The Phillies DSL team is a work in progress after last year’s team had a number of players promoted to GCL or Williamsport this past winter. 2010 DSL graduates included Witer Jimenez, Carlos Valenzuela (playing surpisingly well), Jorge Castillo, Gabriel Arias, Hector Neris, Luis Gonzalez, Carlos Best, and Ramon Oviedo. That is 8 promotions from the DSL team alone and prompted some criticism about the Phillies having an older DSL squad without a huge number of prospects last year.
The Phillies’ strategy in Latin America differs from the strategy of many other organizations. The budget is limited (21st of out 30 last year or about $1.5 million) for signing players. But this does not mean that the Phillies are dismissing Latin America as a source of talent. Every year the Phillies tend to sign 2-4 mid-level prospects. The price of these prospects used to be $100K-$150K. Now the price is more in the $200K-$300K range. Recent mid-level signings include Gabriel Arias and Carlos Valenzuela from the above list and also include newer signees suck as Lino Martinez and Franklyn Vargas, some of whom skip directly to GCL for their Phillies debut.
The Phillies strategy has been a low budget strategy where a quantity of prospects with a tool or two that might develop is preferred over the one million dollar 5-tool prospect. While the Phillies low budget is understandable given the high failure rate of million dollar 16-year-old signings, it can also be a little frustrating when the team appears to fall behind many of its competitors in Latin American spending. From all appearances the Phillies DO invest in high quality complexes and development programs in the Dominican and Venezuela – a necessary attribute if your strategy is to sign a huge volume of young prospects and hope a few develop each year as they mature.
Getting back to the DSL, this year’s team does not appear to have a huge number of prospects from the surface view. The team’s record is 15-19 and they are in 6th place in the BC South division of the DSL. Both the hitters (18.9 vs 18.5 years old for the league) and the pitchers (19.4 vs 19.0 for the league) are slightly older than the DSL average. And very few of the younger players are putting up decent numbers in the first part of the season. The one arguing point in this team’s favor is that they play in a relatively tough division these days. The Rangers and Yankees are leading their division and remaining teams such as the Cubs, Giants, Marlins, and Mets are typically among the leading spenders in the Dominican. Add that some teams also send their Venezuelan prospects to the DSL and you have a situation where playing .500 ball might be a great result for the Phillies.
The top pitching prospect on the roster is 16-year-old LHP Franklyn Vargas (17 in August) who was this year’s highest profile signing for $330K. I recall Vargas pitching once in the first week of the DSL season (relatively poorly) and he has not been seen since. He does not show up in the team stats, however, so that one appearance might have been a clerical error or the game may have been rained out. It would be understandable for Vargas not to pitch much this year as he is so young and may simply be finishing school before he plays baseball full-time.
Getting back to the roster of players who are playing regularly, the pitcher who most intrigues me is 18-year-old LHP Francibel Alejo (6’3″, 170) who together with Vargas might give the Phillies a couple of young, projectible left handed pitchers. Alejo has had modest success with a 1-4 record and a 4.58 ERA (35.1 IP, 34 H, 13 BB, 30 K). He is the youngest regular starter on the team and is holding his own. The other young pitcher having some success is smallish RHP Ulises Joaquin (5’11″, 165) who is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA (24 IP, 16 H, 5 BB, 21 K). Joaquin is a year older than Alejo at age 19 and has been used more sparingly with only a couple of starts so far. All of the other younger pitchers have struggled so far (Gerard Vazquez, Pedro Emelenciano, Gregorio Santos, Henry Dottin, Rivan Angulo). Hence it is difficult to know if any are considered prospects.
The top starter on the team is 20-year-old Yari Sosa who is 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA. Sosa is in his 3rd year with the team but this is the first time he has had a chance to start and he has put up strong numbers across the board (44.1 IP, 26 H, 11 BB, 30K). The other older pitcher that is holding down the rotation is 5’11″ LHP Adrian Sierra who is 0-5 with a 5.35 ERA though has relatively strong peripherals (35.1 IP, 47 H, 12 BB, 33 K) to suggest he has been a little unlucky in the early going. Enrinzon Bautista has been dominant in limited action (1-0, 1.76 ERA, 15.1 IP, 11 H, 5 BB, 20 K) but at age 21 is simply way too old to be considered a great prospect. Finally, Ramon Oviedo started the season with 3 DSL starts (1-1, 3.00 ERA) and earned a quick promotion to GCL.
Oh the hitting side the most notable performances from younger players have come from LF Pedro Miranda and speedy CF/IF Robinson Torres. Miranda is an 18-year-old OF from Panama hitting .288 but adding 11 BB for a .413 OBP. Torres is 19 years old and has started in CF most of the season. He is hitting .258 with a .706 OPS but leads the team in most counting stat categories (19 runs, 17 RBI, 15 SB).
A trio of catcher/1B types are also holding their own offensively and are not too old for the league. Rommel Cepeda has started 30 games behind the plate and is by far the top catcher. He is hitting .250 with 2 HR and 13 RBI. Edwin Esquea (.271, 1 HR) and Rafael De La Cruz (.227, 2 HR, .802 OPS) have also seen time at catcher and at first base.
A trio of younger middle infielders have struggled some in the early going, but are worth watching for their age and playing positions. Jairo Cardozo is the Phillies second Colombian SS (after Jair Morelos in the VSL) and has started much of the season at age 17. He is only hitting .200 so far, but remember that this league could be much tougher competition than the VSL. 18-year-old Angelo Mora has also seen lots of playing time at SS, though he too has struggled (.239 average). Finally, 18-year-old Fernando Rios is another player recently added to the roster from Panama. None of these players have played especially well in the early going, but the fact that they are getting lots of playing time means the Phillies do like them as prospects.
The big disappointment for the team is likely 3B Yeisson Morales who looked ready for a promotion to GCL but got demoted once again to DSL and is hitting only .155 while only DH-ing. If he is healthy (a big if), his prospect days may be over. A couple of other players worth mentioning are 19-year-old 2B Riwash Ramirez who is hitting .283 with a .699 OPS and new signee Diego Gonzalez who is an older (age 20) CF but is hitting .341 in the early going. Finally, OF Delvi Francisco has been hurt much of the year but is still only 18 years old and has plenty of time to build on his decent performance last year (.642 OPS at age 17)
In general it is hard to isolate the best prospects on this team as most of the younger players are struggling and many of the better performers are older. While this team may not be quite as good as recent Phillies DSL team, there are still multiple players to watch and I would be surprised if the Phillies did not promote 4-6 players from this group to GCL next year. We will check back in to both the VSL and DSL teams later in the season as the two leagues finish up later in July and August.