Phillies scouts prep for No. 1 Draft decision

Phillies scouts prep for No. 1 Draft decision

PHILADELPHIA -- Johnny Almaraz has been everywhere, and he will continue to be everywhere for the next eight months.

The Phillies have the No. 1 pick in the 2016 Draft, so Almaraz, who is the Phillies' amateur scouting director, and his entire staff will be crisscrossing the country to scout the top amateur players countless times up until June.

In fact, they already have.

"Heading into the year we've been anticipating we'd pick pretty high, so we've been on the go," Almaraz said, recently. "We're very, very optimistic and very positive about this year's crop. We're fortunate to have the No. 1 pick in a really good year."

There is no consensus No. 1 pick in next year's Draft. There is no Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper. There is no no-brainer, but there are some talented pitchers. And if there are no significant injuries or surprises, expect the Phillies to take one.

Keep a close eye on Florida left-hander A.J. Puk and Oklahoma right-hander Alec Hansen. Some scouts think Puk could be in the big leagues as early as 2017, and Hansen has tons of potential. The Phillies also will look at arguably the top two high school pitchers: IMG Academy (Lakeland, Fla.) left-hander Jason Groome and St. Thomas Aquinas (Overland Park, Kan.) right-hander Riley Pint.

"Fortunately, this year there is a really strong college crop of pitching," Almaraz said. "It's one of those situations where I believe this year the pitching is stronger than the crop of position players. We'll be looking at that, and hopefully we can get the guys that we want. You never know what is going to happen as far as health is concerned. We have to make sure we stay on top of things."

This is the first time the Phillies will have the top pick in the Draft since 1998, when they selected Pat Burrell. Whomever the Phillies select, they should get somebody that can speed up their rebuilding process. Since Burrell's selection, only a handful of No. 1 picks have not panned out (Bryan Bullington, Matt Bush, Luke Hochevar and Tim Beckham). Most have, like Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez, Joe Mauer, Justin Upton, David Price, Strasburg, Harper, Gerrit Cole and Carlos Correa.

"There's a group of players all over the country who can separate themselves in comparison to everybody else," Almaraz said. "It's just a matter of time. We're not even a year away, but a lot of things can happen as far as progress and growth and strength, and players becoming a lot better than they were in the past year."

Another benefit of the Phillies getting the No. 1 pick is more money in their draft pool. That could allow them to sign some players they might not have had the ability to sign.

"Yes, we're going to be as creative as we can be to get the best talent," Almaraz said. "Of course, we're going to be picking first in every single round, so we'll have an advantage to make an impact as far as talent is concerned. We'll be prepared. We'll be prepared to make the best decisions, and to use that money effectively. It'll be very, very interesting."

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his Phillies blog The Zo Zone, follow him on Twitter and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.