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Klentak: 'Paramount' that Phils take advantage of int'l market

Along with collecting the No.1 pick in the amateur draft, finishing the 2015 season with baseball's worst record gives the Phillies the largest international signing pool. Klentak spoke of the importance to take advantage of that Wednesday.

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- An obvious perk of finishing a season with the worst record in baseball is collecting the No. 1 overall pick in the draft the following June.

The Phillies own that distinction and already have sent Pat Gillick to get a look at University of Florida lefthander A.J. Puk in action. They also invited New Jersey prep lefthander Jason Groome to Citizens Bank Park this week.

But another advantage to owning baseball's worst record, something that first-year general manager Matt Klentak made sure to mention in his introductory press conference last month: The Phillies also have the largest international bonus pool at their disposal for next summer's signing period.

While the exact number is still undetermined - teams will receive that from the commissioner's office before the 2016 season begins - it's a fair guess that the Phillies could have double the amount they had to spend last summer, when their international pool was just over $3.04 million. The Arizona Diamondbacks, owners of baseball's worst record in 2014, had a pool of more than $5.39 million last summer.

Provided they allocate those resources effectively, the Phillies would stand a very good chance of adding more than a couple premium Latin teenage prospects to their already-growing farm system next summer.

"It is paramount that we take advantage . . . to bring talent into our system," Klentak said Wednesday at baseball's General Manager Meetings. "Understanding that when you're talking about kids at that age, from the Dominican Republic, from Venezuela, it's going to take a long time for a lot of those players to get there. But we still have to do that.

"We have to create waves of players that will feed this team three, four, five, six, 10 years down the line, because we don't know where we'll be three, four five, six, 10 years down the line. We need to make sure we've got steady waves of players coming, and that's true of the draft. It's really true of the few areas that are still available to us to bring in players."

To their credit, the Phillies have done well internationally, at least in the smaller, bargain-type signings in recent years. Carlos Ruiz, Maikel Franco, Freddy Galvis, Cesar Hernandez, recent Paul Owens Award winner Ricardo Pinto, and former top pitching prospect Carlos Carrasco are more than a handful of examples.

Last summer, the Phillies had a decent chunk to spend and swung a deal to increase that allotment in a July trade with Arizona that sent two pitchers (including prospect Chris Oliver) and their own No. 9 slot to get the Diamondbacks' No. 1 slot. It enabled them to signed slugging Dominican first baseman Jhailyn Ortiz for more than $4 million, among other signings, without going over their pool allotment.

Teams that go over their allotment in any signing period (which begins in July) are penalized: They cannot sign anyone for more than $300,000 for the next two signing periods. Last summer, Baseball America projected that there may be as many as 10 teams that will be under that penalty during the 2016-17 signing period, which only adds to the advantages the Phillies will have in acquiring international talent next year.

On Wednesday, Klentak was asked if he believed in quantity (which the Phillies have excelled at in their smaller signings) vs. quality, high-profile players (they hadn't landed many prior to Ortiz).

"It depends on that particular market, as with free agency, as with the draft, do you spread out your dollars over multiple players or do you invest in one big-ticket item?" Klentak said. "I think that particular market and our evaluation of the players in that market will dictate that. But I do believe generally in the idea of volume.

"Nobody in this industry is so smart that they know exactly who's going to be good, who's not going to be good and when they're going to develop and who's going to get hurt. That's just the reality of baseball. So I do believe in the approach of adding as many talented players as we possibly can. But having said that, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of spending a large percentage of the pool on one player because sometimes the player is just that good."

According to multiple reports, the prize of next summer's international signing period is switch-hitting Venezuelan shortstop Kevin Maitan. In July, reported that the Braves already had a verbal agreement to sign Maitan for $4.25 million, and although such handshake deals aren't exactly legal, they're not irregular, either.

Winning culture

As an independent observer without a real rooting interest, Matt Klentak admired more than anything the way the World Series-winning Kansas City Royals played through the course of the postseason.

"I think any of us can see this and the fans can see this when they're watching that team play, they have fun," Klentak said. "Those kids, those players, believe in each other. They like each other. They play for each other. There's an energy to that team."

How is such a culture fostered, aside from flipping the win-loss record and regularly reeling off 90-win seasons?

"It starts with people," Klentak said. "This is an industry of people whether it's the field staff, the scouts that are evaluating the players that they're bringing into the organization, we all need to be on the same page with the types of people and the sort of attitude and the level of aggression, just creating that environment that's positive and allows the players to really come into their own and play their best . . . That culture and environment has to evolve naturally, but what we can do is be selective about the people, the players, the coaches, the instructors, the trainers that are part of that to sort of allow that culture to form."