New International Players In Spring Training – 2009

Each year the Phillies bring a host of new International players to spring training, mostly from their complex league teams in the Dominican Republic and Venezuela.  This article will summarize some notes on all the new players that have not yet made their debuts in U.S.-based minor leagues.  Some of these players may get sent back to the DSL or VSL leagues to start the season, though most of them usually end up on a GCL roster.  The list of players is based on the minor league work groups posted here on PhuturePhillies.  It is possible there are a few others in camp that were not on that initial list of workgroups.

This writeup is based on statistics from various leagues found over the Internet and on any news stories found about the players.  Other than the handful of high profile signings, it is not based on actual scouting reports.  Any first hand reports from Clearwater on these players would be appreciated.

The initial workgroup list had a total of 18 new players on the training camp roster.  The list is a little heavier on position players than in the past, with 13 hitters and only 5 pitchers.  4 players on the list are known to have signed for a bonus of at least $100,000 (Nerio Rios, Jonathan Villar, Bernardo Solarte, Alvaro Bacil).  One player notably absent from this list is Dominican SS Carlos Valenzuela, who seems to have fallen behind fellow signee Jonathan Villar.  Here are brief summaries of the 18 new players in camp (age reflects their age on April 1, 2009):

C – Francisco Diaz (age 19/VSL) – Diaz is a smallish catcher (5’10”, 158) who hit .289 last year in the VSL.  He had decent strike zone judgement (22 BB, 22 K) but little power.  He appears to be decent defensively, throwing out more than 50% (28 of 51) attempted basestealers.

C/1B – Jorge Guerra (age 21/VSL) – Guerra is a little better offensive player than Diaz, though at age 21 is most likely a lesser prospect.  Guerra hit .283 with 2 HR and 41 RBI last year (.746 OPS) after hitting 3 HR and recording an .808 OPS in 2007.  He played a little more 1B than C and was not as successful at throwing out baserunners as Diaz.

SS – Edgar Duran (age 18/VSL) – Duran was a good enough defensive SS last year to push prospect Cesar Hernandez to 2B.  He was overmatched offensively in the VSL, however, hitting only .228 with no power or patience.  He improved dramatically in winter ball this offseason, however, hitting .350 and putting up an .827 OPS in 140 AB.  Duran still will need to fight for playing time in the middle infield as 3 other new players (Hernandez, Villar, Nerio Rios) are more highly touted.

2B – Cesar Hernandez (age 18, turns 19 in May/VSL) – Hernandez has put up 2 solid offensive seasons in the VSL.  In 2007 he hit .276 with 2 HR and 8 3B.  In 2008 he improved to .315 with other well-rounded stats (7 2B, 6 3B, 1 HR, 33 BB, 19 SB, .838 OPS).  He followed that up by hitting .351 this winter in the Liga Paralela with an .880 OPS.  Hernandez has decent power and speed and plays a premium position.  He could be this year’s Harold Garcia on the GCL-squad as an offensive minded 2B.

3B – Luis Paulino (age 20/DSL) – Paulino hit .281 last year in the DSL, though limited power (7 2B, 4 3B) held him to an overall OPS of .707.  He seems to be a lesser prospect than the logjam of players in the middle infield, though at 6’2″ and 185, he has decent size for a 3B prospect.

SS – Nerio Rios (age 17/VSL) – Rios was one of two high profile Venezuelan signees this past offseason.  It is believed he signed for a bonus of $100,000.  Rios made a brief debut in the Liga Paralela, going 5-21 with 3 BB.  Here is what Baseball America had to say about Rios: “Rios is a good defensive shortstop, a plus runner with an arm that is at least average and very good hands. Rios isn’t quite the defensive wizard as Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis (who signed out of Venezuela in 2006); Rios is faster but Galvis has outstanding first-step quickness and instincts off the bat. Rios still projects to be a good defender but should also be more physical than Galvis and has a chance to be better offensively. Rios has a straight-up stance and is a line-drive hitter who should develop gap power as he matures.”

