While early July is when most of the country gets its Independence Day on (the national holiday, not the awesome movie), the prospect junkies actually turn their attention overseas, with July 2 representing the first day that clubs can sign 16-year olds who will turn 17 by the end of the following season. If the MLB Rule 4 Draft is often tough to follow because of unfamiliarity with the names involved, the Latin American signing frenzy is even more of a mystery, with little in the way of scouting reports on all but the top prospects.
It's because of this uncertainty that it's difficult to pass any kind of judgment on what teams do during this period, but from a general standpoint, I'm happy with the way the Phillies handle their business here. While the Rangers and others clubs have made some huge splashes in the last few days, the Phillies haven't yet gotten involved in the market. They've tended, over the last few years, to sign guys months later, and to spread their budget on mid-level and low level guys who command no more than a few hundred thousand dollars a pop. It's a diversification of risk tact, and while it'd be nice to add the Miguel Cabreras and Jesus Monteros to your system, there's a ton of inherent risk with giving millions of dollars to 16-year olds who aren't anywhere near fully developed.
Baseball America had linked the organization to a trio of Venezuelan names: outfielder Carlos Tocci, left-hander Carlos Rodriguez, and right-hander Antonio Senzatela. Tocci isn't eligible to sign until he turns 16 next month, and it doesn't look like the others have signed elsewhere at this point, so we'll try to keep an eye on these names.
In the meantime, check below the jump for a look at some signings made by the club over the past few years.
Domingo Santana, OF-R, Lakewood: Santana is a perfect example of a Phillies Latin American signing. He wasn't signed until the March before his Age 16 season, when the Phillies gave him a $300,000 bonus, after which he proceeded to hit .288/.388/.508 in 37 games for the GCL Phillies. We've mentioned in recent weeks that Santana's approach at the plate this year has left a bit to be desired, and while nothing has really changed on that front, the raw power still makes Santana an intriguing prospect.
Sebastian Valle, C-R, Clearwater: Valle's approach at the plate this year has also left a bit to be desired, though he did double his season walk count (to 4) this past week with a pair of bases on balls. Regardless, Valle has already proven to be a quality signing, especially for the paltry sum of $30,000, as despite the approach issues, he projects as a legit catcher with good raw power. To say that his upside is Miguel Olivo might not be cause for any fantastic excitement, but realize how scarce hitting is at the position, and that Olivo put up 3.3 WAR last year, and the potential value is certainly apparent.
Leandro Castro, OF-L, Clearwater: He's been on the disabled list since mid-June, but through 56 games in 2011, Castro is back to flashing the power and speed combo that makes him intriguing. He's clubbed 10 homers in 243 plate appearances -- which is all the more impressive considering the parks in the Florida State League tend to suppress home runs -- en route to a .204 ISO, and has swiped 10 bases in 12 attempts (and posted an impressive 8.0 speed score). He's also got the whole "You don't walk off the island" thing holding him back (just 5 walks thus far), but any way you slice it, Castro's 2011 has been an improvement over his 2010.
Freddy Galvis, SS-S, Reading: Galvis has scuffled a bit with the bat since we checked on him, though he did go 3-for-4 with a triple in last night's Reading explosion, and the story remains the same for the 2006 free agent signing out of Venezuela. Galvis has finally put together an average-ish season with the bat as a 21-year old, and with his defensive chops, that's all he really needs to do to provide some value. The recipient of a $900,000 bonus, Galvis was among the last "big money" signings the Phillies have made in Latin America in recent years.
Cesar Hernandez, 2B-S, Clearwater: Hernandez's jump from Williamsport to Clearwater may have been a bit aggressive, as he struggled to a .347 OPS in April and a .593 OPS in May. He recovered to hit .315/.347/.446 in June, and has started July off with a bit of success as well (going 4-for-14 with 2 BBs), but his power is still almost non-existent (just a .066 ISO), and he's lost the elite control of the strike zone that he had in 2010 (with a 4.9% BB and 17.4% K this time around). The good news is that Hernandez just turned 21 in late May, so time is still on his side if some consolidation time in the FSL turns out to be necessary.
Lino Martinez, LHP, Williamsport: Martinez was signed as part of the July 2 frenzy two years ago, though as is the organization's MO at this point, he was a mid-level guy who got a $325,000 bonus. His numbers in the New York-Penn League are in good-not-great territory at this early stage -- 6.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9, 0.83 HR/9, 50% GB, 3.85 FIP -- but the most important number is Martinez's age, which is still 18 until the end of September. The organization can afford to bring the Venezuelan southpaw along slowly, and I'm intrigued by his potential.
Edgar Duran, SS-S, Lakewood: Until the 2011 Rule 4 Draft, the Phillies had shied away from drafting shortstops for a rather prolonged stretch, preferring to use their Latin American academies to produce shortstop prospects. Duran is one of the Latin shortstops signed (seemingly en masse) by the club, and he fits with the seeming organizational mantra of "glove first, bat is a bonus". After three years of not cracking a .600 OPS in stops in the Venezuelan Summer League, the GCL and the NYPL, Duran hit .284/.322/.369 across April and May in Lakewood this year, but he's since slumped back to a .252/.267/.305 cumulative season line, so organizational gloveman may be his projection at this point.
Carlos Valenzuela, IF-R, GCL Phillies: A $200,000 signing out of the Dominican Republic back in 2007, Valenzuela is essentially what happens when a prospect's bat never develops. He spent three years in the Dominican Summer League, with his best performance a .269/.320/.318 showing in his Age 19 season last year, and the club finally brought him to the States for 2011. He's hitting an extremely small sample size .368/.385/.579 in 9 games as a backup infielder with the GCL Phillies (playing both second base and third base), but it will take a lot more than 39 plate appearances before we can push aside three season's worth of prior data.
Alejandro Villalobos, 2B-R, GCL Phillies: We have all of 57 plate appearances to analyze the Venezuelan pivotman on, but the organization must have seen something in Villalobos to bring him stateside despite playing in just 5 games in the Venzuelan Summer League in 2010. In 11 games thus far, he's hitting .359/.390/.487 with three extra base hits, a couple of stolen bases and a 1:2 K:BB. There are obviously no conclusions to be drawn here, but it's a name worth looking for in the box scores, at least.
Carlos Rivero, 3B-R, Reading: Phuture Phillies wrote a great piece on Rivero, and the Latin American development process in general, about a month back, which is well worth a read if you have a few minutes (and haven't seen it yet). The main point is that these guys are signed at such a young age (and, consequently, need to be placed on the 40-man so early) that it's possible for guys to fall through the cracks simply because they're not done developing by Age 23. Rivero hasn't set the world on fire with Reading in 2011, but his .256/.322/.418 season line represents a substantial improvement on his 2009 and 2010 performances at the level (with Akron, Cleveland's Double-A affiliate).