International Reviews: Philadelphia Phillies
Top signing: SS Brayan Gonzalez, Venezuela, $900,000.
Total signings: 61.
With the biggest international bonus pool in 2016-17 at $5,610,800, the Phillies spent heavily in Venezuela, with their top eight signing bonuses going to Venezuelan players. They added the top-ranked pitching prospect on the market and several offensive-oriented prospects who play in the middle of the diamond.
Venezuelan shortstop Brayan Gonzalez got the biggest bonus of the year from the Phillies, signing for $900,000 on July 2. Gonzalez, 17, is 5-foot-11, 170 pounds with a compact frame and a strong lower half, combining solid tools with a high level of overall baseball acumen, especially at the plate. He’s a natural righthanded hitter, tracking pitches well with good strike zone judgment. It’s a clean swing with high contact frequency, a line-drive approach and gap power. Gonzalez took up switch-hitting, but his lefthanded swing gets too uphill and leads to more swing-and-miss, which might hurt him early in his career as he faces a lot of righthanded pitchers. At shortstop, Gonzalez has a plus arm and makes accurate throws on the move, with quick hands and footwork. He’s an average runner now and because the way his body type could develop, his future range might be better suited at second base, but he has a chance to stay at shortstop. Some scouts were intrigued by the thought of putting Gonzalez behind the plate, given his build, arm strength, footwork and high baseball IQ, but the Phillies plan to keep him at shortstop. Gonzalez, who trained with Ciro Barrios, will likely debut in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
Simon Muzziotti was in an unusual situation, as he was one of the five players Major League Baseball removed from the Red Sox last year right before July 2 as a penalty for what the league office viewed as bonus pool circumvention. The Phillies quickly signed Muzziotti after he became eligible in July for $750,000, with only the amount over Muzziotti’s original $300,000 bonus with the Red Sox ($450,000, in this case) counting against Philadelphia’s 2016-17 pool. Between the Dominican Summer League Red Sox and Phillies, Muzziotti batted .256/.306/.305 in 221 plate appearances with 15 walks and 16 strikeouts. Muzziotti’s modest pro debut is due in part to his lack of strength. He’s athletic but thin-framed (6-foot-1, 175 pounds) with plus speed and glides around center field with good range and instincts. He had an elbow injury prior to signing that hampered him and his arm is below-average. Now 18, Muzziotti has started to get stronger, which could help his hitting take a step forward. He controls the strike zone well, uses the whole field and has good feel for the barrel, leading to a lot of contact, though it’s mostly been singles so far. Muzziotti should be coming over for the GCL this season.
The top-ranked player the Phillies signed from last year’s class was 17-year-old Venezuelan righthander Francisco Morales. He has started to fill out his extra-large, broad-shouldered frame (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) with his stuff continuing to progress in turn. His fastball has late life and sits at 90-94, peaking at 96 with a chance to climb higher. He throws from a three-quarters slot and gets underneath the ball at times, but when he stays on top of the ball he gets good downhill plane on his fastball. The split among scouts on Morales before he signed stemmed from his slider consistency and his control. Most recently, Morales has been showing a 55 slider that flashes plus. He cranks it up to the mid-80s, showing sharp, late bite and good shape. His slider is further along than his changeup, but he’s shown early signs of feel for his changeup too. As Morales has gotten stronger, he’s improved his ability to keep his long levers in sync to repeat his mechanics and throw more frequent strikes. Morales trained with Yasser Mendez and should make his first official start in the GCL.
Nicolas Torres is a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop the Phillies signed for $665,000 on July 2 after training with Henderson Martinez. Torres isn’t that big (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) but he’s an athletic, high-energy player with plus-plus speed. His baseball instincts help him apply that speed in games, getting out of the box quickly and making good decisions on the bases. He’s a potential high stolen base threat who also impressed the Phillies with his bat, showing solid contact skills from the right side even with an unorthodox stroke. Torres has the athleticism, hands and actions to give him a chance to stay at shortstop, but his below-average arm might push him to second base, with his speed making center field another option. Torres might start in the GCL, but given all the middle infielders the Phillies added (and shortstop Jonathan Guzman coming over from the DSL), he might debut in the DSL.
Venezuelan catcher Juan Aparicio, 16, signed with the Phillies for $475,000 on July 2 out of Emiro Barboza’s program. In 2015, the Phillies signed Rafael Marchan, a catcher who had been a shortstop on Venezuela’s 15U national team, hit well there and then moved behind the plate before signing. Aparicio played third base at the COPABE 15U Pan American Championships in Mexico in 2015, where he hit .400 ranked ranked second in the tournament in slugging (.767), then converted to catching. The bat is the main tool with Aparicio. He’s a righthanded hitter with good strike-zone awareness for his age and takes an all-fields approach. He’s not that big (5-foot-10, 175 pounds) and has some loop in his swing, but he generates hard line drive contact for his size with a chance to grow into 10-15 home runs in his prime. Aparicio is still very much an offensive-minded player who is still learning how to catch with the hope he can remain behind the plate.
