Well, it happened. For the first time since the Phillies drafted the right-handed college third baseman (later converted to left-fielder) by the name of Pat Burrell out of the University of Miami in 1998, Philadelphia has the first round pick in June’s MLB First Year Player Draft.
Obviously, we’d all prefer a spot in the playoffs or another NL East crown, but given the way this year went, the first round pick is a nice consolation prize, especially since it didn’t come at the expense of losing 100 games and finishing on the wrong side of baseball history.
It wasn’t easy though to maintain those rights. The Cincinnati Reds, which seemed to be in full-on tank mode, lost over 10 games in a row before finally winning in the penultimate contest of the year. Coupled with back-to-back Phillies doubleheader losses that same night, the top pick was locked up, but 100 losses still loomed.
Against the Miami Marlins, the Phillies were down 2-0, David Buchanan on the mound. Thanks to Maikel Franco, Cameron Rupp, Freddy Galvis and Aaron Altherr, a group that looks to bring this franchise into the future, 99 remained the number. The Phillies won the game 7-2, and with it, secured a minor victory in the midst of a dismal season.
There is a stigma associated with losing 100 games and being able to avoid that, for the fans and the players, is a sigh of relief. Jeff Francoeur had this to say about it to Delaware Online:
“We fought, grinded and clawed. People can probably laugh and say well you still lost 99 games, but at the same time we made it goal. We didn’t want to lose 100. I thought we played really well here at the end of the season. We swept the Mets. I don’t think anybody thought we’d do that.”
As Ken Giles put it in that same article
“We avoided something everybody – we lost 99, but everybody expected us to lose more than 100. That means something to us. We proved people wrong just by a little bit to show them we have promise and we have experience to be able to be a great team in the future.”
Essentially, it does and it will, get better and for the young players especially, its good that they can see that light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe it will help the fans get there too.
So while 99 losses is in no way an accomplishment, in a bad season, a very bad season, falling short of that century mark is something to look to as a positive as it were. It’s something to hold on to.
Come June, the Phillies, under the new management of Andy MacPhail and (insert newly hired general manager here), will give the city something else to hold on to and all indications are that someone will be A.J. Puk, who spent the summer climbing up draft boards.
An imposing 6-foot-7, 230 lb left-handed pitcher out of the University of Florida, Puk is 20 years old, can hit 99 on the gun with his fastball, has a change-up that makes him formidable against right-handed hitters and a strikeout per nine ratio that was among the best in the nation.
Puk fits right into MacPhail’s long-held philosophy to “grow the arms, buy the bats.” In the past, that didn’t exactly work out in his favor, especially in Baltimore, but the Phillies have a wealth of pitching depth and got to see first hand this year that growing the arms can work wonders.
Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, A.J. Puk. That has the making of quite a solid 1-2-3 punch.
But the reason why MacPhail’s tenure with the Orioles ended with mixed results is because the arms didn’t quite pan out and buying the bats wasn’t a slam dunk either. The Phillies, who possess the first pick in the second round too, will have a chance to grab and grow a bat, with if any luck, will develop into the power hitting outfielder or corner infielder this team so desperately needs.
June’s 2016 MLB Draft is a long way away of course, but for the Phillies and MacPhail, it will never be long enough. Because Puk or not, this pick is going to characterize the future of this franchise. This pick is going to tell the story in three or four years, determining whether the journey back to the top is a reality or a pipe dream, whether the Phillies flounder in futility, or have their next Cole Hamels to take them back to the World Series.
MacPhail and his staff have nine months to think about all of that, to think about what might be the most important decision of his young tenure.