With spring training games occasionally on TV this time of year, hardcore baseball fans no doubt relish the chance to finally watch live baseball.
And inevitably fans who stick around for the later innings will watch players they have never heard of, who could never make the majors play mostly meaningless baseball. But all of these players have stories.
For the Phillies, pitching depth has been a problem, as their current five-man rotation is in flux without any mainstays aside from ace Aaron Nola. Several hurlers have fought and clawed their way to a spring training invite.
Enyel De Los Santos is a right-handed starter and the youngest non-roster invitee in camp. He’s had quite the journey to Philadelphia, having dealt with two trades in three seasons after immigrating to the U.S. from San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.
“I do feel like I am home,” the 22-year-old said. “I know it is a new organization but they have been welcoming to me. It feels great to be part of this group. I hope we can all move up together. Some of these guys are very talented and it would be great to contribute and grow together in the organization.”
De Los Santos was signed by the Mariners in 2015, traded to the Padres in 2017 and later traded to the Phillies in exchange for Freddy Galvis. He hopes he can finally settle down and work toward his big league dream after combining for a 24-11 record and 3.70 ERA in the minors.
“It’s been really hard to be away from my family,” the De Los Santos said through a translator, “that has been a big adjustment. I haven’t spent a whole year with them, especially after switching organizations a couple times but it has also given me patience. I am an even more patient person now than I was before.”
J.D. Hammer is another newly acquired Phils prospect, coming to town in exchange for Pat Neshek in a trade deadline deal with the Rockies last season. For him, being in Clearwater is the boost he’s been waiting for as he strives to be a sleeper addition to the Phillies roster.
“It drives you,” Hammer said. “You grow up working for this your whole life. Seeing there are opportunities in this system, I think this club will be great and I am hoping to be a part of that. I came from the fall league so you get little taste of how they live and the lifestyle and then you come here and see how close you are, the city is amazing. I love the fans and everyone is so passionate about it it gets you so excited and wanting to get here as soon as possible.”
Not everyone was as lucky as Hammer and De Los Santos. A former JUCO pitcher, JoJo Romero also was vying to make an impact this season but did not get a spring training invite. But at just 21, he knows he has a lot of baseball left to play as he climbs the big league ladder. And he wouldn’t want it any other way.
“That’s what makes it the best sport ever,” Romero, a fifth rounder who went 10-3 with a 2.16 ERA last season said. “There are so many different levels, eight sometimes nine for an organization. Having to constantly compete it helps make you a better person. It makes you disciplined and ultimately brings out the competitive drive and that’s what helps people take off and become superstars.”
Several players took off last season from the minors, like Nick Williams, J.P. Crawford, Tom Eshelman and Jorge Alfaro. Teammates in Double or Triple-A could get jealous, but the Phillies have a team mentality and know that when a player gets the call to ‘The Show’ they deserve it.
“They work hard to achieve their dream and I feel very good when their dream comes true,” Franklyn Kilome, one of Philly’s top pitching prospects said. Kilome has already made his Grapefruit League debut, but walked two and allowed a run in his first inning. “Thats what I am looking for — its what everyone is looking for. It makes me work hard.”