The Phillies’ VSL season is now 30 games old, enough to get a feel for who might be a prospect on this rookie level team. Overall the Phillies are 12-18 and are in 5th place out of 6 teams in the VSL. While the team’s record is mediocre, there have been some bright spots for prospects particularly on the offensive side. The team’s offense averages only 18.0 years old in age and is considerably younger than the rest of the league. More importantly, they are getting significant contributions from several of the younger players.
The team’s pitching is not as good, unfortunately. The pitching staff is older than the league average (19.3 years) and the best performances are generally coming from the older pitchers age 20 and 21 years old. These pitchers are not likely to be great prospects, though I would also note that the Phillies have started moving some older foreign prospects directly to Williamsport rather than GCL. Note opening day starter Leonel Bastides along with Gabirel Arias, Pedro Lora, Hector Neris, and Witer Jimenez. This is an atypical 5 players that have essentially skipped GCL for the Phillies. This is most likely an acknowledgement of how crowded the GCL roster can get and a recognition of the ability to get a pitcher regular starts in the VSL or DSL while they learn English and other skills necessary to ease the transition to the United States.
Getting back to the VSL team, the one player that has impressed the most in the early going has been 17-year-old CF Herlis Rodriguez. A left-handed hitter (6’0″, 157) his debut in the VSL has probably been the most impressive foreign debut for a position player since Sebastian Valle’s debut in the DSL in 2006 (.802 OPS for a 16/17-year-old catcher). Rodriguez made a late debut, but ever since he signed he has been playing CF and batting leadoff. The Phillies would not have given him such a prominent lineup position at such a young age if they did not feel highly about him. Rodriguez has hit .395 so far with 1 2B, 3 3B, 2 HR and only 4Ks. His OPS is a small sample size 1.176 so far. The only thing he has not done well is steal bases (0-4), but he most likely has enough speed to play CF so hopefully time will solve that problem.
Other young players have also impressed. Number two on my list is Colombian SS Jair Morelos. A small shortstop at 5’11”, 150, Morelos handles the bat well and is hitting .330 with a little patience (10 BB vs 4 K). He also leads the team with 6 SB and has a healthy .799 OPS for a shortstop. Moving around the infield, 17 year old Francisco Herrera has also impressed at 3B. His average is down to .257 but he has shown some power with 6 XBH along with a little patience (10 BB) to post a .710 OPS. Finally, two young C/1B are worth watching. Wilson Garcia (age 17) is hitting .306 with 1 HR and a .751 OPS while Frank Rivas (age 18) is hitting .295 with a .674 OPS).
Most of the rest of the offense consists of young players struggling (like 16-year-old OF Alejandro Garcia) or older players that may no longer be prospects. Among the older players 19-year-old Willians Astudillo has played all over the infield and is hitting .323. Albertin Chavez has started at 2B for the most part and is hitting .319 with an .807 OPS. Astudillo and Chavez unfortunately may find themselves behind the new class of middle infielders from the latest draft.
The pitching staff appears to have fewer prospects than the offense, though we also note that sometimes it takes a little longer for a pitching prospect to mature and put it all together. This is typified by a prospect like Leonel Bastidas who was the opening day Williamsport starter. He signed late and then had three years in the VSL at age 19-21. Last year he had a 3.82 ERA and gave up more hits than innings (though with good command). Now he is suddenly on the edge of the prospect radar by pitching 6 good innings against college players at Williamsport. He may never be a top prospect but is an example of a player that might develop a little later and run into a numbers game getting playing time in the United States.
With that caveat about older players, I still feel that the better prospects are the younger pitchers that get regular playing time, ideally in the starting rotation. The two that fit that definition this year are new signee Keivi Rojas (age 18) and 2nd year pitcher Ronald Mendez (also 18). Rojas is only 0-1 with a 4.32 ERA (25 IP, 32 H, 9 BB, 15 K) but is holding his own at a young age. Mendez’ season has been a little rougher (0-3, 6.08 ERA, 23.2 IP, 27 H, 14 BB, 11 K, more BB than Ks for 2 years) but he possesses the type of projectible pitching frame that the Phillies value (6’5″, 211). Rojas and Mendez have not pitched especially well, but the Phillies are keeping them in the rotation for a reason.
Several other younger pitchers are getting regular playing time, though mostly in relief roles. The only young lefthander is 18-year-old Audrys Mora who has pitched well in relief (2-0, 2.18 ERA, 20.2 IP, 15 H, 11 BB, 15 K). Severiano Gonzalez (age 18) has the best command (0-1, 2.75 ERA, 19.2 IP, 21 H, 2 BB, 16 K) while Jorge Guzman (age 19) has posted the best raw stats (1-1, 1.20 ERA, 15 IP, 8 H, 5 BB, 14 K). Finally Jean Calanche has been given a couple of starts though he has struggled like Mendez and Rojas (5.56 ERA).
Among the older pitcher two have been mainstays in the starting rotation. Moises Rivas (0-1, 4.20) and Yohan Silva (1-3, 4.34) are among the team leaders in innings pitched though have not dominated at the level one would expect of older prospects. Jorge Gonzalez (age 21) is a LHP with good surface stats (3-0, 1.29 ERA) though he has not missed many bats (21 IP, 16 K, 3 BB, 7 K). Finally, LHP Ely Izturriaga is still lurking on the VSL team 2 years after a brief GCL promotion. He is 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA and the strongest peripheral stats on the team (24 IP, 17 H, 11 BB, 31 K) in mostly the closer role. As a LHP he will get more chances than most, though he really needs another GCL promotion to be seen as a prospect.
Next up we will take an early season look at the DSL squad.