2014-15 International Reviews: Philadelphia Phillies
Top signing: SS Arquimedes Gamboa, Venezuela, $900,000.
Six-figure signings: SS Daniel Brito (Venezuela), SS Jonathan Araus (Panama), C Lenin Rodriguez (Venezuela), SS Ricardo Baez (Dominican Republic).
Total signings: 39.
Several teams had Venezuelan shortstop Arquimedes Gamboa as one of the top players on their boards for July 2 last year, but the Phillies were able to get him for a very reasonable price of $900,000, getting in on him early and aggressively to beat other teams to the punch. Gamboa, 17, is a premium athlete oozing with quick-twitch actions and plus speed. He bounces around at shortstop, where he's light on his feet with good hands, actions, range and body control. His arm was average when he signed but has improved to plus now that he's started to get stronger.
There was some split in the international scouting community on Gamboa's bat, but several clubs liked his bat and saw him perform well in games. Gamboa was physically weak at this time a year ago, and while he's up to 6 feet, 170 pounds now, he never will be a threat to hit for power. He's a switch-hitter with a loose, contact-oriented swing that's more advanced from the left side. He has good bat-to-ball skills, spraying line drives to all fields and showing some plate patience. It's mostly gap power right now, but Gamboa has a chance to grow into 8-12 home runs per year eventually. In the mold of Braves No. 1 prospect Jose Peraza, Gamboa has all the tools to be a table-setting shortstop who can hit at the top of the lineup. The Phillies, who are always aggressive with their top international signings, are bringing him over to the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League this summer for his pro debut.
The Phillies signed another Venezuelan shortstop, 17-year-old Daniel Brito, for $650,000 on July. While Gamboa has started to get stronger, Brito is still physically weak at 6-foot-1, 155 pounds, so it will take longer for him to come around. There's lots of room for Brito to add weight to a fraile build, which will allow his tools to improve, but he's already impressed scouts with a flat, line-drive swing, and the Phillies were drawn to his ability to hit in games. His bat speed is fair at best but he's coordinated and keeps his hands inside the ball, although his power right now is minimal. He's a good athlete and an average runner with solid hands and feet at shortstop. His range for the position is just fair, and some think he could end up at second base or center field, but much of that depends on his physical development. He's already in Clearwater, Fla. and will stay for extended spring training with a chance to make the GCL team.
The biggest bonus for a player from Panama last year went to shortstop Jonathan Arauz, who signed for $600,000 just after he turned 16 in August. One of the youngest players in the 2014 signing class, Arauz is arguably more advanced than Brito at this point. He's a skinny 6 feet, 150 pounds and hit well playing for Panama Oeste in the Panamanian junior leagues, with a better swing and a little more pop from the left side than the right. He's only a month older than some of the players eligible for the upcoming 2015 signing class, so it might take him time to hit against older competition, but against kids his age he has shown a line-drive bat with occasional gap power. Growing up playing a lot of games in Panama is evident in the Arauz's overall game awareness. He fields his position well at shortstop with great hands and a 55 arm, although he is a below-average runner. He's also with Gamboa and Brito in spring training right now with a chance to start in the GCL.
If Lenin Rodriguez can stick behind the plate, he has a chance to be an offensive-oriented catcher after signing out of Venezuela for $300,000 in July. His short, heavy frame (5-foot-9, 195 pounds) is something he will always have to keep in check and might make it difficult for him to stick at catcher, especially since his blocking and receiving needs a lot of work, although he does have a good arm. At 17, Rodriguez stood out for his short, compact stroke from the right side and hitting instincts with a line-drive approach. He's likely to start in the Venezuelan Summer League.
Dominican third baseman Ricardo Baez turned 16 on Aug. 28, which means had he been born a few days later he wouldn't have been eligible to sign until July 2 this year. One of the youngest players signed last year, Baez landed a $100,000 deal with the Phillies in November after training with Baltazar Mesa and playing in the Dominican Prospect League. He's a thick-bodied 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and impressed the Phillies with his righthanded bat and a chance to stick at third base.
Rodolfo Duran didn't get much attention because he's just 5-foot-9, 170 pounds, but he could be a sleeper after signing with the Phillies for $75,000 in November out of the Dominican Republic. Duran is a 17-year-old catcher with a 60 arm and a knack for hitting in games from the right side of the plate.