The most interesting prospect in the Phillies farm system walked into an empty clubhouse and toward a red duffle bag lying alone in the center of the room. Nearly two hours earlier, Gabriel Rincones had introduced himself to the Phillies fan base with a skin-prickling eighth-inning swing that sent a fastball screaming out of BayCare Ballpark in the direction of U.S. 19. He’d spent much of the intervening time commemorating his electrifying home run off Blue Jays reliever Erik Swanson by signing autographs for the hundreds of fans who crowded the third-base line after the Phillies 4-2 win. Before he finally clocked out and began the short walk back to the team’s minor-league locker rooms, Rincones took a moment to process the latest plot shift in his wild journey from Venezuela to Scotland to the fourth round of the MLB draft and a realistic chance at stardom.

“It’s everything I’ve worked for,” said Rincones, a corner outfielder with a chiseled 6-foot-4, 225-pound frame that evokes images of Pat Burrell. “I’ve been praying for the patience. I’m not in a hurry, but I definitely want to get up as fast as I can.”

Rincones’ story is the kind of thing that makes you almost embarrassed to think about the details of your own life experience. The son of a former Mariners minor leaguer who developed a love for baseball while watching from behind a fence as a young and unknown Jose Altuve practiced at the Astros’ outpost near Caracas, Venezuela. Rincones spent his formative childhood years in Glenrothes, a town on the North Sea coast where his father took a job for a deep sea drilling firm. With limited access to playing fields and peers, he honed his skills in his father’s weekly adult-league games featuring expats from baseball-playing countries.

Even then, as a 9-year-old kid stepping into the box against pitchers three and four times his senior, Rincones was adamant about his ambitions.

“My parents would always ask me what I wanted to do when I grew up,” he said, “and I always told them I wanted to be a baseball player.”

Recognizing the extent to which his environment limited his dreams, Rincones’ parents sent him to live with a relative in Tampa, Fla., where he enrolled in public high school and proceeded to get cut from the team.

“I was terrible,” Rincones said.

The next six years were something you might read in an overwrought script. Every afternoon, Rincones would retreat to the batting cage outside Plant High School’s baseball stadium. From the final bell of the school day to the last shred of sunlight, he would swing his yellow-and-black Easton bat until there were traces of blood on the handle.

“It’s not that I loved it as much as it was that I was in the United States to play baseball,” Rincones said, “and I couldn’t even make the team.”

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Even after making varsity as a junior and starring as a senior, he did not receive any major college scholarship offers. He eventually enrolled at a local junior college. From there, his rise was exponential.

A year after putting himself firmly on the professional radar with a solid performance in a summer wood bat league, the Padres selected Rincones in the 19th round of the 2021 draft. Instead of signing with San Diego, he accepted a scholarship at Florida Atlantic, where he hit .346 with 19 home runs and a 1.110 OPS and further improved his stock. The Phillies fell in love with his frame and his swing. In June 2022, they took him in the fourth round.

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By the end of 2023, we should have a better idea of where Rincones fits into their long-term plans. He has yet to play a game in affiliated ball, having spent the post-draft months rehabbing a pre-existing shoulder injury. He was drafted as a corner outfielder, but with four veterans under contract through at least 2025, there is some thought that he could end up at first base.

Whatever the case, Rincones has been impressive enough in minor-league camp to earn some at-bats as an extra man in three Grapefruit League games.

“He looks like a prospect to me,” manager Rob Thomson said Friday after watching Rincones homer and walk in a cameo appearance with the big-league club. “He’s got a great body, he can run, and he’s got the power.”

He also has the air of a player who already knows what he is about to prove. His deep Christian faith is coupled with an ardent believe in himself. Throughout his journey, Rincones has maintained a notebook where he details his ambitions and goals. The pages are filled with declarative statements. I will do this. I will be that.

“In JUCO, I would look at myself in the mirror and say, ‘My name is Garbriel Rincones, and I’m a first-rounder,’” he said. “And then I would start laughing. So I got to the point where I could say it, and I would believe it, and it wasn’t a joke anymore.”

These days, he stands in front of the mirror with a different mantra.

I am Gabriel Rincones. I am a Hall of Famer.

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