We do not know where the Phillies are going to end up in the standings this season even though their flight has hit some turbulence and left them looking wobbly. Regardless of where they land, they are guaranteed to have flown much farther north in the standings and the win column than they did by the final day of last season.
According to teamrankings.com, the Phillies are projected to win 85 games, which likely would leave them short of a playoff spot but still represent a major-league-best improvement of 19 games over last season.
Credit for that improvement can be debated.
Some people will tell you that manager Gabe Kapler deserves much of the credit. Some people won't, but his name is in the discussion either way.
Some people will credit general manager Matt Klentak, team president Andy MacPhail and managing ownership partner John Middleton for reopening the bank account and installing an expansive analytics department after ignoring for years the 21st-century style of running an organization.
Some people will even bestow belated credit on Ruben Amaro Jr., the first-base coach of the New York Mets and former general manager who was fired by the new regime near the end of the 2015 season. His deals on the way out the door kick-started the overdue rebuilding and gave the Phillies Zach Eflin (for Jimmy Rollins), Nick Pivetta (for Jonathan Papelbon), and Jorge Alfaro and Nick Williams (for Cole Hamels).
International scouting supervisor Sal Agostinelli certainly has his fingerprints all over the revival.
One name you're not likely to hear, however, is that of Marti Wolever, the former Phillies scouting director and assistant general manager who was fired late in the 2014 season. He deserves consideration for the front-office MVP for the Phillies' 2018 return to relevance.
Wolever, along with former assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle, were the draft kings who assembled the core that won the 2008 World Series. Arbuckle was at the recent 10-year reunion, and Wolever should have been.
Even though he's gone, Wolever is still the man responsible for the two biggest pieces of the Phillies' current core. In fact, his last draft as the team's scouting director might turn out to be his best, and that's saying a lot. With the seventh overall pick, the first time he had made a selection in the top 10, Wolever selected righthander Aaron Nola from LSU. In the fifth round, the choice was first baseman Rhys Hoskins from Sacramento State.
How good were those two picks?
No other player among the 1,215 selected in the 2014 draft has a higher career WAR than Nola's 14.5. He has 16 more wins than any other pitcher in the class of 2014, as well as the lowest ERA. Three pitchers were taken ahead of him, and six were among the top 10. Mistakes were there to be made. The Phillies hit the jackpot.
Hoskins was the 142nd player taken in 2014. His value far exceeds that. His 2.7 career WAR ranks 10th in the draft class, but WAR is not a friendly statistic for Hoskins because he is considered a defensive liability. His 45 home runs rank third in his draft class, and his .905 OPS tops the class.
For some perspective, only 83 of the 1,215 players selected have reached the big leagues and the Phillies have two of the very best players in the class.
"We had a great group making those picks," said Wolever, who works as the Detroit Tigers' West Coast cross-checker. "Everybody was on the same page as far as the staff goes, and everybody was allowed to do their job and everybody's opinion was important."
Near the end of his tenure with the Phillies, Wolever was often criticized for taking high-risk, high-ceiling high school players who did not pan out. You might remember Anthony Hewitt, Zach Collier, Kelly Dugan, and Larry Greene.
It appears, however, as if one of those high-risk, high-ceiling athletes could become a force for the Phillies as they attempt to make the playoffs this season. Roman Quinn, the Phillies' compensatory second-round pick in 2011 for losing Jayson Werth in free agency, took a .369 batting average into this weekend's series against the Chicago Cubs and appears primed to take the center-field job away from Odubel Herrera.
"Certainly he has earned a good, long look," Kapler said after Quinn's three-hit game Wednesday against Washington.
The Phillies also nearly signed Kyle Freeland after taking him in the 35th round of the 2011 draft, but the current Colorado Rockies ace chose to go to college instead.
"We made him a really good offer, but it worked out for him because he became a first-round pick," Wolever said.
One of the seldom-told stories about the Phillies' draft process during the time Wolever had the final say on picks was how often the team was at a disadvantage. Because the Phillies were good and willing to sign big-ticket free agents, they often drafted late, and sometimes not at all, in the first round.
According to MLB statistics, the Phillies spent the least amount of money on the draft from 2000 through 2014. Despite that, the Phillies' first-round picks from 1996 through 2016 had the highest WAR of any team in baseball, according to an MLB.com study by Andrew Simon.
In this growing age of analytics, Wolever still believes that good scouting is as relevant as ever for one big reason.
"For a lot of clubs, the analytics are now very much involved in amateur scouting," Wolever said. "It's just another opinion, so I think that's good. I think in some rooms it has become a real big factor. But you need to know what the player is made of, and that's what our guys always did well. You look for guys who have that burning desire to win."