Philadelphia Phillies: Draft failures turned dynasty into disaster (Part 1)

The first installment in a three-part series discussing how poor drafting led to the Philadelphia Phillies’ fall from grace.

Nobody can stay on top forever, and even as the Philadelphia Phillies were ripping off five straight division titles, we all knew that. But we were too busy enjoying the ride and getting accustomed to what seemed like it would be the “new normal” of Phillies baseball. Little did we know how precipitous the drop would be, with the main culprit coming in the form of failed drafting and player development to prolong the team’s run of success.

There’s no doubt that the Phils’ 2008 World Series win came chiefly because of home-grown players, the result of a long but fruitful process. Jimmy Rollins was the first piece to come on board in 1996. He’d be followed in subsequent years by Pat Burrell (’98), Brett Myers (’99), Chase Utley (2000), Ryan Howard (’01), and Cole Hamels (’02). Wow. That’s exactly how you build a champion. And so it stood to reason that the club might be able to replenish itself if it could hit on just one contributing player per draft. But it didn’t happen.

Even as the Phillies’ upward trajectory began in 2003 with their first above-.500 season in a decade, trouble began brewing in the farm system as players graduated and it slowly dried out.

In 2003, the Phillies got a couple of useful players in Michael Bourn and Kyle Kendrick. It was a passable follow-up to the drafts of the years that preceded it, but in retrospect, it would be the best they’d have in a while. Not good. The team’s top two selections in 2004, Greg Golson and Jason Jaramillo, were busts, though J.A. Happ was a good find in the third round. 2005 was far worse, with the Phillies getting next to nothing outside of 20th round pick Vance Worley. Does anybody remember Mike Costanzo? Didn’t think so.

2006 brought Kyle Drabek as the Phillies’ first round pick, and while he was a total flame-out, at least they were able to fleece the Blue Jays into taking him as part of the package for Roy Halladay. So we can count that one as a win of sorts. But the rest of the draft was a mess, populated with the likes of Jason Donald and Drew Carpenter.

And then there was Domonic Brown, who looked like an absolute steal in the 20th round, at least until his six weeks of fame in 2013 ran out. Maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised when he didn’t amount to anything other than making the most pathetically hilarious exit in Philadelphia sports history.

At this point, you can start to see the writing on the wall and how the cupboard was getting bare down on the farm. You can’t hit a home run with every draft (had enough metaphors yet?), but the hope is that you can at least find some useful organizational depth or prospects that end up being enticing enough to get you veteran help in return when you need it. Some of these players would end up being just that, with the Phillies benefiting greatly from what they got in return.

Next: Cole Hamels is the right call as Phils' 2008 MVP

But more concerning is the fact that none of the players mentioned here would stick with the club long-term and provide the Phillies with the kind of controllable and relatively cheap talent that you need in order to compete. In Part 2, as we suss through more messy drafts that the Phillies authored while they were dominating on the field, it will start to become clear why there was no one there to pick up to pieces once the team’s championship core reached the end of the line.

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