Name: Zach Phillips
Position: Starting Pitcher
DOB: September 21, 1986
Left-hander Zach Phillips spent his first two full seasons of professional baseball with the Single-A Clinton LumberKings. After a rough debut campaign, Phillips rebounded in 2007, ranking third in the Midwest League in ERA and second in strikeouts.
Entering the 2008 season with momentum and high hopes, Phillips took his next step towards the Major Leagues – High-A Bakersfield. Unfortunately for the prospect, his first Cal League season was plagued by inconsistency, as he went just 8-9 with a 5.54 ERA.
"As a whole, I feel that I could have done better and had better consistency," Phillips said. "I am still happy that I was able to take the ball every game without missing a start, and I competed and tried to help the team win."
With just one month remaining in the 2008 minor league season, Phillips had a 6.35 ERA. But the 22-year-old saved the best for last, as he posted a 2.76 ERA in six August starts. Phillips was particularly good over his last three appearances, surrendering just one earned run over 17.2 innings.
Phillips' late-season success was particularly encouraging because it coincided with a handful of major mechanical changes that were made in August. Instead of his former herky-jerky motion out of the windup, the hurler's delivery was made more fluid.
Following the regular season, the Rangers invited Phillips to their fall instructional league, where they continued to make adjustments.
"The small change at instructs was my leg kick being lower in the stretch," he said. "It feels like I can not only hold runners a lot better and give the pitcher a better chance to throw them out, but also it gives me a better pickoff move to first."
By making the changes, the Rangers' developmental staff hopes to give the native Californian more consistently repeatable mechanics.
"Trying to improve rhythm and consistency," replied Phillips when asked about the adjustments. "I am a huge rhythm guy on the mound, and when I'm in a good rhythm, things go pretty good. When I'm not in rhythm, then I really have to start competing."
Phillips helped ease concerns about his regular season struggles as the changes began to set in during instructs.
"I felt that instructs was a success," said the southpaw. "The new mechanics feel great and the walks went way down. I think I had just one or two during instructs."
With his eyes now set on the upcoming 2009 season, Phillips would like to become more consistent while remaining a durable starting pitcher.
"The thing that I'm looking for out of myself is to take the ball for every start again," he said. "I also want better consistency throughout my starts and to just throw strikes like I know I can."
Also See: Instant Analysis: Clinton/Kane County (June 23, 2007)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Zach Phillips (June 24, 2007)
Consistency is the key for Phillips (September 5, 2007)
Scouting Rangers Prospect #29: Zach Phillips (February 29, 2008)
Phillips just wants to win (March 27, 2008)
Instant Analysis: Bakersfield/San Jose (July 22, 2008)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Phillips doesn't use the traditional four-seam fastball, meaning he throws nothing but two-seamers, which generally have sink and armside run. He has worked in the 88-91 mph range for much of his career, but his velocity dipped between 86-88 for the majority of the 2008 campaign. Even at the lower velocity, Phillips' fastball can be effective, but he must refine his command of it and keep it low in the zone more often. The left-hander does a good job of working both corners of the plate, but when he gets hit, it's often because his two-seamer is left up in the strike zone. Should Phillips' fastball command improve, he'll be able to cut down on his walks [73 in 144.2 innings last season] and increase his ground ball rate.
Other Pitches: Phillips possesses one of the system's best curveballs. The sharp-breaking bender comes in around 72-75 mph and it is a definite plus pitch. Though Phillips is best known for his knee-buckling curve, his changeup isn't anything to sneeze at. The mid-to-upper 70s pitch rates as solid-average and he has displayed the confidence to use it in any count. But, like his fastball, Phillips also has a tendency to leave his changeup high in the strike zone a little too often.
Projection: The 22-year-old has the talent to be a back-end starter in a big league rotation, but he must first refine his command of the two-seam fastball. Phillips' excellent curveball and decent changeup will give him the opportunity to be an effective pitcher out of the bullpen if it doesn't work out as a starter. But the bottom line is that he will need improved fastball command to succeed in the system's upper levels. The left-hander could move relatively quickly if he is moved to the bullpen, but such a move is unlikely to come next season.
2009 Outlook: Expect Phillips to open the 2009 season in Bakersfield's starting rotation. Because he spent two full seasons with Single-A Clinton, don't expect him to also spend two full seasons in Bakersfield. The '09 campaign is just about sink-or-swim time for Phillips, and he will probably get a chance to move up quickly. Phillips should be a starting pitcher all season, and if a move to the bullpen comes, it likely wouldn't occur until 2010 with Double-A Frisco.
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