Name: Zach Phillips
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: September 21, 1986
Acquired: 2004 Amateur Draft, 23rd round
The feature portion of this piece is an updated version of this story, which appeared late in the 2010 regular season.
Left-hander Zach Phillips broke out as a relief prospect in 2009 by posting a 1.39 earned-run average in 77.2 innings between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco. The impressive performance landed him a spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster, as the club wanted to protect him from the Rule 5 Draft.
Beginning his 2010 season with Frisco, Phillips certainly picked up right where he left off. The prospect started the campaign with a string of 10 consecutive scoreless outings, spanning 13 innings. During that time, he gave up four hits, walked two, and struck out 17.
The fast start earned the southpaw a promotion to Triple-A Oklahoma City, where he started with a string of six consecutive scoreless outings, covering 11 frames.
Phillips experienced a couple ups-and-downs after he joined the RedHawks in mid-May. But on the whole, he was strong.
The 24-year-old posted a 3.22 ERA in 33 appearances with the Triple-A club. He pitched 50.1 innings, giving up 50 hits, walking 29, and striking out 40.
Overall, he was happy with the production but realizes there is room for improvement.
"The season has been going good," Phillips said near the conclusion of the 2010 season. "I'm learning the strike zone here more. I'm learning that the hitters are more experienced and they don't really swing at stuff like they did in Double-A. I'm just learning stuff like that––learning how to pitch."
The Rangers drafted Phillips in 2004 and signed him in '05 as a junior college draft-and-follow. Since signing, Phillips has spent considerable time in rookie ball, Low-A, High-A, Double-A, and now Triple-A. He believes the jump between Double-A and Triple-A has been toughest because of the hitters' experience level.
"This has definitely been the most difficult one by far," he said. "It's just more experienced hitters. You actually have to learn how to pitch here. I'm developing the other pitch to get extra guys out––especially lefties. I need to do that more and more as I go up."
That ‘other pitch' Phillips is developing is a slider. He initially began toying with the pitch in 2009.
"I worked on it a little bit last year," Phillips said. "I was just throwing it in sides here and there, but I never put it into a game.
"One day me and (Oklahoma City pitching coach) Terry Clark talked about it and I started throwing it. A few days later, I threw a bullpen and then took it into a game that same day. It felt a lot better than I thought it would for my first time using it. I have a lot of confidence with it."
The Sacramento native had worked with a three-pitch arsenal through his professional career. He is armed with a two-seam fastball, a sharp curveball, and an above-average changeup.
Phillips has generally used his fastball-curveball combination to combat left-handed hitters while going to the fastball-change against righties. He has been successful against all hitters because of his two strong secondary pitches.
And now Phillips has a third weapon for lefties.
"If I really think about it, I need to get lefties out whenever I face them, no matter what," he said. "The slider has come a lot further than I would have thought already. That's just another pitch to get lefties out. So I have three pitches for them rather than just fastball-curveball. And the occasional changeup."
Though he has thrown more strikes over the last two seasons, Phillips still wants to work on cutting down his overall walk total.
"I need to keep the ball down," he said. "I need to attack more and more. I don't want any walks. I know how to throw strikes, I know my stuff is good, and I know the defense behind me is the best I've ever had. I need to use that to my full advantage."
Also See: Rangers Minor League Notes (March 2, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (March 9, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (April 13, 2010)
Phillips putting it all together (May 10, 2010)
Rangers Minor League Notes (June 30, 2010)
Phillips adds weapon to combat lefties (August 23, 2010)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Slider, Changeup.
Fastball: Ever since moving to the bullpen in '09, Phillips has consistently thrown his two-seam fastball at 88-91 mph. The pitch has some sinking action when thrown down in the zone, and it has helped him limit the opposition to three home runs over his last 144.2 innings. He has induced just under 1.5 groundouts per flyout through his career.
Phillips' success largely revolves around his ability to attack the bottom half of the strike zone with his fastball. He had a tendency to nibble and work up in the zone earlier in his career, but he has improved over the last two seasons. Because he won't generally blow his fastball by hitters, command is the key.
Other Pitches: Phillips attacks fellow lefties with a curveball-slider mix while using the changeup against right-handers. His secondary stuff is solid and can miss bats. While tough on lefties, Phillips has also made life difficult for righty hitters with his plus low-80s changeup. The pitch plays off the fastball well with lots of deception to go along with some sink and fade.
The big-breaking 75-78 mph curveball has been his primary breaking pitch since he was selected as a 23rd-round pick in '04. The offering can be difficult for lefties to pick up out of the hand. It's a solid-average pitch though he sometimes struggles to command it within the strike zone.
Searching for another––perhaps easier to command––weapon against left-handed hitters, Phillips added a slider late last season. He has been pitching winterball in Puerto Rico as he looks to refine the pitch into a legitimate weapon for the 2011 campaign.
Projection: Phillips profiles as a middle reliever with the ability to face both left- and right-handed hitters at the major league level. He has some deception in his delivery to go along with an average fastball and solid secondary offerings. Phillips has a chance to stick in the majors as long as he goes after hitters and doesn't try to get too fine with his fastball––he must continue to trust his stuff.
2011 Outlook: As a 40-man roster member, Phillips has an automatic invitation to big league camp, though he's an extreme long shot to make the club. The Rangers have two short-relief lefties (Oliver, Rhodes) and two potential long relief southpaws in Harrison and Kirkman. Phillips should start the season at Triple-A Round Rock before getting his first cup of coffee at some point this season. If he gets a look in the majors, he'll likely be on the Round Rock/Arlington shuttle due to the Rangers' crowded bullpen and the fact that he has options remaining.
|2005||AZL Rangers (RK)||1-3||50.0||52||13||73||3.93|
|Oklahoma City (AAA)||3-2||50.0||50||29||40||3.22|
Discuss this story and others regarding the Rangers system on our subscriber-only message board.