The Phillies own the No. 7 pick, their best draft slot since they made Gavin Floyd the fourth overall pick in 2001. They haven't picked higher than 16th since. Philadelphia also holds the 47th pick in tonight's second round. Rounds 3 through 10 are held tomorrow, the remaining 30 rounds on Saturday.
"Every year it's important," said Marti Wolever, the Phillies' assistant general manager in charge of amateur scouting. "I don't care where you pick, I mean this is what you live for and what you do. We haven't picked this high since Gavin Floyd. So in the whole scheme of things, it's a very important pick to us."
The seventh pick has yielded several stars over the last dozen years, both perennial All-Star caliber position players like Prince Fielder (2002) and Troy Tulowitzki (2005) and Cy Young Award-caliber pitchers like Clayton Kershaw (2006) and Matt Harvey (2010). Frank Thomas, he of 521 major league home runs, was the seventh pick in the 1989 draft.
Obviously, the Phillies would be thrilled to land a player remotely close to the level of those players. It's worth noting, however, that, according to Wolever, this year's talent pool does not appear to rival those of recent years.
"I don't think it's anything like some of the ones we've seen in the past," Wolever said. "That being said, we're still excited and hope to get an everyday regular rotational pitcher or everyday position player in the draft at 7."
Lefthander Brady Aiken, from Cathedral Catholic High in San Diego, and lefthander Carlos Rodon, of North Carolina State, are expected to go Nos. 1 and 2, picks that belong to the Astros and Marlins, respectively. Catcher Alex Jackson (Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego), righthander Tyler Kolek (Shepherd High in Texas) and shortstop Nick Gordon (Olympia High in Orlando), the son of former Phillies reliever Tom Gordon, are also expected to be gone by the time the Phillies pick.
The strength of the draft, Wolever said, is collegiate-level pitching. If that's the route the Phillies take at No. 7, they should have several enticing options. The name most often associated with them in mock drafts has been LSU righthander Aaron Nola, who could also very well be off the board before the seventh pick.
The Phillies could do worse than the 6-1 Nola, the SEC pitcher of the year each of the last two seasons. As a junior this past season, he went 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA in 16 starts, allowing 69 hits over 116 1/3 innings with 134 strikeouts to 27 walks. He throws from a funky three-quarter arm slot that can be deceiving to hitters, especially righthanded bats.
Sean Newcomb, who recently concluded his junior season at the University of Hartford, is a lefthander who has seen his stock rise over the last month. He stands an imposing 6-5, 240 pounds - "It's like staring down one of these athletic NFL tight ends when you are looking at him on the mound," Hartford coach Justin Blood said - and boasts an above-average fastball, curveball and changeup, as well as a cutter he is still developing.
Although he didn't face competition at the level Nola saw in the SEC, Newcomb went 8-2 with a 1.25 ERA over 14 starts this season. On May 3, with Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in attendance, Newcomb threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout against UMBC. Newcomb's coach said he has spoken with representatives of the Phillies and confirmed that the club is interested in the big lefty.
"I've heard from three or four organizations that are in the first 10 picks," Blood said, "and honestly I think I would be surprised if he's not gone by No. 10 or No. 11."
Kyle Freeland is another touted college pitcher, and one with whom the Phillies are very familiar. Three years ago, they drafted him in the 35th round, but the lanky 6-3 southpaw turned down an above-slot contract offer to pitch at the University of Evansville in Southwest Indiana. Although, like Newcomb, he didn't face SEC-level competition, Freeland put up mesmerizing numbers his junior season.
En route to a 10-2 record and a 1.90 ERA in 14 starts, Freeland struck out 128 batters and walked only 13 while not allowing a home run all season. It was a breakout season for Freeland, who was 8-13 over his first two collegiate seasons but starred last summer in the Cape Cod League. He's said to pound the strike zone with a mid-90s fastball and throw a wipeout slider.
Freeland's pitching coach at Evansville, Cody Fick, was a 23rd-round pick of the Phillies in 2011, the same year they first took Freeland. Fick envisions Freeland as a pitcher who could move quickly through an organization and contribute soon at the major league level.
"I think the Phillies kind of fall into that spot where he's got a chance to be picked there," Fick said. "Obviously, he's met with every team that has a pick, so who knows? You just kind of see what you see and hear what you hear . . . Obviously I'm biased, but I know whoever doesn't pick him is missing out on a really good pitcher and a really good baseball player."