Sal Agostinelli racked up more than a million points on his credit- card account while traveling the world looking for major-league talent.
The director of international scouting for the Philadelphia Phillies has found prospects on four continents in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Japan, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Australia. You name the country, he’s scouted it.
But for the last four years, Agostinelli didn’t have to go quite that far. In fact, he merely had to go out the front door of his Kings Park home and basically around the corner to find talented baseball players, all of whom are making progress in the Phillies' organization.
Four years ago, it was lefthander Nick Fanti of Hauppauge High School.
Three years ago, it was lefthander Kyle Young of Syosset and St. Dominic High School.
Two years ago, it was righthander Ben Brown of East Setauket and Ward Melville High School.
And last year, it was catcher Logan O’Hoppe of Sayville and St. John the Baptist High School.
All four players gave up college baseball scholarships and elected to sign with the Phillies and begin their professional careers. None has any regrets about the decision to forgo school and turn pro.
“We’re very excited about our four Long Island prospects,” said Agostinelli, who is very involved in the draft process and whom the Phillies select. “All four of them have taken advantage of our resources and coaches in spring training. They are players of high character and tremendous work ethic, and my hope is that one day they all make it to the big leagues. Our clubhouse guy loves them. They come from good families, have good makeup, they’re disciplined and are wired right to take on the challenge of professional baseball.”
Nick Fanti, 22
LHP from Hauppauge
High school: Hauppauge
Fanti emerged from the Phillies' training center fully flushed Friday afternoon after another workout. After spending most of last year on the mend from growth plate and shoulder injuries, he looks fit. His 2018 summer season in the high Class A Florida State League was shortened by injury — he was 3-3 with a 7.22 ERA in 28 innings before the Phillies shut him down — but his offseason winter ball assignment in Australia did wonders for his confidence.
In Sydney, between November and December, Fanti was 2-2 with 27 strikeouts and a 3.67 ERA in 27 innings.
“We love the kid and I can see him continuing to move up the ladder in our system,” Agostinelli said. “Obviously, he’s got to stay healthy. He won 17 games in his first two years and the one truly amazing thing was he threw two no-hitters in the South Atlantic League. That is unheard of for a young pitcher.”
Fanti, who threw back-to-back no-hitters at Hauppauge, earned the 48th Carl Yastrzemski Award as Suffolk’s top player in 2015. The 6-2, 204-pounder passed on attending Marist College to sign with the Phillies after being taken in the 31st round of the MLB amateur draft that June.
“I’m so ready for this year wherever I’m assigned,” said Fanti, sweat dripping from his face on an 86-degree day in Clearwater. “I’ve had some great moments in pro ball. It’s opened doors for me like the opportunity to play for Team Italy in the World Baseball Classic. But the minor-league grind is real, and no one is going to hold your hand. You need to grow up quickly and take control of your career. You have to be responsible and be a total professional on and off the field.”
In 2017, Fanti threw 8 2/3 innings of a combined no-hitter with reliever Trevor Bettencourt against Tim Tebow’s Columbia Fireflies on May 6. He followed that with a no-hitter seven weeks later against the Charleston RiverDogs before a sold-out home crowd in Lakewood, New Jersey.
According to Alex Agostino, the Phillies' northeast area supervisor, Fanti has been a delight in the organization.
“We’ve got a special individual in Nick,” Agostino said. “He competes, and when he’s healthy, his numbers speak for themselves. This is a big year for him.”
KYLE YOUNG, 21
LHP from Syosset
High School: St. Dominic
The line drive caught Young's right forearm and ricocheted toward second base. He shook his arm a few times, told the coaches and medical staff he was all right and resumed his outing at the Phillies' Carpenter Complex in Clearwater.
It’s a Thursday afternoon in the middle of spring training, and professional baseball’s only 7-foot player is a large target on the mound. Getting hit by a line drive amounted to a bruise and an infield out, and that’s all Young cares about — getting people out.
“It’s my job to get people out,” said Young, who laughed it off after emerging from the trainer’s room after the game with the seams of the Rawlings baseball clearly visible on his forearm. “It’s easier to get guys out without the free tattoo. He put the barrel on a changeup and crushed it. The pitch caught too much of the zone. And in pro ball, you pay when you don’t execute location and leave a pitch out over the middle of the plate.”
Young would like to be the first 7-footer to take the mound in a major league game. The St. Dominic product, Newsday’s CHSAA player of the year in 2016, passed on a Hofstra scholarship when he was selected by the Phillies in the amateur draft in June of that year. The 22nd-round selection is the 14th-ranked prospect in the Phillies' farm system.
The 252-pound Young is imposing, with wide shoulders and a thickened upper body from hours of gym work. He had a 3-3 record and a 2.73 ERA for three Phillies affiliates last season, doing the bulk of his work in the Class A South Atlantic League. He struck out 50 in 59 innings.
“He’s such an athletic kid at 7 feet tall,” Agostinelli said. “He has a good feel for a changeup and curveball and he has outstanding command. His fastball sits 90-91 and has excellent movement. It’s surprising somewhat that such a big man doesn’t have any trouble keeping all those moving parts together and his release point consistent. His delivery stays together, and that’s why we see him continuing to progress through the organization.”
