The Phillies have made a commitment to international signings recently but some wonder if it is too little too late. With talents like Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu of Cuba already discovered, the Phillies may have missed an opportunity to sign talented players at below-market values. Last year, the Phillies signed the fourth-ranked prospect, third baseman Luis Encarnacion, and Cuban defector Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.
This year, the Phillies inked SS Arquimedes Gamoba, the fifteenth-ranked prospect, as well as shorstop Daniel Brito, and lefty Jhon Nunez. If any one of the above players reaches the Majors with the Phillies, it will be a change from the direction the team has taken with home-grown international players over the years. While the team has produced infielders Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis, the results haven’t exactly been sterling.
The Phillies have been able to find hidden gems but unfortunately for them, these same foreign hidden gems were either left unprotected and selected in Rule 5 drafts, as was the case for 1987 AL MVP George Bell of the Dominican Republic, 1984 AL MVP Willie Hernandez of Puerto Rico, and Manny Trillo of Venezuela, or traded too quickly, like Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins of Canada.
To demonstrate the Phillies inability to sign, develop, and keep top international talent, here is a countdown of the top five Phillies that signed with and played for the club on their first contract ranked by their performance. This means players like Hernandez and Trillo do not count even though they returned later, nor do players like Tony Gonzalez or Tony Taylor who were international players but were discovered by different clubs. Warning: some of the names on this list may shock you.
5. Robinson Tejeda – signed November 24, 1998
Tejada was with the Phillies for one season but he put together a strong season as a swing-man, going 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA in 26 games, 13 starts at age 23. Tejada would be traded on April 1, 2006 for outfielder David Dellucci.
4. Pancho Herrera – signed October 15, 1954
Herrera was technically signed away from the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League in 1954 but was extensively scouted as a player in Cuba. Herrera’s stop in Philadelphia was brief but sweet, hitting .271/.349/.430 with 31 homers in 300 games with a Rookie of the Year runner-up finish to his credit.
3. Antonio Bastardo – signed February 17, 2005
Bastardo was signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2005. The lefty specialist has fooled hitters with a fastball/slider combination and is the Phillies all-time leader in K/9 IP among pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched for the club.
2. Juan Samuel – signed April 29, 1980
Samuel was signed out of the Dominican Republic at age 20 and saw his first taste of Major League action in 1983. Samuel was the NL Rookie of the Year runner up in 1984 and was an All-Star second baseman for the Phillies in 1984 and 1987.
1. Carlos Ruiz – signed December 4, 1998
The road to the Major Leagues was long and hard for Chooch. Signed as a 19-year old second baseman in 1998, Ruiz did not crack a Major League roster until 2006. Chooch’s persistence paid off in spades, however, earning a World Series ring in 2008, an All-Star appearance in 2012, and calling a Roy Halladay Perfect Game and No Hitter.
And there you have it: one player that played one full season, another that lasted just over two, a lefty specialist, and a pair of All-Stars. Hopefully, this year’s crop of international signees, and Maikel Franco, can change the Phillies’ fortunes.