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At the Phillies' academy, a day of destiny arrives
Tryout session puts fates of players in hands of scouts.

Inquirer Staff Writer
Timing a player in the 60-yard dash are Sal Agostinelli, left, the Phils’ international scouting chief, and Radhamas Manon, one of the team’s Dominican scouts. They place a premium on speed when evaluating prospects. Inquirer photos by Eric Mencher.
More photos
Timing a player in the 60-yard dash are Sal Agostinelli, left, the Phils’ international scouting chief, and Radhamas Manon, one of the team’s Dominican scouts. They place a premium on speed when evaluating prospects. Inquirer photos by Eric Mencher.

Last of four parts

As if he needed any caffeine to begin with, Sal Agostinelli downs his last drop of Coca-Cola and smears sunblock on his face. It is 7:30 in the morning, and the raging bull of the Phillies' scouting department is ready to start his day.

"We're going to find us some big-leaguers today," says Agostinelli, charging out the front door of his hotel and hopping into a car that will take him to the Phillies' developmental academy, north of Santo Domingo.

Agostinelli and the members of the Phils' Dominican scouting staff are expecting 25 players - "the best of what we've seen the last two months," scout Narciso "El Socio" Sanchez says - for a 9:30 tryout.

An hour before Agostinelli has had an opportunity to mark off an area for the 60-yard dash, the players, shadowed by their ever-present buscones - or street agents - are already on the field, ready to try to impress the man who heads up international scouting for the Phillies, the man who could help their dreams of playing in the major leagues come true.

It's good that the players are early, Agostinelli thinks to himself. Shows they really want it.

And, besides, the scout would love to make that 2:30 flight to Newark, N.J., to look at a high school pitcher in Jersey City that night.

But first, as Agostinelli had begun his day by saying, there are future big-leaguers to find.

At least he hopes there are.

The buscones have brought along a decent crop, both position players and pitchers, their ages ranging from 16 to 19. Agostinelli and Wil Tejada, the Phillies' Dominican scouting boss, have their antennae up for outfielders. They are not satisfied with the crop of outfielders at the academy and would like to add one or two to the ranks while there is still plenty of season remaining in the Dominican Summer League.

Agostinelli loves some of the arms the Phils already have at their academy, but that won't stop him from looking closely at the pitchers. Scouts never stop looking for pitchers.

Agostinelli is joined by Tejada, plus Radhames Manon and his sidekick El Socio, the Batman-and-Robin tandem who scour the Dominican countryside for talent for the Phillies. Sammy Mejias, the manager of the Phils' Dominican Summer League team, also stops by.

If the Phils' scouts like a player, they must act quickly and strike a deal with the player's buscone. If they don't act quickly, the buscone will have the player at another team's complex the next day.

The process is very different from what happens in the United States, where players enter the professional ranks through a draft after having been widely exposed while playing high school and perhaps college ball.

"In the States, I can see a kid for three years before the draft," says Agostinelli, who also oversees the Phillies' scouting in the Northeastern states. "I can get to know him and his makeup. I can get to know his family and what kind of background he comes from.

"Here, you can't do that. Down here, you might get one look at a kjid and, if you like his tools, you jump on him or you lose him. You're signing here on raw tools, not makeup. You're going to make errors on the makeup side, but you have to be able to make a decision."


Agostinelli whips out his tape measure and, with Manon's help, marks off 60 yards in right field. The first step in finding a position player who is a prospect is seeing if he can run. A good time is 6.7 seconds.

"Go!" Agostinelli shouts as the first player takes off.

The player sprints across the finish line, and Agostinelli and Manon click their stopwatches.

"Siete quatro," Manon says, shaking his head disappointedly.

"Yeah," Agostinelli says. "Seven-point-four."

Agostinelli is not impressed with the next player's speed, either.

"Seven-point-two - and he's a midget," Agostinelli huffs, his Bronx accent apparent.

The players know how important speed is. They have desperate, pleading looks on their faces as they cross the finish line. They look as if they are running for their lives. In a sense, they are. Baseball can be their ticket off the island and, in some cases, the thing that can rescue them and their families from poverty.

One player, desperate to make a positive impression, jumps the gun. Agostinelli sends him back.

"It's always the slow ones that want to cheat," he says with exasperation.

Finally, someone lights up Agostinelli's stopwatch. Juan Aberino, an outfielder, runs a 6.6.

Agostinelli calls Aberino over.

"How old are you?" he asks the young man in Spanish.

"Eighteen," Aberino responds.

Agostinelli isn't sure if he believes him. He takes the player's hat off and, as if he were a horse trader, looks closely at his face.

Latin American players have long fibbed about their ages because the younger players are more attractive to major-league teams.

"Be honest," Agostinelli tells Aberino. "If you're not honest, we'll find out."

Aberino is adamant that he is 18.

Agostinelli then asks what other teams have looked at him.

