Brian Barber, the Phillies’ amateur scouting director, seemingly holds the future of the organization in his hands.
Philadelphia manager Joe Girardi doesn’t generally consult with the scouting department, unless he’s asked to help analyze a catching prospect. Because Girardi is more worried about what players can help the Phillies win now, and Barber and his department are drafting for multiple years down the road, amateur scouting decisions don’t usually run through the skipper.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is involved in almost every discussion the department has -- so much so that Barber said, “If he turns to me and says, 'Hey, we have to take this guy,' we'll have that conversation” -- but he has been supportive of Barber in his role.
So the decision boils down to what Barber thinks is best to do with the Phillies’ No. 13 overall pick.
“I think [our philosophy] is to try to break down each pick and take who we believe is the best player at each pick, and whether that happens to be a position player or a pitcher, I don't think that really changes,” Barber said. “I think we're going to try to go after the guy that we believe is going to be the best big leaguer in the end, and hopefully we're filled with 20 of them come July 11 through the 13th.”
Day 1 of the 2021 Draft will take place live from Denver’s Bellco Theatre on Sunday. It will feature the first 36 picks and will air on MLB Network and ESPN at 7 p.m. ET. Day 2, which will span rounds 2-10, begins at 1 p.m. ET on Monday. The Draft will conclude with rounds 11-20 on Tuesday, starting at noon ET. MLB.com will simulcast MLB Network’s broadcast and provide live coverage on all three days.
In his first Draft with the club, Barber went with high school pitcher Mick Abel with the 15th overall pick in 2020. Abel has spent this season with Low-A Clearwater, where he’s posted a 1-3 record with a 4.86 ERA but also has a .195 opponents’ average, a 1.17 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in just 33 1/3 innings.
Barber said Abel -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as the Phillies' No. 1 prospect -- is about where the scouting department hoped he would be when they took him in the first round a year ago.
“I saw Mick in instructional league last year and then I saw him pitch in Spring Training this year, and I would just tell you he's exactly what we thought he was going to be come this time,” Barber said. “He still has a long ways to get to the big leagues and he still has a lot of different things to learn, but as far as the talent level that's on the field, he's exactly what we thought he was going to be.”
Even with the success Barber feels he’s had with Abel so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean he wants to go back to the well for another high school arm.
“There's always going to be an associated risk bringing in any 18-year-old pitcher from the high school crop, just getting them into professional baseball and getting them used to the innings and getting them on a workload for pitching, and some of the medical history tells us that an overwhelming number of injuries happen between the years of 18 to 21,” Barber said. “So you're taking on that risk, and do you evaluate the pitcher as having that much upside to battle the risk involved?”
But still, Barber says the Draft should be loaded with talent from both the high school and college levels. He wouldn’t talk about any potential picks specifically, but he said the fact that last year’s Draft was limited to five rounds means a large number of college players not drafted in 2020 will join the newly eligible prospects in 2021.
The Phillies have a bonus pool of $8,295,000 to work with in this year’s Draft. The pools for all 30 clubs total $265,769,400 in a Draft that has been reduced to 20 rounds from the 40 called for in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.
It’s too early to tell which direction Philadelphia will go with its first-round pick -- or with any of its picks, for that matter. However, Barber made one thing clear on Thursday: How the organization currently looks won’t dictate how he makes his selections.
“I don't think, necessarily, where the Minor League system is or especially where the talent is in the big leagues makes you take who you take in the Draft. I just don't think that changes,” Barber said. “... We know we're always working two, three, four years into the future, so where that talent is in the big leagues or the Minor Leagues can change year to year. I don't think you draft based on that current need.”