Agostinelli saw Young take that liner off the forearm on Thursday. “His makeup is unbelievable,” he said. “He didn’t flinch, went right back to work. And he didn’t even want to put ice on it — just such a tough kid. So happy he’s ours.”
“I’m so proud of Kyle’s progress,” Agostino said. “Everyone loves Kyle, the coaches, his teammates. He’s a real leader and competitor. I’m glad I pushed Sal to see him and we feel Kyle was one of the great picks of the 2016 draft.”
BEN BROWN, 19
RHP from East Setauket
High school: Ward Melville
Brown has never questioned his decision to turn professional at the age of 17. The 2017 Ward Melville graduate was selected in the 30th round by the Phillies and didn’t hesitate to make his intentions clear.
“He is one of those great projection picks,” said Agostino, who was named scout of the year for the state of New York in 2018. “He was so raw and young. He told us he was ready to play professional baseball and he was all in. And we knew we had something very special in Ben — it was a special sign.”
In his second year of pro ball and first full season, Brown served notice on the hitters in the Class A New York-Penn League last summer when he struck out 16 batters in a game for the Williamsport Crosscutters.
“Easily the best baseball day of my life,” he said. “Oh, except for my draft day.”
Brown finished last summer with a 3-4 record and a 3.78 ERA and struck out 56 in 47 2/3 innings in the Gulf Coast League. He led the GCL in strikeouts.
“Big Ben was in a league that is mostly prospects that come from all the big-time colleges,” Agostinelli said. “He was driving the ball down in the zone and had angle on his pitches in the 90-92 fastball range with a plus slider and changeup. He came here as a very young prospect and the coaches have embraced his enthusiasm and skill set and he’s blowing people away.”
Brown, a 6-6, 225-pound righty, has smoothed out his delivery, and that boyish look is almost gone. He’s acclimated well to doing his own laundry, preparing food and being his own boss — something not always easy for a young player.
“It’s awesome having all the guys from Long Island around,” Brown said. “We all have a special connection with each other. It’s great to have someone to talk to because the road can be tough with the long bus rides. There’s a language barrier with a lot of other teammates, but baseball becomes the language.”
Brown threw two spotless innings against the Class A Blue Jays on Thursday and exited the field with the satisfaction that camp has been good. His fastball range was 91-94 mph and he had the bosses buzzing.
“He had excellent location with the fastball and he was tunneling his curveball off the effectiveness of the fastball," Agostinelli said. “His feel for the strike zone continues to improve. He has so much upside.”
LOGAN O’HOPPE, 19
Catcher from Sayville
High school: St. John the Baptist
O’Hoppe, who is in his first full season of professional baseball, traveled to Port Charlotte with the big-leaguers Thursday to play the Tampa Bay Rays.
He earned this bus ride after taking the rookie league by storm last summer. O’Hoppe batted .367 and had an on-base percentage of .411. His catching skills?
“Logan has catch-and-throw skills beyond most players his age — maybe all of them,'' Agostino said. "His work ethic is tough to duplicate. He’s a kid we can put out there with any major league pitcher and they’d love throwing to him.”
O’Hoppe is getting a neat glimpse of his future. He arrived in Port Charlotte, took batting practice with Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery and the other major-leaguers, and worked the bullpen throughout the game.
“Logan is a player of great aptitude, physical presence and leadership qualities,” Agostino said. “Not too many teams thought he’d pass on an opportunity to play at East Carolina, but we got to know his family and they trusted us, and this was where he needed to be. Our area scout, Tom Downey, had me come see him a few times, he was so convinced this kid was big-time. And he’s certainly a special talent behind the plate. He’s one of those selfless players.”
The 6-3, 210-pounder was selected in the 23rd round of the 2018 June draft, and the youngest member of the Phillies' connection to Long Island is making heads turn.
If he’s not in the weight room, he’s at extra hitting. “You have to use all your resources,” O’Hoppe said. “The nutritionist, the strength coach, the mental coach, the hitting coaches, that’s why they’re here. I’ve learned so much in such a short period of time.”
O’Hoppe was the CHSAA player of the Year at St. John the Baptist and Newsday’s player of the year last spring, but that seems eons ago. The minor-league grind can be especially tough on a catcher in mind-blowing heat in the dog days of summer.
“I’m prepared for the long days of training because my high school coaches, Casey McKay and Ron McKay, did such a great job getting me ready for this,” O’Hoppe said. “They kept us working and staying focused and busy. It was a huge part of my development and set the foundation for me to come here. They always held me accountable and had high expectations. Professional baseball is just a continuation of what I’ve been doing.”
The experience has been surreal for the humble O’Hoppe. He has soaked it all in and wants more.
“This is where I want to be,” he said. “This is where you always dream you can be with hard work. I had a little taste and it’s only fueled me to continue to strive to be better. I’m locked in, and knowing what’s out there for me just makes it even more real. I’m not here just to be here.”