The Phillies made big news as this week came to a close by filling their front office leadership vacancy with two-time World Series-winning executive Dave Dombrowski.
A day before Dombrowski was introduced, the Rule 5 draft took place. No Phillies players were selected in the major-league portion, with them losing only Reggie McClain to the Yankees in the minor-league phase.
Several players left unprotected by the Phillies were names fans might recognize: pitchers Enyel De Los Santos, Zach Warren and Kevin Gowdy, outfielders Jhailyn Ortiz and Austin Listi, first baseman Darick Hall.
Among that group, the name that stands out is Ortiz, who signed with the Phillies as a 16-year-old in the summer of 2015 for just under $4 million.
The international free-agent class of 2015 could be one of the best ever. It produced Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Yordan Alvarez. It produced Jazz Chisholm, who was the Diamondbacks’ top prospect before they traded him to the Marlins last summer for Zac Gallen. It produced Christian Pache, one of the Braves’ top prospects. Deivi Garcia, a starting pitcher who debuted with the Yankees this season, was also part of that class.
Ortiz signed for nearly three times more than Soto. He signed for nearly six times more than Tatis. On Wednesday night, Soto and Tatis made the All-MLB First Team. On Thursday morning, Ortiz was available to any team for no more than 100 grand and they all said no thanks.
Soto and Tatis, five years after that signing period, are two of the top five position players in the National League. Ortiz, now 22, last played in Double A in 2019 and hit .200/.272/.381. He walked 36 times and struck out 149. The year before, he walked 35 times and struck out 148 at Single A. He’s shown the ability to pop some balls over the wall (19 homers in 2019) but hasn’t developed as a hitter.
Think about where the Phillies would be right now with any of the players listed three paragraphs ago. A superstar like Soto or Tatis might have them at the top of the division. A middle-of-the-order bat like Alvarez would go a long way in elongating their lineup. The same could be said for Guerrero, who has not yet turned into a star but has 39 doubles, 24 homers and a .778 OPS in 183 big-league games and isn’t yet 22.
Not every international signing turns into Soto, Tatis or Ronald Acuña Jr. There is a degree of luck when you’re projecting and signing a 16-year-old. And it’s not as if the Phillies have been shut out in this avenue of talent acquisition. Over the last decade, the Phillies have added a number of good players at bargain prices such as Sixto Sanchez, Hector Neris, Maikel Franco, Seranthony Dominguez, Ranger Suarez and Rafael Marchan via international free agency.
Sanchez grew into a significant prospect who landed the Phils two years of J.T. Realmuto. Neris has been a bullpen staple here. Those were very good signings, as were Carlos Ruiz, Carlos Carrasco, Cesar Hernandez, Freddy Galvis and Jonathan Villar before them.
But the expensive Ortiz mistake was equal to another first-round bust for a team that just didn’t add enough difference-making young talent during its rebuild.