Phillies are big on Latin American players, but lack Latino superstars | Part 2
The Phillies haven't had a homegrown Latin American superstar, but that could change soon — four of their top minor-league prospects are Latino, and they have "more resources than ever" to get good international players signed.
Look 134 miles southwest of Citizens Bank Park and you'll see Juan Soto, a Dominican-born left fielder who looked like a seasoned veteran as a 19-year-old rookie with the Washington Nationals this season. He was arguably better than both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout in his teenage year.
Second of a three-part series about the recent rise of Latin American players on the Phillies' big-league roster and within the entire organization.
Fly 780 miles south and you'll find Ronald Acuna Jr., a Venezuelan-born left fielder who won the 2018 National League rookie of the year award. His 20-year-old season, which included 26 home runs and 56 extra-base hits in just 111 games with the Atlanta Braves, was better than Harper's 20-year-old season with the Nats.
The Braves also have Ozzie Albies, a 21-year-old second baseman from Curacao who made the All-Star team and contributed 40 doubles and 24 home runs for the National League East champions.
"Soto and Acuna are two of the best young guys in the game right now, and they're in our division," said Sal Agostinelli, the Phillies' international scouting director. "Both of them are corner guys with power. I know they are going to be looking at us right in the face for a long time, so I have to answer that. I can promise you I'm trying to get guys like that."
The Phillies, with 19, used more Latin American players than any team in the National League during the 2018 season, but none of them appears to have a ceiling as high as the that of aforementioned youngsters from the Nationals and Braves. In fact, it's fair to say that the Phillies have never had a superstar Latin player come through their system, and you could also argue that Bobby Abreu is the only Latin-born Phillies player who could even be considered for career superstar status.
Abreu definitely had impressive numbers during his nine seasons with the Phillies, but the failure of the ballclub to reach the postseason left a stain on his tenure that still remains more than a decade later.
>> READ MORE: Brookover picks his most notable Latin American Phillies
The Phillies have done an admirable job making the clubhouse a welcoming place for Latino players. Now, they could use a Latin-born superstar — especially one from their own farm system. At the moment, their best Latin homegrown players are Cesar Hernandez and Maikel Franco, both of whom figure to have long big-league careers but fall short on star power.
It's possible neither player will be here at the start of next season.
The most beloved Latino player in franchise history is without question Panamanian catcher Carlos Ruiz, who signed for $8,000 and emerged as one of the leaders of the second great run in franchise history. His nine straight seasons as a starter are tied with Abreu for the longest streak by a Latin American player in franchise history.
There are reasons to believe that Agostinelli's quest for a homegrown Latin superstar will soon be successful. In fact, it may have started last season with the arrival of Seranthony Dominguez, the 23-year-old reliever with an electric right arm.
If the Phillies have had little success at developing a Latin-born position player, they have had even less success in the pitching department. The best Latin-born pitcher in franchise history might be Vicente Padilla by default. The best Latin pitcher to come out of the Phillies' system is Carlos Carrasco, who was dealt to Cleveland for Cliff Lee in 2009. Carrasco has 79 wins and a career 3.71 ERA with the Indians.
Dominguez and 20-year-old Sixto Sanchez, the top prospect in the farm system, have provided hope that a pitching superstar could be on the immediate horizon. In fact, according to MLB.com, four of the Phillies' top 10 prospects are Latin-born pitchers, with Sanchez joined by Adonis Medina (Dominican Republic), Ranger Suarez (Venezuela), and Enyel De Los Santos (Dominican Republic).
Starlyn Castillo, a righthander from the Dominican who received a $1.6 million signing bonus earlier this year, is likely to join the prospect list in the near future.
Not all of them will make it, of course, but when you're talking about prospects, especially pitching prospects, there is strength in numbers.
>> READ MORE: The state of the Phillies' minor-league system
The Phillies have signed more expensive international players in recent years, the most prominent being Dominican right fielder Jhailyn Ortiz in 2015. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound slugger received $4.2 million, the highest signing bonus the team has ever given to an international player. The Phillies followed up by signing Dominican shortstop Luis Garcia for $2.5 million in 2017 and, at 18, he figures to be playing in low-A Lakewood next season.
"We have more resources than ever to get good players," Agostinelli said. "But beyond that, we have done things that allow us to develop even more players from our international program. By adding a second team in the GCL [Gulf Coast League, last year] and by building one of the best academies in the Dominican, we have created more avenues for players to play in games. I think in the next five years, you will see the difference because of those things."
Agostinelli said the Phillies have also made significant investments recently in their search for players from Pacific Rim countries such as Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Australia. Often accused of relying solely on analytics, the Phillies have clear respect for the scouting process in their international ventures.
"We want to turn over every rock in pursuit of the best players," general manager Matt Klentak said.
Assistant general manager Bryan Minniti, with help from Agostinelli, increased the Pacific Rim scouting force before last season. Howie Norsetter was hired as the region's cross-checker and the team also hired Isao O'Jimi to scout Japan, Youngster Wang to handle Taiwan, and Alex Choi in South Korea.
"A lot of teams scout all over the world and some teams scout just Latin America," Minniti said. "We wanted to add money to our international program because Sal and his crew have been very effective for a long time. We consider them a weapon."
The Phillies signed a player from China — catcher Bruce Wang Lang — in August. He's one of a handful of players from China to sign with a major-league team in MLB's history. They also signed two pitchers from Taiwan, three players from Australia, and one each from France, Russia, and New Zealand. It is an organization that wants its brand to be known worldwide.