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Phils after best available player

Phils looking for best available player

PHILADELPHIA -- The cause and effect of Jon Lieber heading the starting rotation is that the Phillies won't be heard from on draft day until pick 65.

The offseason signing of the right-hander cost Philadelphia a first-round choice in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft -- to be held June 7 -- just as Jim Thome did in 2003.

But just because they won't select until the middle of the second round -- there are supplemental picks between rounds one and two -- doesn't mean the brain trust isn't poring over reports, making lists and checking them twice.

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Not surprisingly, pitching is high on the wish list, as the Phillies look to restock the shelves after dealing pitchers like Taylor Buchholz, Elizardo Ramirez, Carlos Silva and Alfredo Simon in recent seasons. Third base is also a priority because of an organization-wide rash of injuries to prospects Juan Richardson, Kiel Fisher and Terry Jones.

That doesn't mean the Phillies will pass on a player with a higher ceiling if he happens to man another position. Like many organizations, Philadelphia is in best-player available mode.

"We'll see what gets to us, and there's no way to predict," said Mike Arbuckle, the assistant general manager, scouting and player development. "Ideally that would be a high-ceiling college player, but that type of player is gone in the top 10-12 picks. You don't want a player that you project to be a utility infielder or extra outfielder, so that might mean going with a higher risk."

By the fourth round, the Phillies will begin focusing on specific positions, such as middle infield. They had been searching for catching depth for a few years before snagging Jason Jaramillo, Lou Marson and Charles Creswell last year.

Arbuckle said the Phillies "got lucky" to get all three.

"Baseball's different than other sports, where if you're too position-oriented, you can outsmart yourself," Arbuckle said. "In basketball or football, the guy's going to help you next year. In baseball, even if he's a college player, it might be 3-4 years down the road, and your needs can change by the time he gets to the big leagues."

So the Phillies will ascribe to the philosophy of the 29 other teams: draft and develop talent. Arbuckle and Director of Scouting Marti Wolever get high marks for that during their 13 years together. Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Brett Myers, Randy Wolf, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Madson, and Jason Michaels were all selected under their watch.

Farmhands Gavin Floyd, Cole Hamels, Greg Golson and Ryan Howard also deserve mention, as they are expected to be major contributors in the next few years.

Philadelphia shouldn't be discouraged by its picking spot, since there have been some notable 65th picks over the years, starting with Ron Guidry in 1971. Current Major Leaguers Ben Broussard (Cincinnati, 1999) and Randy Winn (Florida, 1995).When Arbuckle walks into the war room, the words of the late Paul Owens will echo in his head.

"Pope (Owens) made the comment many times that one bad draft sets you back four or five years and I believe that," Arbuckle said. "I believe you have to produce prospects out of every draft, regardless of where your big league club is. On average we need to produce a player and a half to the big league club. That full year guy, plus a Robinson Tejeda, someone who comes up at some point and contributes. Then we're doing our job."

In the later rounds, the Phillies will select what Arbuckle calls "stabilizer players," roster fillers who can help develop the prospects in a winning atmosphere.

"We'd like to do a better job at that," he said. "Our two Single-A clubs are struggling, and it's because our stabilizer-type players haven't played well. We have to do a better job in the mid to late rounds of getting college players that, if you strike lightning, they make it to the big leagues, but the reality is they should be good players who allow the prospects to develop in a winning atmosphere."

"None of us can say we've been happy with what we've gotten done in the last couple of years."

Last three top picks:

Greg Golson, OF, 2004, Pick 21: The speedy center fielder played well at Batavia in 2004 and was hitting .267 at Single-A Lakewood before a spraining his ankle on April 30. He's close to returning.

Tim Moss, 2B, 2003, Pick #85: The University of Texas alum started slowly with the Phillies, hitting .150 at Batavia in 2003 and .256 at Single-A Lakewood in 2004. He's off to a good start for the Clearwater Threshers, Philadelphia's high A club, showing the power/speed combination that drew comparisons to San Francisco's Ray Durham. His fielding reminds some of Durham, too.

Cole Hamels, LHP, 2002, Pick #17: The prized southpaw hasn't appeared in a game this season after breaking the fifth metacarpal on his pitching hand in a bar fight. He missed significant time the season before with elbow soreness. The organization still expects great things from Hamels, but is frustrated by the lost development time.

Ken Mandel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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