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A new international signing period begins today

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This is an update of the piece from a year ago: Phillies international signings: their share of major league talent, but no stars

About a quarter of all current production (by WAR) is generated by players who were signed as international free agents (IFAs) — either as teenagers who then rose through farm systems, or established pros ready to step directly onto major league rosters. We’ll review the Phillies’ history in international signings over the last 30 years, and we’ll use total WAR produced to date as a handy, quick measure of major league impact.[1]

2020-21 Signing period delayed due to Covid-19

Typically, the International Signing Period (ISP) extends from July 2nd, to June 15th of the following year (no player can be signed from June 16th through July 1st).

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on the 2020 season, the 2019-20 signing period was extended to October 15, 2020, and the start of the 2020-21 ISP was pushed back from July 2nd 2020, to January 15th, 2021. It will run through December 15, 2021, and while not official yet, it’s expected that the next signing period, for 2021-22, will likewise be pushed back to run from Jan. 15 through Dec. 15, 2022. It’s unclear what the schedule will be beyond that. Maybe MLB expects an international draft of some sort by then.[2]

Phillies likely signings

The Phillies have been linked to two top prospects, both 17 year olds (link-$)...

Dominican outfielder Yemal Flores (#14 on BA’s ranking):

Flores has a strength-based profile, with a physical build for his age that yields two loud tools in his raw power and arm strength, with a power-over-hit profile. Flores spent some time in the infield early in the process, but he has moved to the outfield, with the tools to project in right field.

Venezuelan catcher Ricardo Perez (#27):

Perez comes from the same program where the Phillies signed righthander Francisco Morales, one of the organization’s top prospects. He’s a lefthanded-hitting catcher who has grown taller over the scouting process, showing a promising bat for his position with an uptick in his power over the past year.

They’re also expected to sign Venezuelan shortstops Marcos Soto and Leonardo Rondon, and Dominican shortstop Yamil Rosario.

Looking to feed a pipeline that has slowed to a trickle

The Phillies will be trying to add good prospects to an international pipeline that shows some promise at the moment, but hasn’t produced much to speak of at the major league level for several years.

That piece from a year ago went all the way back to the Phillies’ tentative initial forays into the international market, and we won’t re-cover that ground, but two bits of trivia serve to summarize that earlier history:

1. Over the 21 years 1959-79, the Phillies signed IFAs who went on to produce a combined 182 WAR, as well as 2 MVP awards, 2 Cy Youngs, and 1 Hall of Fame induction.

But of that 182 WAR, 175 was produced with other teams — only 7 with the Phils, and even that only when two of those players were reacquired later in their careers.

2. After landing Juan Samuel in 1980 (as well as a couple other major leaguers), they then proceeded to go 15 straight years, from 1981 through 1995, without signing a single international free agent who would make it to the majors.[3]

The table below outlines the last three decades, starting with ‘89 to get all of the Thomas era. As an example to get oriented, their international signings in 1998 went on to produce 19 WAR in their major league careers, 15 of it from position players. That’s the 4th highest team total in MLB for that IFA class.

Below is a graphical view of their best signings of the last 30 years in terms of WAR produced to date. The more successful ones are broken out, and the rest are included in the light green “Others” columns:

Phillies finally get their share of production

After that 15-year drought, they signed Carlos Silva in 1996, and put Sal Agostinelli in charge of international scouting in 1997. From his start, through 2009, the Phillies found a steady stream of solid major leaguers including Carlos Ruiz (signed 1998), Carlos Carrasco (2003), Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis (both 2006), and Maikel Franco and Hector Neris (both 2009). Overall over those 13 years, they signed players who have gone on to produce 95 WAR to date, which ranks 11th in MLB over that period. That’s not bad, considering that, unlike for many other teams, the Phillies’ total does not include any pros from Cuba or Asia.

Little to show for their signings since 2010

Following a fairly successful run through the late 90s and the 2000s, the Phillies’ signings since 2010 haven’t produced much yet in the major leagues.

