The Phillies have not had a homegrown player start at third base on opening day since Scott Rolen in 2002, but all indications are that is about to change for years to come.
No position in the organization's farm system is more well stocked than third base and it got even deeper Friday when the team signed Luis Encarnacion from the Dominican Republic on his 16th birthday. International prospects cannot sign until they turn 16 and the Phillies got Encarnacion, a power-hitting third baseman, under contract right at midnight.
His signing bonus is for right around $1 million, according to Baseball America, which ranked Encarnacion as its fourth best international prospect.
It is the highest signing bonus the Phillies have paid to an international player since South Korean pitcher Seung Lee received $1.2 million in 2001.The Phillies reportedly had shattered that amount last month when it was reported they had a six-year deal worth $48 million with Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. That deal, however, is now in question.
The 6-foot-2, 195-pound Encarnacion joins Cody Asche, Maikel Franco, Mitch Walding and Zach Green among the Phillies' many third-base prospects. All are right-handed hitters except for Asche and Walding. It's possible one or more could change positions.
Asche, of course, arrived in the big leagues last week and is a good bet to be the team's opening-day third baseman next season.
Franco, 20, is considered the organization's best position-player prospect and has hit a combined .313 with 24 home runs and 82 RBIs at high single-A Clearwater and double-A Reading this season.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. did not rule out that Asche may eventually move to another position. He started his professional career as a second baseman in 2011 after being drafted out of the University of Nebraska.
"I hope we have that problem," Amaro said Thursday. "I hope we have a problem where guys are competing for job. You can't have enough talent and who knows who goes down. These things always have a way of working themselves out, but I hope Maikel Franco becomes the guy we think he can become because he's the prototypical run producer from the corner. Cody is probably athletic enough to move around to different positions, but until that happens, Cody is our third baseman right now and he's going to continue to get a chance to play third base and we'll see what happens after that."
Walding, 20, is at low single-A Lakewood and has had a difficult season at the plate while Green, 19, is at short-season Williamsport, where he leads the New York-Penn League with 18 doubles and 10 home runs.
Given the above list, the Phillies should have a homegrown third baseman in their lineup for the foreseeable future.