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May 06, 2015

Phillies considered favorite to land top international prospect Jhailyn Ortiz

The Phillies may not be much of a threat to their on-field opposition this season, but their front office seems as dangerous as ever when it comes to snagging the best young international players off the market before any other teams have a chance.

Before getting into that, some background on Major League Baseball's international free agent signing period...

Each summer, the league sets aside a period of time for teams to try to sign the top international prospects, but the rules are complex and convoluted. For example, the amount of money a team can spend during this period in bonuses is determined based on the reverse order of the previous year’s standings. Spend more than your allotted money, and you'll be hit with a luxury tax that will almost certainly impact your free agent plans going forward. Here are some of the penalties from the 2014 international signing period, via mlbtraderumors.com:

• All overages are taxed at 100 percent.
• Exceed bonus pool by 5 to 10 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $500K in the following international signing period.
• Exceed by 10 to 15 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300K in the following international signing period.
• Exceed by more than 15 percent: Team is not allowed to sign a player for more than $300K in the following two international signing periods.

Here's a look at which teams will have the most money to spend this season: 

  1. Diamondbacks -- $5,393,900
  2. Rockies -- $4,966,300
  3. Rangers -- $4,586,600
  4. Astros -- $4,248,800
  5. Twins -- $3,948,500
  6. Red Sox -- $3,681,000
  7. White Sox -- $3,443,000
  8. Cubs -- $3,230,700
  9. Phillies -- $3,041,700
  10. Reds -- $2,873,000

Even still, those bonus pool designations can come with even more stipulations. This, from Baseball America:

The bonus pools are determined based on reverse order of winning percentage from the 2014 major league season, which means the Diamondbacks have the largest bonus pool, while the Angels have the smallest. However, the Diamondbacks will be unable to sign any pool-eligible player for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods as a penalty for going more than 15 percent over their current 2014-15 pool, mainly to sign Cuban righthander Yoan Lopez. The Angels, Rays, Red Sox and Yankees will also be unable to sign any pool-eligible players for more than $300,000 during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 signing periods. They do still keep their entire bonus pool, however, and are free to trade the individual slot values that comprise their pool.

Annoying rules aside, there's a reason this period is so important. When you look at the Phillies top 10 prospects, according to Baseball America, it's not hard to see that the team's international scouting department has done a phenomenal job recently* of landing some of the top-ranked latin players in the world. 

*It hasn't always been that way, as Ian Riccaboni of PhilliesNation.com pointed out last summer.

Of the Phillies top prospects, four -- Maikel Franco, Carlos Tocci, Yoel Mecias, and Franklyn Kilome -- were signed as international free agents. That doesn't include others that are further down the list like catcher Deivi Grullon, and others that have already come through the system, such as Carlos Ruiz, Antonio Bastardo, Freddy Galvis, and Caesar Hernandez to name a few.

Teams can't sign international players until July 2, but there's a reason you should at least pay attention to the foreign prospects this year. The Phillies, who have the ninth-most money to spend, are already considered the favorite to land top prospect Jhailyn Ortiz, a 16-year-old Dominican outfielder.

The 6-foot-2, 260-pound outfielder -- yes, he's only 16 -- is considered to have the most power in his class, and judging by his measurements, its not hard to see why. Here's what MLB.com had to say about Ortiz:

Two words come to mind when Ortiz's name is mentioned: raw power.
Ortiz has the most raw power in the entire class, the type of power scouts have not seen from a player his age in years. The teenager puts on a show during batting practice and more importantly, he has shown the ability to hit for power in games. His home runs are legendary, and his line drives into the gaps are just as impressive.
[...] One thing is certain, the type of power Ortiz has does not come around very often and the team that signs him is getting a player that can not only hit home runs, but can hit them into the upper deck.

The also wrote that some scouts expressed concern over his size and lack of speed could eventually force a move from the outfield to a less physically-demanding position, like first base. Others however, believe that once he gets into a major league club's system, his conditioning and fielding will only improve.

Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com broke down the top 30 international prospects, and he had high praise for Ortiz, including a comparison to a current Phillie, one which may give some fans pause:

Just watching teenage outfielder Jhailyn Ortiz step into the batter's box is enough to make the most seasoned scouts look up from their clipboards and put down their pens.
The sounds -- the whip of Ortiz's bat speeding through the hitting zone and thunderous cracks of the barrel colliding with the ball -- are inescapable. The home runs, especially during batting practice, and even in games, are spectacular.
[...]
The consensus among scouts is that the raw power Ortiz shows as a 16-year-old is rarely seen on the international market, and the rest of his game is not far behind. Think Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. Now, imagine them as teenagers and hitting from the right side of the plate.

And Ortiz isn't the only big-name player on the list. MLB.com has Vlad Guerrero Jr. ranked second. And yes, that's the son of former MLB outfielder and future hall of famer Vlad Guerrero. However, Ortiz is the only international player the Phillies are considered the favorite to sign.

Some highlights of Ortiz: