Phillies spending less on international talent

Posted: July 24, 2010

Catcher Carlos Ruiz, a native of Panama, is currently the only member of the Phillies' major-league roster who was an international signing.

That does not mean the Phillies' international scouting department has been a failure, but a baseball source indicated that the organization has not pumped as much money into its international program in recent years. The source said that could eventually hurt the Phillies at the big-league level.

"They're probably in the bottom third," the source said. "I think things started to change when they put more money into the big-league payroll. I think that took some of the money away from the international program. I believe they've been working with less the last three years."

The Phillies' two most recent international signings of note have been Venezuelan shortstop Francisco Silva and Dominican pitcher Miguel Nunez. Silva received a $180,000 signing bonus earlier this month and Nunez received a $225,000 signing bonus in January.

Unlike some teams, the Phillies have not been inclined to give million-dollar signing bonuses on the international market, choosing instead to pay in the range they gave to Silva and Nunez.

"You have to continue to sign good players and stay aggressive," the baseball source said. "That team was built through its farm system, and international scouting is all about talking to the buscones [talent hunters]. If you don't pay for some players, they'll stop showing you the top players."

The source said the type of bonuses the Phillies gave to Silva and Nunez are enough to keep them in the game.

It is believed the Phillies' only international player to receive more than a $1 million signing bonus was South Korean pitcher Seung Lee, who signed for $1.2 million in 2001. The Phillies also signed South Korean Il Kim for $800,000 that year. Neither of them made it to the big leagues.

Still, there have been plenty of success stories for an international program that two decades ago was on the verge of extinction.

Venezuelan native Carlos Carrasco was part of the trade package last July when the Phillies acquired Cliff Lee from the Cleveland Indians, and Dominican Republic native Ezequiel Astacio was used to get Billy Wagner from Houston in 2004.

The Cubs' Carlos Silva, Baltimore's Alfredo Simon and Kansas City's Robinson Tejeda also are former Phillies international signings who are having varying degrees of big-league success this season. (Tejeda gave up Alex Rodriguez's 599th career homer Thursday.)

Sal Agostinelli, the team's international scouting supervisor, believes more help is on the way, although like the rest of the farm system, the best international players are in the lower levels of the minor leagues right now.

The international player closest to being ready to pitch in the big leagues is Antonio Bastardo, but during a 16-game stint with the Phillies earlier this season the Dominican native walked nine batters in 121/3 innings, and was demoted last week to triple-A Lehigh Valley after coming off the disabled list.

At Lehigh Valley this season, Bastardo has allowed just two hits and struck out 13 batters in 72/3 innings. The Phillies hope Bastardo, at the very least, develops into a lefthanded specialist.

Two of the team's brightest international prospects - Dominican shortstop Jonathan Villar and catcher Sebastian Valle of Mexico - are at single-A Lakewood.

Agostinelli remains convinced Freddy Galvis will play in the big leagues, even though the double-A Reading shortstop from Venezuela has struggled offensively most of the season.

Domingo Santana, a 17-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, struggled earlier this year at Lakewood, hitting .182 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in 49 games, but he has flourished since moving down to short-season Williamsport, batting .269 with three home runs and 11 RBIs in 31 games.

Two internationally signed second basemen in the system intrigue Agostinelli.

"I think Harold Garcia is an interesting player," he said.

Garcia, 23, was promoted from single-A Clearwater to Reading earlier this season after breaking the 59-year-old Florida State League record by hitting in 37 straight games. Since moving to Reading, the Venezuelan native has hit .315 with a .422 on-base percentage in 14 games.

Cesar Hernandez, a 20-year-old Venezuelan, hit .290 and stole nine bases in his first 33 games at Williamsport.

Two pitchers currently with the Gulf Coast League Phillies have also been impressive. Lisalberto Bonilla, a 19-year-old Dominican native, went 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA and struck out 38 batters in 321/3 innings. Agostinelli said Bonilla was just promoted to Williamsport.

Ervis Manzanillo, an 18-year-old Venezuelan, is 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA in six starts and has struck out 26 in 271/3 innings.

The Phillies' best signing in the last decade has been Ruiz, who emerged as the starting catcher four seasons ago. He signed out of Panama for $8,000. They call that a bargain, perhaps the best the Phillies have ever had.


Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577

or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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