International Reviews: Philadelphia Phillies
Top signing: OF Jhailyn Ortiz, Dominican Republic, $4.01 million.
Total signings: 32.
The typical strategy for the Phillies in the international arena has been to spread their budget around, even when they did pay a seven-figure bonus like they did in 2013 for Luis Encarnacion. They had more flexibility than usual in 2015-16, starting with a $3,041,700 bonus pool, then swapped top bonus slot values with the Diamondbacks. That gave them $5,280,000 in pool space, but since a team can only acquire up to 150 percent of its original bonus pool, their bonus pool was smoothed down to $4,562,550.
That trade enabled them to sign Dominican outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz for $4.01 million—the biggest bonus for a Dominican player in 2015—and avoid any future signing restrictions. The Phillies made a big bet on Ortiz, who had the best raw power in the class but scared off a lot of scouts with his troubles against live pitching. Ortiz is enormous already for a 17-year-old at 6-foot-2, 260 pounds. His combination of strength and bat speed allow him to generate plus-plus raw power, putting on a loud show in batting practice to launch balls over the fence from right-center over to his pull side.
In BP, Ortiz is able to keep his hands short and can crush a fastball when it’s in his swing path, but while the raw power is obvious, it’s going to take time for his hitting ability to come around. At MLB showcase games in February and March, Ortiz looked overmatched, with a lot of off-balance swings where he flailed through both fastballs and breaking pitches. He will need to improve his pitch recognition and show more rhythm and timing to be able to hit in games.
The other concern with Ortiz is his size, which many believe will lead him to first base. Ortiz moves surprisingly well for his size, though he’s just a below-average runner and will likely slow down, but he’s at least capable of playing the outfield for now. The Phillies have him in right field, where he has a 55 arm and did make a nice diving catch this spring against a Japanese college team. While Rangers outfielder Nomar Mazara is a lefthanded hitter with a different body type, many scouts were worried about the swing-and-miss rate that came with his big power when the Rangers signed him for $4.95 million in 2011, and he’s since matured into one of the game’s best prospects, so the Phillies can hope that Ortiz develops the same way as a hitter. The Phillies are always aggressive with their top Latin American signings, so Ortiz will start in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
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The Phillies will be closely watching the 20-year-old center fielder to see how he progresses in his first stint at a full-season level.
Several teams expected the Phillies to sign Rafael Marchan for more than the $200,000 bonus they gave him on July 2, and that could end up being one of the better prices of the signing period. Marchan was Venezuela’s shortstop in 2014 at the 15U World Cup, where he hit .531/.605/.719 in 32 at-bats with three triples, six walks, two strikeouts and a team-best seven stolen bases without getting caught. Marchan is a natural hitter, but he’s 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, with a thick lower half and below-average speed, so he moved behind the plate during the tryout process.
Marchan, 17, is a switch-hitter who consistently performs well in games. He loads his swing with a leg lift, then stays balanced and under control throughout his swing. Marchan’s hands are quick and stay compact to the ball, with a flat swing plane that stays in the hitting zone a long time, allowing him to barrel the ball with high frequency. He has a good hitting approach, controlling the strike zone and using the whole fields. He’s a line-drive hitter with gap power, with his ultimate power ceiling likely limited because of his lack of physical projection. He was one of the few 2015 signings who hit well in the Liga Paralela (the minors of the Venezuelan League) after he signed, batting .362/.436/.362 with six walks and five strikeouts in 55 plate appearances.
Marchan is still new to catching, so his blocking and receiving are still raw, but he’s a smart, high baseball IQ player with a slightly above-average arm, with second base a fallback option if catching doesn’t stick. He has a chance to start in the GCL, otherwise he would debut in the DSL.
In July, the Phillies gave $100,000 to 17-year-old Manuel Silva, a tall, extremely skinny 6-foot-5, 175-pound lefthander from the Dominican Republic, with a loose arm and a delivery that works well for his size. Much like they did with Franklyn Kilome when he signed, the Phillies are counting on Silva adding to his 87-90 mph fastball once he gains weight, with his slider ahead of a changeup that he’s just learning.
Signed for just $60,000 when he turned 16 on Aug. 17, Dominican shortstop Jonathan Guzman has already made a loud impression for a smaller bonus signing, especially considering he would have been a 2016-eligible player had he been born two weeks later. Guzman is a switch-hitter and doesn’t have the most conventional swing, but he has a knack for putting the sweet spot to the baseball. An extremely skinny 6 feet, 145 pounds, Guzman made frequent contact with a lot of line drives and doubles power during Dominican instructional league, where he was one of the top offensive performers. He projects to stick at shortstop with average to solid-average tools, including 50 speed and a 55 arm.
Keudy Bocio, a 17-year-old Dominican shortstop who signed for $70,000 in July, probably fits better at second base, but he impressed the Phillies right his ability to hit and his well-above-average speed.