After half a decade of trading away prospects the Phillies system bottomed out in the winter of 2012-2013. The system lacked impact and it lacked depth. This lead to a large fallow period for the Phillies farm system, one that sat over Clearwater and bled up into the high minors. The Phillies responded to this crisis of depth with high school heavy drafts in 2012 and 2013, and those prospects have been slow to move through the system. The Phillies have started to do something they haven’t done in a long time to help their draft classes, they have started to diversify their talent acquisition.
There has been a lot of things said about the Phillies talent acquisition in Latin America over the past 10 years. They have had a lot of success with lower money signings, with players like Carlos Carrasco, Antonio Bastardo, Domingo Santana, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, Jonathan Villar, and Carlos Ruiz, but they had not waded too far into the bonus baby market. That has all changed, the Phillies have empowered International Scouting Director Sal Agostinelli (widely regarded as one of the best international scouts in the game) with money and resources to acquire more talent. The result has been 4 straight years of increased international spending highlighted by players near the top of market, but at more reasonable prices. In addition to the top of the market the Phillies have been signing more players in the $100k-$500k range to fill in with a second wave of solid talent. This has not been at the expense of the Phillies traditional approach of using their academies in the Dominican and Venezuelan to use their scouting expertise to bring in a continuous stream of interesting players.
The results have been stark, in 2011 James at Phuture Phillies released a Top 30 prospect list with 7 Latin Americans on it (Santana, Sebastian Valle, Bastrado, Galvis, Villar, Leandro Castro, Yohan Flande), this year the 2014 list released at Phuture Phillies had 10 Latin Americans on it, lead by #1 prospect Maikel Franco, and the 2015 list projects to have even more. In the GCL the starting lineup for today’s game featured 6 Latin American signees, and they dominate the starting rotations in the GCL and Williamsport. The result has been low minors teams that are still stocked with interesting talent, despite the Phillies only signing 1 high schooler in the 2014 draft.
Independent Baseball/MiLB FAs:
The Phillies made a big splash this offseason when they signed Baseball America’s #1 International League prospect KC Serna. Serna was a college shortstop who fell to the 42nd round of the 2011 draft before washing out of affiliated ball due to makeup issues. There has not been a bad word said about the 24-year-old in the Phillies system. Serna doesn’t offer a ton with the bat, but a .276/.305/.376 line is respectable in hi-A and AA this year, Serna can play around the infield, and while he might not be a starter he could offer a long-term utility profile. The Phillies have also looked to fill in their pitching ranks with Independent League signings Aaron Baker and Nick Rodesky, both are relievers and both sit in the low 90s and can touch higher. However, they have combined to pitch 41.1 innings this year while walking 7 and striking out 45. Baker has made it to Clearwater already. In addition to the Independent League players, the Phillies have signed their normal group of former prospects, more of who have washed out in Clearwater this year.
However, the big name minor league FA the Phillies have signed was from #4 overall pick Adam Loewen. Loewen was once a top pitching prospect, but injuries forced him off the mound, and he briefly made the majors as an outfielder. But the Phillies signed him to a 2 year minor league contract and have gotten him back on the mound. The 30-year-old LHP has 3.13 ERA across 2 levels of the Phillies system and has gotten progressively better over the year. His fastball is now up to touching 92 mph, his changeup is starting to regain feel, and the breaking ball has looked devastating. The most impressive thing has been the innings and pitch workload he has been able to handle in Reading. If Loewen continues to progress the Phillies may have found themselves a back-end starter, if not he could get another look as a left-handed reliever.
Non-drafted Free Agents:
After the draft any player draft eligible, but not picked, becomes a free agent. The signing rules are the same as if they were post 10th round picks. After not signing a lot of upside high schoolers late in the draft the Phillies have signed a trio of interesting arms after the draft. Kyle Bogese (23) is a senior from Trinity University, who has been working out of the bullpen for the GCL Phillies, but was reportedly up to 97 in a workout with the Phillies this summer. The Phillies added another starting pitcher to the GCL rotation with Jason Zgardowski (20) who they signed out of a Northwoods League Showcase event. Zgardowski is up to 95 right now with a slider and splitter, the Phillies like his 6’5″ 190lb frame and think there is room for more velocity. The Phillies also added 6’5″ 225lb LHP Josh Taylor (21), who the Phillies have been using as a piggy-back starter in the GCL right now. Taylor is 90-92 touching 93, he adds a flat changeup and a curveball. Today in the GCL, Zgardowski (5 IP 2 H 1 ER 1 BB 6 K) and Taylor (4 IP 3 H 0 ER 1 BB 7 K) combined to get the GCL Phillies an important win. Both have starters arsenals so it will be interesting to see where the Phillies find room for them
Overall, these moves aren’t likely to create a new crop of stars, but maybe there is a pop up guy, and some solid major leaguers in the group. The encouraging thing is that the Phillies have taken a wasteland of talent and created log jams in the low minors of guys very deserving of playing time. While the Phillies may not always embrace no thoughts and metrics, they have doubled down on scouting and scouts who are showing that they can provide solid return on amateur investment.