Last night the Phillies officially handed a 16 year old outfielder a $4,000,000 signing bonus. During what should have been a celebration it game to my attention via Ryan Lawrence and Eric Chesterton that the amount of Latin America players on the Phillies is concerning some fans. This got me realizing just how little press the Latin American program has gotten and especially for its role resurgence of the Phillies’ minor leagues. The effects are just starting to show up at the major league level, especially evident in the emergence of Maikel Franco. Overall the Phillies have 11 Latin American players on the 25 man roster of which 6 are homegrown (Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Maikel Franco, Hector Neris, Carlos Ruiz, Severino Gonzalez). However, if you just look at the major leagues you are going to miss the real growth of the international program which is bubbling up from the low minors right now.
Brief Word About the Draft:
They have been bad for a while, which is not a surprise. The last 2 first rounds look like grand slams with Aaron Nola and J.P. Crawford, and the early reviews on the 2015 draft are positive. But the vaunted 2013 draft won’t place a single player outside of Crawford in the Top 20 of my midseason list. Andrew Knapp has some big weaknesses, Cord Sandberg and Jan Hernandez are really scuffling in between hints of promise, and Jake Sweaney is near non-existent and now out for year with Tommy John. Other high picks outside the first round like Matt Imhof, Harold Martinez, Dylan Cozens, Mitch Walding, Perci Garner, and Zach Green also aren’t looking good right now. Now if Nola, Crawford, and Cornelius Randolph pan out, no one is going to look a second time at the later rounds. However, this has left the Phillies system wanting for depth.
It Is All About Depth:
In my preseason Top 50 prospects in the system there were 25 Latin American players on the list. Five of those players didn’t sign their first contract with the Phillies and were acquired via trade (Joely Rodriguez, Nefi Ogando, and Victor Arano), Rule 5 draft (Odubel Herrera), and minor league free agency (Edubray Ramos). However, the other 20 are products of the Phillies homegrown system. Not every one of them is an elite prospect, but some of that depth at the bottom will bubble up as players like Hector Neris and Severino Gonzalez who will provide good value at the back of roster at the league minimum. But that depth can breed breakouts, this year we have seen shortstop Malquin Canelo and pitcher Ricardo Pinto move from depth to legitimate prospects going forward.
However, there is no place where the depth is more evident than the GCL Phillies. Up the middle they had enough depth that top 2014 signings SS Daniel Brito and C Lenin Rodriguez started in the DSL and VSL respectively. The outfield has more players than playing time with Jesus Alastre, Juan Luis, and Bryan Martelo all demanding playing time in an outfield that also has Randolph and 8th round pick Greg Pickett. The rotation has more starters than rotation spots. However, the rotation has been a breeding ground of upside lately with Franklyn Kilome and Elniery Garcia emerging last year and Pinto skipping over it to Williamsport after working with the development staff there all spring. This year has seen the emergence of 18 year old Adonis Medina as a high upside arm, and behind him are some other intriguing arm putting up good numbers and high velocity. The approach has even started to rub off on the domestic development as Sam McWilliams was the lone American among all these upside arms and has emerged as an interesting prospect in his own right. This year they will throw Bailey Falter into the same program and his ceiling could sky rocket as he adds velocity.
Which Drives Impact Talent:
No one wants a team of Freddy Galvis’ and Severino Gonzalez’s out of their system, you need stars. This takes both bringing in big money talent and developing talent. The Phillies have begun to really spend in Latin America in the July 2 market, with the past 4 years they have handed bonuses of over $500,000 to the following players; Carlos Tocci, Deivi Grullon, Jose Pujols, Luis Encarnacion, Arquimedez Gamboa, Jonathan Arauz, Daniel Brito, and Jhailyn Ortiz. All of them remain among the Phillies top prospects and haven’t seen huge hits to their long term ceilings. To augment the big money, the Phillies have handed out lots of little bonuses to players developing late, particularly those no longer among that 16 year old group, and they have had luck turning guys at much lower velocities into players like Kilome and Pinto.
In terms of the current system, Maikel Franco has graduated to the majors, but Kilome has moved into the very top of the Phillies system (right behind Crawford and Nola), Pinto and Tocci the in the Top 10 in the system with first division regular ceiling, with Canelo not far behind them. This doesn’t even include those in shortseason who are just starting to really get their feet on the ground this season. Players like Medina, Encarnacion, and Pujols could see their prospect stocks continue to climb. Meanwhile Edubray Ramos has emerged as the best relief prospect in the system and is rushing quickly towards the majors.
Where Do We Go From Here:
We wait and keep stocking. It takes time for the hard work to show up. Carlos Tocci was signed 4 years ago and is still one of the youngest players in hi-A. You can rush mental development and adjustments, but you can’t rush physical development whether it is putting on strength or learning to use the new physical tools. However, the development going on in Florida has to be commended as we are rapidly moving out of the stage where this all luck and into the stage where they are doing something right. My greatest fear around the hiring of Andy MacPhail was (and continues to be) that in the organizational upheaval they lose the guys leading the development and scouting in Florida and Latin America. Right now that staff is fueling the minor league turnaround for the Phillies and could help continue them as they build another core.