Jose Tortolero, a 17-year-old Venezuelan shortstop the Phillies signed for $450,000 on July 2, might be as good a hitter as anyone the team signed last year. He’s still young and skinny (5-foot-11, 155 pounds), but he has a pure righthanded swing that’s direct to the ball with good balance and extension. Tortolero doesn’t project to be a major power threat, but he puts a surprising charge into the ball, with gap power and doubles now that should turn into some more home runs once he gets stronger. His speed and arm strength are both around average. He makes the routine plays at shortstop, with a chance to stick there, though his body type suggests a possible move to second base or possibly third down the line once he fills out, though he should get every chance to remain at shortstop. The Phillies push their young international signings faster than most, so Tortolero could go to the GCL, though with all their middle infielders, the DSL could be his starting point.
Raymond Mora turned 16 last year on July 29, then soon after signed with the Phillies for $400,000. He’s a slender 6 feet, 155 pounds and another offensive-oriented prospect who drew the Phillies’ attention for his bat. He struggled this offseason in the Liga Paralela, but he has a patient approach and the Phillies liked his ability to square up the ball consistently. Mora is a solid athlete but doesn’t run or defend as well as some of their other signings, with third base or second base potential landing spots for him as he fills out. Mora is expected to debut in the DSL.
Venezuelan shortstop Luigi Mujica, 17, signed for $350,000 on July 2. He’s a skinny lefthanded hitter (5-foot-10, 155 pounds) with a tick above-average speed. He’s a lefthanded hitter who struggled in the Liga Paralela after signing, so getting stronger will be key for him to catch up to some of the more advanced players the Phillies signed. His arm strength probably fits better at second base than at shortstop, with perhaps enough speed to play center field as well.
Luis Rojas, who signed for $150,000 on July 2, is another Venezuelan prospect who drew the Phillies’ attention for his bat. Rojas, a 16-year-old who trained with Roberto Vahlis, has a smaller build (5-foot-10, 170 pounds) and can play multiple positions, but the Phillies put him behind the plate. He’s a solid-average runner for now and was playing shortstop when the Phillies saw him, but with his size, quick feet and average arm, catching is a viable option, with second base a fallback plan. Rojas did struggle in the Liga Paralela, but the Phillies liked his ability to hit from the right side with a line-drive approach.
In the Dominican Republic, the Phillies signed 16-year-old righthander Dalvin Rosario for $200,000 on July 2. He’s 6-foot-1, 175 pounds with a fastball that’s been up to 92 mph and some feel for an inconsistent breaking ball. Dominican outfielder Maximo de la Rosa was a third baseman who experimented a bit behind the plate but is now a corner outfielder, signing with the Phillies for $150,000 in July. De la Rosa, 17, is strong, heavy and powerful (6-foot-2, 205 pounds), with some stiffness to his game and a power-over-hit offensive profile.
Dominican righthander Victor Santos became eligible to sign when he turned 16 on July 12, then signed with the Phillies in November for $150,000. The Phillies have liked what they’ve seen from Santos enough already that they’re bringing him to the United States for extended spring training. He’s 6-foot-1, 190 pounds with a loose arm, a fastball up to 92 mph and a solid slider for his age.
Luis Matos is a switch-hitting center fielder the Phillies signed for $110,000 in October out of Venezuela. He’s 6 feet, 165 pounds with an intriguing combination of athleticism and instincts for the game. He’s an average runner who impressed the Phillies with his hitting potential and line-drive stroke with gap power. He’s an aggressive hitter who played well during his brief time in the Liga Paralela, batting .310/.310/.414 in 30 plate appearances.
Venezuelan third baseman Juan Herrera, who got $100,000 in July, stands out for his physical projection and potential. He’s a tall, slender 17-year-old at 6-foot-3, 165 pounds, with plenty of room to pack on size and strength. He can field his position at third base, but he’s more of a long-term project right now, waiting on the strength to come boost the development of the rest of his game.
In the Phillies’ high-volume signing class, one lower-dollar signing to watch is Christian Valerio, a 17-year-old shortstop who landed an $85,000 bonus on July 2. He’s a slender, athletic 6-foot-1, 155 pounds with a sound line-drive stroke from the right side, performing well early on since signing. He has a good chance to stick at shortstop, with average range and a 55 arm.