With the one exception of Sixto Sanchez (signed 2014), who is at the start of what could be a very good career, their signings from the early 2010s haven’t panned out yet for various reasons. It’s still possible however that some of them could still put together productive careers:

The late 2010s may prove more fruitful, as six of the Phillies’ current top 10 prospects (per Baseball America) are IFAs who were signed over that period. Whether Agostinelli et al start producing again at the major league level in the near future will depend on guys like:

  • Rafael Marchan (Phils #5 prospect per BA, signed 2015)
  • Francisco Morales (#4, signed 2016)
  • Luis Garcia (#6, signed 2017)
  • Yhoswar Garcia (#7, signed in March, one of the final major signings of the 2019-20 ISP),
  • Simon Muzziotti (#8, signed 2016)
  • Johan Rojas (#9, signed 2017)

This list helps to highlight that this month’s signings won’t help at the major league level for many years to come. Marchan was signed in the last year of the Amaro era, and likely won’t do much in MLB for a few more years (if at all). Morales and Muzziotti were signed in Klentak’s very first ISP, and neither is ready yet.

Putting the Phillies’ international output in perspective

We’ve covered what the Phillies IFAs have produced, but how does that compare to the rest of the league?

The next graph shows where the Phillies’ IFAs fall for each year’s class: the green line is the team whose signings from that year have produced the most WAR so far, yellow is the team with the lowest WAR produced from that year’s class, and black is the average for the 30 teams.

Each point on this graph represents the total career WAR produced by players who were signed that year. So for example all of Carlos Ruiz’s 16 career WAR is included in the 1998 numbers. The red line here is the same as the Phillies’ totals in the column graph above: it shows the occasional solid contributor through 2009, and then not much to show yet for the last decade.

All by his lonesome, Carlos Carrasco makes the Phillies’ 2003 class the best in terms of WAR produced by any team that year. The Phils traded Carrasco to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee deal, and so he is not only their most successful recent international signing by WAR, but also the most successful of the prospects the Phillies traded away during their winning run.

Their 2006 class has been 3rd best in MLB so far, thanks to Hernandez and Galvis, and the 2008 signings are 5th, mostly due to Jonathan Villar and Domingo Santana.

Some of the teams with the most successful signing classes along the green line:

1994 — Dodgers: 107 total (Beltre 84, Chan Ho Park 23)
2000 — Mariners: 101 total (Ichiro 58, Choo 35, Lopez 5)
2001 — Yankees: 74 total (Cano 59, Melky Cabrera 15)
2002 — Mariners: 82 total (Felix Hernandez 54, Asdrubal Cabrera 28)
2009 — Red Sox: 42 total (Bogaerts 26, Iglesias 13, Montas 4)
2012 — Dodgers: 38 total (Ryu 19, Puig 18, Urias 5)

If we want to smooth out the spikes in the above, we can look at the signing classes in moving 5-year windows.

The next graph is similar to the others, except at each point we look at all the signing classes combined, from that year through today. So for example, for all IFA signings since 2000, the team whose signings produced the most WAR has had about 250, the average is 76 WAR, and the Phillies’ IFAs over that time are just below that.

Team-by-team stats for the above three graphs are included in the eye charts at the end.

Summary

Over the first 13 or so years after handing international scouting to Sal Agostinelli in 1997, the Phillies found their share of major league production in the international market, ranking in the middle of the pack or better, by signing players who proved to be solid major leaguers, and sometimes better.

When discussing turning prospects into major leaguers, we often say we don’t know how much of the success or failure is due to picking the right players, vs. the coaching and development process. In the Phillies’ case, what if just a small part of their failure to produce good players in the mid 2000s-mid 2010s was due to poor development practices? That would make Agostinelli’s middle-of-the-pack rankings more impressive, especially since, unlike many other teams, it does not include a boost from the front office signing any established foreign players.

However the signings over the last decade haven’t born fruit yet. Sixto Sanchez has already produced by netting J.T. Realmuto, and seems poised to have a productive career of his own, but he’s been more the exception than the rule.

There is some hope in that six of the Phillies’ current top 10 prospects are IFAs, albeit in a farm system that’s generally viewed as ranking near the bottom, but time will tell.

Reference

  • WAR produced by IFAs to date, by year signed
  • WAR produced by IFAs to date, in 5-year rolling windows
  • WAR produced by IFAs to date, cumulative