3B/1B – Jakub Sladek (age 18/Czech Republic) – Sladek makes his 2nd appearance in training camp after playing last year in Germany.  Not much is known of Sladek expcept that he is big (6’6″) and hurt his arm a few years ago and no longer pitches.  Supposedly a very good athlete.

SS – Jonathan Villar (age 18/DSL) – Villar outplayed higher priced signee Carlos Valenzuela last year in the DSL.  He hit .271 with 30 BB and modest power for a .708 OPS in his debut at age 17.  He also showed good speed with 27 SB.  BA noted him in their signing article, saying “He’s a plus-plus runner with an average arm and a switch-hitter with offensive potential, though he needs to make strides defensively.”

CF – Miguel Alvarez (age 19/DSL) – Alvarez is a speedy CF who hit a light .288 (2 HR, .694 OPS) in his second DSL season.  He stole 32 bases, leading the team in that category.  His playing time at GCL could hinge on where the draft class of 2008 gets placed (Gose, Collier, Saunderson, Rio-Nunez, etc.).

LF – Luis Martinez (age 19/VSL) – Martinez is a big kid (6’5″) who has played 3 seasons with only modest success in the VSL.  Last year he hit .269 with 1 HR and 24 RBI (.678 OPS).  He has a little speed (8 SB), but is strictly a corner OF or 1B.

OF – Angus Roeger (age 19/Australia) – The one new Australian player in camp is Angus Roeger.  Roeger has played in the MLB academy league the last couple of years and appears to be an OF with decent speed.  Last year he hit .288 with 0 HR and 5 SB in academy play.  He also went 1-12 in the Claxton Shield tournament.

OF – Bernardo Solarte (age 17/VSL) – Solarte appears to be the highest priced signing from the Phillies internationally in 2008 ($130,000).  He is not the biggest player (5’11”, 175) but appears to have decent power and speed (like Leandro Castro from last year).  He made a brief debut this winter, going 3-14 with 1 HR. Baseball America also commented on him this winter: “Solarte doesn’t have imposing physical size, but he has a tapered body and very good power for a player his size. His swings the bat with authority from the right side and drives the ball with good pop for a center fielder. Solarte moved from shortstop to center field, where his so-so hands are less of an issue and his 70 speed on the 20-80 scouting scale will play better. There is still a learning curve for Solarte in center, but reports from instructional league have been positive. His arm is average.”

CF – Winder Torres (age 18/VSL) – Torres made a big splash 2 years ago in the VSL, hitting .292 with 2 HR and a .790 OPS at age 16.  He then got hurt midway into the season and scuffled in limited playing time last year (.238, .641 OPS).  He did get 147 AB in the Liga Paralela this winter, though only hit .245.  Torres getting promoted probably reaffirms his prospect status somewhat, but he needs to start playing like he did 2 years ago to merit substantial playing time this year.

RHP – Alvaro Bacil (age 18/DSL) – One of the top pitching prospects making his debut is Alvaro Bacil.  He signed last year in time to make a strong debut in the DSL: (2-0, 0.90 ERA, 20 IP, 9 H, 5 BB, 21 K).  At a listed 6’3″ and 170 pounds, he also is a projectible arm to look forward to.  The BA summary on him noted that he “is a 6-foot righthander (we are unsure how tall he really is) with a fastball with a 90-93 mph fastball and an 81-83 mph slider. His arm action and delivery are clean, but his size and two-pitch mix may lead him to the bullpen eventually.”

RHP – Pedro Carpio (age 20/DSL) – Carpio has been one of the better pitchers on the DSL team the past 3 years.  Last year he went 7-4 with a 2.27 ERA, logging 91 IP with good peripheral stats (57 H, 27 BB, 82 K).  The big strike on him of course his age as he turns 21 in June.  He most likely would start at GCL, though there is a possibility he could get a chance at Williamsport like Freddy Ballestas did last year.

