish the year with a respectable .284 average with the Gulf Coast League Phillies.

The Phillies have said they'll be cautious with Moniak, but the new regime in Philly has a different view of exactly what being cautious with a player means. In years past, players moved very slowly, but with Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak calling the shots, the Phillies are more realistic with moving players up through the system. A couple years ago, being cautious meant that a player was pretty much staying where he was at fairly long-term. Now, the Phillies have shown that with players like Randolph, they will move them as soon as they look comfortable at a level to challenge them. 

With that in mind, Moniak figures to have much the same path as Randolph and might start the season with Lakewood. If he does stay behind in extended camp, he could quickly climb to a higher level once he were to start playing.

The bottom line on the draft is that most of the players that the Phillies have drafted over the past five seasons figure to have the ability to help the club to some degree. Nola has already gotten there and will, hopefully, be back for the opening of the 2017 season. J.P. Crawford should be in Philly at some point next season, depending on what happens with both his play at Lehigh Valley and that of Freddy Galvis in the majors. Watson will be more of a project for the Phillies to work on over the next few seasons, and Moniak and Randolph are likely to move a little faster once they start to show a little more comfort.

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