Phils not altering approach to signing international players

Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, here with the Phillies last month, is oneof the Latin American prospects the team is high on.
Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, here with the Phillies last month, is oneof the Latin American prospects the team is high on. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff)
Posted: July 01, 2013

You watch Yasiel Puig rejuvenating the Los Angeles Dodgers and Yoenis Cespedes launching home runs for the Oakland A's and Yu Darvish dominating for the Texas Rangers and you wonder why the Phillies can't get one of those high-profile players from another country.

To this point, the Phillies have opted against bidding too much for the services of such players, focusing instead on signing younger players from Latin America.

That philosophy is not likely to change this year as the international signing period opens Tuesday with a different set of rules in place. For the first time, teams have specific bonus pools based on team winning percentage from the previous season. The Houston Astros, 2012's worst team, have the highest pool at $4.9 million, according to Baseball America, and the Washington Nationals have the lowest one at $1.8 million. The Phillies sit right in the middle at No. 15 with $2.3 million.

The Phillies are strongly in favor of the bonus pool because they believe it forces teams to rely more heavily on their international scouting departments and they have a lot of faith in Sal Agostinelli, their director of international scouting.

Joe Jordan, the team's director of player development, already likes the international players in the Phillies' farm system. The hope is that a couple of them are close to being major-league ready.

Third baseman Maikel Franco, a 20-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, has become the most high-profile minor-league player from the Phillies' international program. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez, who got his first taste of the big leagues earlier this season, is second on that list.

"I like what we have," Jordan said. "Time will tell. It's all about teaching and being patient. You have to concentrate on their whole life development, and I think we're fortunate that we get a lot of support from ownership. The kids in our program in the Dominican Republic get their high school diplomas. I think we're getting better on the baseball side and the human side."

Hernandez is proof how patient a team must be after an international signing. He signed out of Venezuela in 2006 for $50,000 and is still only 23 years old.

In addition to Franco and Hernandez, the Phillies have three other recent international signings who received significant bonuses.

Carlos Tocci, 17, is in his first full professional season at low-A Lakewood. He entered Saturday hitting .229 overall but .246 since the beginning of May.

"That's outstanding for a guy his age in that league," Agostinelli said.

Tocci, a centerfielder from Venezuela, signed for $759,000 in 2011 and hit .278 in the Gulf Coast League as a 16-year-old last year.

The Phillies' two biggest international signings a year ago were Deivi Grullon, a 17-year-old catcher from the Dominican Republic, and Jose Pujols, a 17-year-old outfielder also from the Dominican Republic. Grullon signed for $575,000 and Pujols for $540,000. Both just started their professional careers in the United States with the Gulf Coast League Phillies in Clearwater, Fla.

With this year's international signing period set to begin, the Phillies, according to several sources, have interest in Luis Encarnacion and Rafael Devers, a couple of third basemen from the Dominican Republic. Encarnacion cannot sign until he turns 16 on Aug. 9.

International players over the age of 22 with three years of foreign professional experience are not subjected to the draft pool, but there are none on the immediate horizon who greatly interest the Phillies. That would probably change if Cuban star Alfredo Despaigne defected. He is being allowed to play in Mexico, a rarity for a Cuban player.

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