RHP – Berman Ezpinoza (age 21/VSL) – Espinoza was the closer on last year’s VSL squad, going 1-4 with 10 saves.  His other stats were relatively middling, however, as he had an ERA of 3.38 (after 1.57 in 2007) in 34.2 IP (39 H, 6 BB, 39 K).  Any reliever in the complex leagues is not likely a top prospect.  Espinoza has good size at 6’3″ and 178.  He is also one of the team’s signees from Nicaragua several years ago.

RHP – Siulman Lebron (age 22/DSL) – Lebron is an older prospect that was one of the steadier starters at DSL last year.  He went 3-3 with a 3.50 ERA last year (61.2 IP, 53 H, 8 BB, 63 K).  Lebron’s peripherals were very good (especially the extreme control).  He will have to move quickly, however, at his age to be considered a prospect.

RHP – Juan Sosa (age 19/DSL) – Sosa is another projectible arm from the DSL team that has put up 2 solid seasons to earn the GCL promotion.  He went 6-2 with a 2.49 ERA in 2007 at age 17 and improved to 4-1 and 1.37 in 2008.  His peripherals also were outstanding (59 IP, 48 H, 25 BB, 60 K), raising his K rate substantially from 2007.  Along with Bacil, Sosa is a name to watch in 2009.

While it is hard to predict which players are the best prospects on this list without seeing them against better competition, there are a handful of players to watch closely.  At SS both Jonathan Villar and Nerio Rios are publicized signings.  In addition, 2B Cesar Hernandez has put up 2 impressive offensive seasons in the VSL.  OF Bernardo Solarte is the highest priced signee at $130K and it will be interesting to see how he progresses at age 17.

On the mound the two big names to watch are Bacil and Sosa, though Pedro Carpio also has a strong DSL track record at a slightly older age.  We will check back in with VSL and DSL updates once those leagues start in May and June.

19 thoughts on “New International Players In Spring Training – 2009

  1. Finally we figured out who the heck we signed last year. I know everyone was going crazy at the beginning of the international free agency for 1st-year players. While big names like Inoa and Portillo were big publicized signings, we had to figure the Phils jumped in somewhere.

  2. Great work here, Andy. Aside from the “bonus babies” (Solarte, Rios, Bacil), I think you’ve highlighted the most intriguing guys going forward: Hernandez, Diaz and Sosa for their performances, and Sladek for his physical tools. All will bear watching in the GCL this year.

    On a related note, I recall LaMar or someone in the front office hinting at the possibility of a large signing in Latin America this year — something along the lines of, “We don’t have a first round pick, but we’re looking to fill that void with an international signing.” After a low-key year on that front, it’d be nice to see a big splash from the Phils this time around.

  3. PhillyFriar- I am pretty sure I heard this is a legendary year for players able to sign. Maybe I’m dead wrong on that though.

  4. I would hope the Phillies increase their International budget. Last year they alluded to something like a $1.4M total budget, but their 4 announced signings total less than $500K. They probably spent less than $1M on players, though I will give them a pass given that they spent heavier on the draft.

    Without a number 1 pick in the draft this year and without compensation picks they will be hard pressed to have a draft signing budget of more than $2-$3 million total. This would be less than half of last year. If they do not increase their International budget they will be doing the team’s development a disservice.

    I have heard the rumblings of increasing the budget as well, though I will have my doubts till they actually announce a high profile signing.

  5. Just curious – Which is the better expenditure: Spending big on international players, or busting slot on draft choices?

    – Jeff

  6. I’d vote for both, but if I had to pick, I’d say the draft. The whole age-gate thing is still a big issue. Plus, its much easier to evaluate kids that you can see pitch for 2-3 years before having to make a decision on them, and watch them pitch against quality hitters. In many cases, these kids who sign out of Latin America haven’t faced anything close to the competition that exists in elite high school hot beds and top college conferences.

  7. @mike: yes, it’s considered a lower level than rookie ball. guys that make it out of latin america generally do extended spring training and then get assigned to the gcl their first year stateside.

