Saturday, September 5, 2015

Cornelius Randolph Begins His Phillies Journey

The first round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft unfolded on the evening of Monday, June 8th, 2015 and was broadcast via the MLB Network
The Phillies held the 10th overall pick, and there was much speculation as to whom the club would select.
I had hyped the possible selection of a 2B/OF from the University of Cincinnati by the name of Ian Happ. We'll never know if the Phils would have made that choice, because the Chicago Cubs swiped Happ with the 9th pick, just ahead of the Phillies.
When that 10th pick finally rolled around, a trio of highly rated shortstops were all off the board. In fact, those players went 1-2-3 in the Draft: Dansby Swanson to Arizona, Alex Bregman to Houston, and Brendan Rodgers to Colorado.
Also off the board by the time the Phillies selected were a trio of pitchers in Dillon Tate (Rangers), Tyler Jay (Twins), and Carson Fulmer (Chisox), as well as a pair of outfielders in Kyle Tucker (Astros) and Andrew Benintendi (Bosox).
"There's no doubt we feel he's got a chance to be a hitter in the major leagues that hits for both average and power." ~ Phils' scouting director Almaraz
Still on the board was lefty Brady Aiken, the first overall pick in the 2014 Draft who did not sign with the Astros after the team became concerned about physical issues. Aiken instead agreeing to play with IMG Academy, and so was again available this past June.
Some thought Aiken was the best prospect out there if healthy. But that was the rub, he wasn't. The Astros fears of a year ago proved founded, as he lasted just a single inning at IMG before having to undergo Tommy John surgery in March. So any team selecting him would be doing so under that cloud.
The Cleveland Indians would eventually select Aiken, seven picks after the Phillies would pass on him. 
The announcement finally came: with the 10th pick in the 2015 MLB First-Year Player Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies select shortstop Cornelius Randolph of Griffin High School in Georgia.


In a first round mock draft that I released just days earlier, I had slotted Randolph in at #21 to the Kansas City Royals, who were reportedly high on him and following him closely. 
Also, I had by then switched up my own Phillies prediction to Tucker. However, he went at #5, as the Astros' second of two early picks.
While I had Randolph down at #21, that was in no way a reflection on what I thought of his talent. It was simply my prediction of where he was likely to go based on all of the chatter that I was sifting through in the days and weeks leading up to the actual draft process.
So the selection for the Phillies was Randolph, and immediately began the positional speculations. After all, the Phillies already had J.P. Crawford in the organization as a highly rated shortstop prospect.
"There's a lot of suitors in the draft and you really didn't know what was going to go on above him," said Scott Boras, Randolph's high-profile agent, per Megan Montemurro at Delaware Online. "...I think that this player carries with him one of the least risk factors of high school age players because he has a pro swing now."
In many such situations, an organization will not concern itself with such positional problems early on in a player's developmental process. 
The Phils could have just let Randolph stay at shortstop, and either let him play himself off the spot, or switched him somewhere else down the road if it became apparent that Crawford was indeed their longterm man.
The Phillies brain trust decided that was not in the organization's or the player's best interest, and immediately made Randolph an outfielder
Putting him out in left field would allow him to mostly concern himself with hitting. After all, his bat was the main reason that he was selected in the first place.
"I was very interested in signing an offensive player and somebody who I believe in the future is going to be an impact bat. A future middle-of-the-order bat. A three or four," said Phillies scouting director Johnny Almaraz, per Matt Breen for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
"We love his bat," Almaraz said. ". . . There's no doubt we feel he's got a chance to be a hitter in the major leagues that hits for both average and power."
At Griffin over the course of his junior and senior years as provided by MaxPreps, Randolph had played in 50 games. 
He batted .510 during those high school years, with a .613 cumulative on-base percentage, eight homers, 60 RBI, 69 runs scored, and a 1.537 OPS.
On June 17th, less than ten days after being selected, Randolph signed his first pro contract, part of which earned him more than $3.2 million in bonus money and made him a ridiculously wealthy teenager overnight.
After a quick stop at Citizens Bank Park for some BP with Phils living legends Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, Randolph was sent to the Phillies rookie Gulf Coast League affiliate, and he made his professional debut on June 25th.
It would be a memorable debut for the sweet-swinger who bats left-handed and fields right-handed, ala Bryce Harper
In that first game, Randolph went 3-3 with a walk vs the Pirates affiliates, slashing a triple, scoring a run, and driving in a run. Two days later, Randolph banged his first professional home run against the Tigers.


Overall, Randolph would appear in 53 games in which he came to the plate 212 times. He rapped out 52 hits and walked 32 times, finishing with a .302 batting average and .425 on-base percentage. 
That late June homer would prove to be his only round-tripper of the season, and he finished with 15 doubles, 34 runs and 24 RBI.
Perhaps just as encouraging as his offensive performance was his defensive play. Randolph learned and adjusted well to the outfield. 
In 335.1 innings over 41 games (he served as the DH a dozen times), Randolph handled all 63 of his defensive chances cleanly.
While he still has work to do in order to improve himself defensively, it is already apparent that he should be able to meet the modest defensive demands of the left field position. If he can become a plus defender as he develops, that will be a bonus for the Phillies.
The Phillies aren't worried at all about the lack of over-the-fence power. That is frequently the last piece to come for such a young hitter. What was readily apparent was his all-around hitting ability. 
Next will come further tests as he begins to advance up the organizational ladder next season, where he likely will begin at A-level Lakewood.
While Cornelius Randolph is still a few years away from reaching Citizens Bank Park, an arrival not likely to happen much before the 2018 or 2019 seasons, Phillies fans can be encouraged by his first season in the organization during this summer of 2015.
Next year, fans with early interest in his career can take the nearly 70 mile drive over to Lakewood, New Jersey and watch Randolph as he continues his rise up the ladder with the Lakewood BlueClaws. 
In a few years, he should come along to make a hopefully contending Phillies team even more dangerous.

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