Major League Baseball will hold its draft next month, and teams will hand players millions of dollars before they have played in a professional game.
Last year, the Phillies gave their first-round pick, pitcher Kyle Drabek, a $1.55 million signing bonus. Pat Burrell got a big-league contract worth more than $8 million before he ever picked up a bat in a professional game. In recent years, the Phils have shelled out $4.2 million for Gavin Floyd and $2 million for Cole Hamels, who was worth every penny in pitching the Phils to the .500 mark last night.
Looking for bargains?
Check out the two guys who've spent the bulk of the time squatting behind home plate at Citizens Bank Park the last few days. Carlos Ruiz and Johnny Estrada have been two of the best players on the field in this series between the Phillies and the Milwaukee Brewers, and both entered pro ball off the bargain rack.
Together, their signing bonuses totaled $23,000, or 1 percent of what the No. 7 pick (pitcher Clayton Kershaw) got from the Los Angeles Dodgers in last year's draft.
"Mine was $15,000," said Estrada, now with the Brewers after breaking in with the Phillies. "Ten-five after taxes."
"I remember the check showed up and I said, 'What?!' My mom said, 'Taxes.' I said, 'But I had plans for that money.' "
Estrada, 30, was selected by the Phils in the 17th round of the 1997 draft. His signing bonus was nearly double the $8,000 that Ruiz got a year later, after a tryout with the Phillies in his native Panama.
"I wasn't worried about money," Ruiz said. "I only wanted an opportunity to play professional baseball."
The Phils drafted Estrada while he was a junior-college catcher in California. He broke in with the Phils in 2001, when Mike Lieberthal went down with a knee injury. In 2003, he went to Atlanta for Kevin Millwood, then on to Arizona in 2006 before joining the Brewers this winter. He's making $3.4 million this season and hitting better than .300.
Ruiz's route to a major-league catching job was more circuitous than Estrada's. He first was shown to the Phillies as a second baseman in December 1998. International scouting boss Sal Agostinelli didn't like Ruiz at second, but he did like Ruiz's bat. Agostinelli asked Ruiz whether he'd ever caught. The kid said no, but he was willing to try. He immediately showed a plus arm, so Agostinelli signed him as a catcher. What the heck, it cost only $8,000.
After a long minor-league gestation, Ruiz, 28, got to the majors last season and played himself into the Phillies' plans for this season. In spring training, he appeared to be second on the catching depth chart behind Rod Barajas. But 61/2 weeks into the season, Ruiz is emerging as the No. 1 man, while playing for the big-league minimum of $380,000. He made his 25th start (to Barajas' 15) last night. The Phillies are 12-6 in his last 18 starts.
Ruiz also has emerged as one of the National League's top rookies. He entered last night second in batting average (.295) and RBIs (17) among the league's freshmen. He was fourth in hits (28) and third in extra-base hits (11).
Behind the plate, he had thrown out just five of 26 would-be base-stealers, but the staff likes throwing to him.
"He brings a lot of energy to the position," said bullpen coach Ramon Henderson, an invaluable consigliere to the team's Latin players. "I haven't heard a complaint from the pitchers. That's a good sign."
You wouldn't have heard one from Hamels, who allowed just two hits over eight innings while striking out 11 in the Phils' 6-2 win last night. Estrada has been impressed with Ruiz.
"I'd never seen him play," Estrada said. "He's a good player.
"Most rookies are timid. He's not. He talks to you when you come to the plate. That tells you he's relaxed. He acts like he's been there before."
Estrada laughed in recalling something Ruiz had said during Tuesday night's game.
"My third at-bat, I took a first-pitch fastball away," he said. "It was a ball, but Carlos thought it was a strike. I heard him tell the umpire, 'Johnny don't need no help. He can hit.' I like that."
Estrada and Ruiz were the central figures in a dramatic ninth inning Tuesday night. Estrada opened the top of the inning with a game-tying home run, his second of the series, off Brett Myers. Ruiz responded with an electrifying game-winning homer in the bottom of the inning.
As the crowd of 41,258 danced in the aisles in celebration of the homer, Ruiz absorbed a "beat-down" from jubilant teammates at home plate, then received a poorly executed shaving-cream pie from Shane Victorino. (Memo to the Flyin' Hawaiian: You ain't no Tomas Perez.)
Ruiz's home run also caused some excitement back home in David, the capital city in the Panamanian province of Chiriqui. His mother, Inocencio, was watching another game on ESPN, while his father, Augusto, and brother, Sammy, slept. Inocencio saw her son's game-winner moments after it happened, on an in-game update.
"She was so happy," said Ruiz, who speaks with his mother daily by telephone. "She woke everyone up."