  8. ” PhillyFriar Says:
    March 20, 2009 at 3:59 pm
    On a related note, I recall LaMar or someone in the front office hinting at the possibility of a large signing in Latin America this year — something along the lines of, “We don’t have a first round pick, but we’re looking to fill that void with an international signing.””

    Noworyta said this in an interview on the blueclaws page a few weeks ago. An off the cuff comment, but good that at least they are thinking about it.

  9. “Jeff O Says:
    March 20, 2009 at 7:08 pm
    Just curious – Which is the better expenditure: Spending big on international players, or busting slot on draft choices?”

    The top guys in latin america tend to be overpaid now- I don’t think Adys Portillo would get 2 million on the draft- though some wait goes into the considertion of age- he would have been a year younger than a highschool draft pick.

    Then you get the cast of prospects that get 500-700,000 who look like second to third round picks- and considering, for example, the phils paid about 590,000 for Knapp near the end of the second round, those prices are a little inflated as well. But, it all comes down to finding guys you like, and paying them what it takes.

    “Ryanhoward06 Says:
    March 20, 2009 at 4:18 pm
    PhillyFriar- I am pretty sure I heard this is a legendary year for players able to sign. Maybe I’m dead wrong on that though.”

    So far the press has been limited on the upcoming crop- and nothing special has been made of it yet.

  10. A lot of money was spent- but aside from a few guys that were overpaid at the top (who were still talented though), I’m not sure it was overly talented (I liked the 2 years before last). For some reason some clubs had just allocated more money to get into the market- where as Boston and the Mets seemed lukewarm on their opinions of the bunch (they seem to be a good bellweather for the level of international talent in a given year).

  11. From what I have seen in boxscores, Siuliman LeBron started out as a ShortStop for a couple of years and switched to pitching. I have seen other ages listed for Bernardo Solarte.

  12. Boston may have seemed lukewarm on the international market, but they did step up for that Japanese kid, Tazawa, I had hoped the Phillies would sign.

  13. ” aksmith Says:
    March 21, 2009 at 4:52 pm
    Boston may have seemed lukewarm on the international market, but they did step up for that Japanese kid, Tazawa, I had hoped the Phillies would sign.”

    Yup- good point, I was more thinking about the Latin prospects. I think Tazawa was overhyped- someone seemed to have a problem converting kph to mph on the radar gun. He doesn’t even seem to project as a starter for the Red Sox rotation- so why give him 3 million? Ah well, Boston runs a smart system- i’m sure even if they realize he’s not what they had hoped, they’ll be able to flip him in a deal for someone they want.

  14. I just read good article in ESPN the magazine (with candace parker on cover) about this year’s Dominican players. It was more about the system over there and the “trainers” and agents but they highlighted several players that are expected to sign for millions. A couple of them sounded real promising and I would love the phils to take a shot. There was a shortstop specifically that they mentioned who hits with some big time power.

  15. I think the top end of bonuses for International players are definitely overpriced. The big factor, as others have said, is the uncertainty. In the draft we have seen players, even HS players, against competition we understand. While I am sure the athletic tools can be evaluated the same for International players, it is harder to evaluate their baseball instincts. Plus, the early age where they are signed allows lots of variation in outcome. 16-year-olds can get dramatically better – or not improve that much. Add the cultural barrier and other uncertainties (age, visas) and busting slot in the draft is a better bat.

    On the other hand, there is a supply and demand factor going on. There tend to be bidding wars for the top 10-20 International players each year. Beyond that, there are lots of mid-level talents that might project into something better. We paid 4 players $100K-$130K last year. If any one of them develops into a major leaguer it would be a solid bet. While I would not oppose the team spending $1M-$2M on a top player, I think I would prefer that money (and it needs to be extra money above last year) spent on 4-6 good mid-level prospects.

    Without a number 1 pick there is no reason the team should not have a $2-$3 million total international signing budget this year. This assumes that they would spend $1M hopefully in any year.

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