The 2006 campaign was a tough one for left-hander Zach Phillips. Not only did his Clinton Lumber Kings team post a futile 45-94 record, but Phillips himself was just 5-12 with an ERA approaching six.
The former draft-and-follow signee was sent back to Clinton in 2007 looking to right the ship. Phillips, and his teammates, were able to do just that. As a team, the L-Kings posted a winning overall record and took home the Midwest League's first-half crown. Phillips helped lead the way by finishing among the league leaders in wins (11), ERA (2.91) and strikeouts (157).
After spending two full seasons with Single-A Clinton, the 21-year-old appears poised to make the jump to High-A Bakersfield this year. Phillips worked hard on this past offseason's throwing program in order to prepare him for the challenge that the hitter-friendly California League figures to pose.
"I did a lot of throwing starting around December 3rd," said Phillips. "I pretty much threw every day after that. I tried to throw the ball as far as I could. As hard as I could, as far as I could."
The Rangers handed out personalized throwing programs for each and every pitcher in the organization to work on in the offseason. Every program began with the aforementioned long toss before leading into bullpen sessions.
"I started throwing bullpens on February 14th," he said. "I was just getting my mechanics down. I'm learning my mechanics and knowing how my body feels. I'm just trying to get my mechanics down so if I have trouble during the game, I'll know what to look back to."
Phillips possesses an upper-80s, low-90s sinker, which he is able to keep low in the zone. The southpaw surrendered just 11 total home runs in his two seasons in Clinton [nearly 300 innings]. But it's his curveball that helps make him an outstanding prospect. The pitch, which helped him post 157 punchouts last year, is one of the best breaking balls in the entire system.
Because of his strong stuff, Phillips was one of the few veteran prospects the Rangers invited to mini-camp, which began before most players reported to spring training.
"I got here a week early, February 17th," said Phillips after being asked when he arrived in Surprise. "Mini-camp started on the 22nd."
The players were invited to mini-camp in case they got an opportunity to play in a big league spring training game. Though Phillips did not get into a game, he was able to suit up for a few of them.
"I backed up in a few big league games, which is good experience," replied Phillips. "I'm glad I got the chance to do that. It was a good opportunity."
Though he didn't appear in a game, Phillips was still able to learn quite a bit from the experience.
"I was able to pick up how to play the game a little bit," he said. "It taught me the ways they go about their business both in the clubhouse and on the field."
With spring training quickly coming to an end, Phillips is beginning to look forward to his 2008 regular season. When that does begin, the California native says he has set a simple goal.
"The goal is to go out there and help the team win games," Phillips said. "You can't do much if you don't win games. I just want to go out there and throw strikes and keep the team in the game."
Phillips just wants to win
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