"The Indians and Cubs," Aberino says.

"Why haven't they signed you?" asks Agostinelli, still suspicious of the young man's age.


Aberino has no answer.

Moments later, another player piques Agostinelli's interest by running a 6.8.

The player says that he is 17.

"Do you have ID papers?" Agostinelli asks.

"No," the player says.

Agostinelli asks him one more question in Spanish, then waves him off.

"I asked him what month he was born, and he said he didn't know," Agostinelli says. "The kid's lying out his ears."

Now it is time to watch the outfielders and infielders field and throw. El Socio produces a bag of baseballs so that the players can loosen up. Agostinelli warns them not to steal any of the balls.

"They'll disappear whether I say it or not," he says. "But maybe now I'll keep a couple."

As the Phillies scouts stand in the middle of the infield, the outfielders throw from right field to third base. Agostinelli doesn't see one arm that he likes, and he begins to do a slow burn.

"This looks like the retread tryout," he says, staring angrily at the buscones, who should know better than to bring him players with no chance.

The last outfielder to throw is 17-year-old Miguel Guzman. Agostinelli quickly recognizes him.

"I tried to sign him for $30,000 last month, but he turned it down," Agostinelli says. "Now he's back."

Agostinelli likes Guzman's bat, and in a few moments, it becomes clear why. During batting practice, Guzman hits three long home runs over the left-field fence on his first five swings.

Earlier in the day, the Phillies brass had wondered if any of the players already at their academy could hit a ball over the wall, which is 330 feet from home plate down the line and 375 to the power alleys. Now they are running to move their cars.

"He doesn't throw well, and he's a 7.1 runner," says Agostinelli, sounding dubious about Guzman's ability. "I made him the offer because we'll pay a certain amount of money for power. You're willing to pay to see if that power can play."

Agostinelli likes a few other position players - third baseman Wellington Baez, first baseman Luis Enrique Rivera, and Edwin Gomez, a switch-hitting 16-year-old shortstop.

"That's a big-league arm right there," says Agostinelli, watching Gomez in fielding drills. "Nice soft hands, too."

Finally, the pitchers take the mound. Aware that Manon is holding a radar gun, they grunt and groan, showing Agostinelli - "the American guy," as some of the players call him - their best fastballs. Agostinelli isn't impressed; no one tops 87 miles per hour.

"Let's see your curveball," Agostinelli tells Miguel Valera, a 16-year-old righthander.

Valera spins off a curve.

"Are you really 16?" Agostinelli asks Valera.

"Yes," the pitcher replies in Spanish. "You can go to my house and ask my mother."

"Is she a good cook?" Agostinelli asks, laughing.

"The American guy" likes several of the pitchers' arms but is unsure of their ages.

After they have seen all of the players run, throw, field and hit, Agostinelli and his staff decide that several are worth discussing with their buscones.

One of them is Baez, one of four players brought to the tryout by Enrique Soto, the most famous of all Dominican buscones. Soto finds young talent and develops it at his school in Bani. He then shops it to the highest-bidding major-league teams.

Soto, who several years ago delivered Juan Richardson, a third-base prospect, to the Phillies, claims that Baez has a $200,000 offer from the New York Yankees.

Agostinelli doubts that and offers $60,000 for Baez.

Soto scoffs.

"I can't give two hundred grand to a kid I've never seen in a game," Agostinelli says.

Agostinelli and Tejada then zero in on Guzman, the outfielder with one tool - power. In an animated conversation at home plate with Guzman and his buscone, Alselmo Charas, the Phillies restate their $30,000 offer.

"Today is the last day we will make you that offer," Tejada tells Guzman.

"You're the same player we saw a month ago," Agostinelli tells Guzman. "You don't run well, and you don't throw well. We're taking a gamble on you. Get into our academy now so we can work with you."

Charas agrees with Agostinelli and Tejada and urges Guzman to sign with the Phillies and begin his pro career. Charas then tells Agostinelli and Tejada that the player's mother thinks that he's worth more than $30,000.

"What other offers does he have?" Agostinelli asks.

"The White Sox at $22,000 and Tampa Bay at $30,000," Charas says.

"We've met his market value," Agostinelli says impatiently. "If he signs with us, he'll play every day."

Guzman and Charas speak privately. Charas shakes his head no, and the meeting breaks up.

Agostinelli and Tejada throw their arms up and begin to walk off the field. They have failed to sign Guzman, but there is still hope that the day won't be a total loss. Tejada believes that he can sign Gomez, the 16-year-old shortstop. (A few days later, the two sides agree on a $20,000 signing bonus.)

Sunburned and sweating, Agostinelli leaves the field and looks at his watch. If he hustles, he can make that 2:30 flight to Newark and that high school game in Jersey City.

Maybe he'll find a big-leaguer there.

Contact Jim Salisbury at 215-854-4983 or