MadFriars' Interview: Dane Phillips

LAKE ELSINORE – Dane Phillips, 23, was selected in the second round of the 2012 draft by the San Diego Padres out of Oklahoma City University; the highest draft pick ever from that school. He transferred to play with the Stars after two years at Oklahoma State University to get more playing time, particularly behind the plate.

The left-handed hitting Phillips has never had many questions about his ability to hit, the biggest ones have always been about whether he will be able to stay behind the plate; a position that many believe is the most mentally and physically demanding in the game.

Phillips, who was the valedictorian of his high school class at Nacogdoches Central Heights in Texas, was recruited to play for Stanford, Rice and the University of Texas before deciding to attend Oklahoma State University. In two years with the Cowboys he posted batting averages of .337 and .339 but still ended up transferring to Oklahoma City University, an NAIA school, where he hit .410/.506/.762 in his lone year there before being drafted by the Padres.

As a professional he struggled early with the bat, which was considered the strongest part of his game, before putting up solid numbers in Fort Wayne in 2013 with a .281/.343/.433 slash line before being promoted to Lake Elsinore and struggling with a .173 batting average. As with Mallex Smith, whom we profiled yesterday, Phillips returned to Fort Wayne to start the year, mainly to improve upon his defense, and hi t .295/.335/.449. He was again promoted to Lake Elsinore where this time he did hit and showed improvement defensively behind the plate.

Dane finished the season with Lake Elsinore at .279/.344/.494 with 30 extra-base hits in 68 games.

He should be the everyday catcher to begin 2015 in San Antonio, a homecoming for the native Texan.

You are having a good year. You had to return to Fort Wayne earlier this year after being promoted here last season, which had to be disappointing. What did you do to keep yourself mentally strong?

Dane Phillips: I just tried to keep my focus game to game. I knew that I could succeed and it was a really good experience for me in the long term having to grind like that. So in a way, I am happy that it happened to me.

The knock on you has always been on your ability behind the plate. We did a recent interview with Randy Smith where he talked about your improvement at that aspect of your game.

How did you improve defensively?

Dane Phillips: Some of the things I really worked hard on in the off-season and its also been a big help to have Jamie Quirk [the Storm manager and former major league catcher] and Rod Barajas [the Storm hitting coach and also a former major league catcher] and they have really helped me out. It’s been really rewarding being here.

Can you give us an idea of two or three of the main things that you were working on to improve behind the plate?

Dane Phillips: Mainly just getting quicker throwing to second, calling better games and in general just commanding the game from behind the plate. It’s not really one thing that I couldn’t do, it’s just improving at all aspects of the game.

Again, I am just really happy to be here with an opportunity to get better.

I am always surprised that you guys have any energy left between catching bullpens and all of the specialized drills that you do. Where do you find the time and the energy to hit?

Dane Phillips: I try to sleep whenever I can [laughs]. Literally, I take as many naps as I can and try to get as much sleep as I can at home to keep my energy up.

Has that been the toughest part of being a pro is how physical the job is because there are so many games?

Dane Phillips: The daily grind is tough physically and then it really wears on you mentally. When you first sign it is really tough to focus as much as you have too, but then you learn ways to increase your ability to focus.

In my opinion, that is what separates the big leaguers from everyone else, the mental side of it.

Is it mentally easier to hit being a catcher because you might not focus on a previous bat at-bat? Once you leave the batter’s box and go back on the field you have quite a few things going on.

Dane Phillips: [laughs]You don’t have time to contemplate bad at-bats when someone is throwing things at you that are coming in around 90 MPH.

You also DH quite a bit too. Do you find yourself thinking about bad at-bats afterwards?

Dane Phillips: Fortunately I did some of that in college so I have some experience. You just have to treat it like Big Pappi {David Ortiz or the Red Sox}. You joke around as much as you can and when you hit, you hit.

So you are not someone that is sitting in the dugout stewing over a bad at-bat?

Dane Phillips: I probably end up doing a little bit of both. You can’t treat being a DH the same as when you are playing in the field.

It helps you to stay in the swing of things instead of taking the day off. I really like being in the lineup and having a chance to help my team win.

What has been the biggest improvement in your offensive game?

Dane Phillips: I am hitting for more power and have more RBI than in the past.

You also get quite a few walks. Does being a catcher help you understand more of what a pitcher is trying to do to you?

Dane Phillips: It does and it doesn’t. At the end of the day you have to be relaxed to hit.

You throw right-handed but bat left-handed. How did you end up like that?

Dane Phillips: My Dad moved me around. I have an older brother that is left-handed and my Dad wanted me on the same side because it was easier to work with both of us that way.

Its been a long season. What are some of the things you are going to do in the off-season besides take a few naps?

Dane Phillips: I’m just going to continue to focus on my catching. Do long toss and throw footballs to improve my arm strength. I just have to get better as a baseball player in every aspect of the game.

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