July 2 has come and opened up the new international signing period. The Phillies went ahead and signed six 16 year olds for decent chunks of money. They even added a center fielder whose contract had been voided in MLB’s crackdown on Boston doing what everyone else was already doing. There has been a lot of issue taken with this signing period based on the Phillies staying within their slots and not busting their slots, so let’s talk about that first before talking about who they signed and general strategy considerations.
The Phillies started the signing period with $5,610,800 at their disposal with the ability to trade up to 150% of that pool if they needed. This mean they had plenty of capabilities to sign a lot of talented players without incurring any penalties. For me this means that there are only two reasons to go over the pool:
- You are signing a top Cuban talent who has the chance to be an impact star.
- You are signing multiple of the very top players on the 16 year old side to go along with a portfolio of other talent.
For option 1 there was only one player worthy of going over the pool for and that was LHP Adrian Morejon. In the past that has been players like Yadier Alvarez and Yoan Moncada, they cost a ton of money with the penalty. In this case the Padres were long rumored to be the landing place for Morejon and their total outlay of $22 million represents a serious investment in his arm. If you weren’t getting Morejon the other players in the class just weren’t giving up full use of the 2017 and 2018 bonus pools (of which 2017 should be large). If you want to say they should have topped that offer, that is something on ownership opening the pockets up to try and outbid the Padres, coupled with the scouts believing that he is worth that money.
As for option 2, this is what the Braves did or attempted to do. In this case there were two top Latin prospects to headline such a class in Kevin Maitan (Braves) and Luis Almanzar (Padres). All other prospects available to be signed could have been done within the structure of the Phillies pool. You would have needed to surround either of those players with a large class of top prospects like the Braves and Padres did this year (though you can argue how top all of the non-Maitan prospects are). To accomplish such a strategy you need to align all of the prospects up a year or more in advance (so under the Amaro regime) and promise them the money needed to get those promises. The Phillies attempted to do this with Jhailyn Ortiz for last year’s signing period, and the negative happened. That was the player regressed or did not progress leaving the team with a large chunk of money tied up in a single player. The Phillies went into damage control last year, and still signed Ortiz without penalty and still got a pretty good player. Now this experience may have burned the Phillies who have had more experience with spreading money around and allowing more opportunity for failure and development.
So all that leaves us with doing the best you can with the money you have. The Phillies past success has come with spending on multiple players who can stick up the middle (C, 2B, SS, CF, not just listed at those positions). They started that strategy off with Brayan Gonzalez who lacks huge raw tools, but he can stick at shortstop thanks to a very good armand instincts. He has some feel for contact and might have a bit of power. They then went off script and got the best pitcher in Venezuela in Francisco Morales who has the size (6’5″) and stuff (FA 90-94 T96) to dream on. There are some questions about future command, but there will be time for him to work on getting his delivery all synced up. The Phillies then add a converted infielder at catcher in Juan Aparicio who is similar to Rafael Marchan as a catcher who can hit with a solid line drive stroke and below average power down the line.
The Phillies then went back to the Venezuelan shortstops with Nicolas Torres a light hitting speedster (BA said he has the best usable speed in the class) who might need to move to 2B because of his arm. He lacks power but he has shown good contact ability. They also signed switching hitting Jose Tortolero another shortstop who might not stick due to average defensive tools, BA noted he was trending in the right direction leading into the signing period. They also added a 4th Venezuelan shortstop Luigi Mujica for an unknown bonus. In addition to this July 2 haul, they snatched up outfielder Simon Muzziotti after his contract was voided by MLB, he is a light hitting center fielder with some feel for contact, but questions about how his body will develop.
This puts the Phillies at about $3.6M in spending without knowing Mujica’s signing bonus. They are certainly going to be adding more talent, but they have already spent more than most teams can, just on those 7 bonuses alone. Of the group, Morales is the stand out as a high upside arm, but Gonzalez gives some Jonathan Arauz vibes with his feel for the game. I get if that doesn’t give you warm fuzzy feelings and you want to be bitter about the lack of Maitan, that is your right, you just missed being angry by a year and a half. Otherwise the rankings mean something, but not as much as they do for any other level of baseball. Teenagers grow up and change, getting a bunch still is the best strategy out there.
Photo by Baseball Betsy