Roster addition catches Phillips by surprise

Left-hander Zach Phillips was added to the 40-man roster following his outstanding season between Bakersfield and Frisco. Lone Star Dugout sat down with the 23-year-old prospect for a question and answer session.

Left-hander Zach Phillips posted the most dominant numbers for a pitcher in the Texas Rangers system in 2009.

In 77.2 total innings between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco, Phillips yielded just 46 hits, walked 30, and struck out 75. Those peripherals led to an earned-run average of 1.39.

The '09 campaign was Phillips' first as a reliever, and it was a true breakout season for him. The California native has always had the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, but he often ran into command issues as a starter. With Bakersfield in 2008, Phillips issued 73 walks in 144.2 innings [second most in the Cal League]. He also gave up far too many hits [161], as his two-seam fastball often hung up in the zone.

The 23-year-old commanded his fastball in the bottom-half of the strike zone this past season, and he was able to get ahead of hitters with consistency. In addition to the improved location, Phillips' velocity ticked up to the 88-90 mph range out of the bullpen, and he touched 91 on occasion [he generally sat between 86-88 as a starter].

Phillips' fastball was a key factor in allowing him to get ahead of hitters, post a 1.5:1 groundout-to-flyout ratio, and surrender just two home runs all season. But his two solid secondary pitches also played a key factor in his success.

The improved fastball command allowed Phillips to use his excellent curveball-changeup mix to combat both left-handed and right-handed hitters. The 6-foot-1, 200-pound prospect has long been known for his curveball, but his changeup has steadily become an above-average offering. The pitch allows him to be successful against right-handed hitters [.192 against him in Frisco], giving him an opportunity to be more than just a one- or two-batter situational left-handed reliever.

Phillips' phenomenal season got him added to the Rangers' 40-man roster recently. He may be a big longshot to begin the 2010 season in the Major Leagues, but if he continues to build on his '09 success, he should reach the bigs by the end of the season.

Lone Star Dugout spoke with Phillips a few days after he was added to the roster.

Jason Cole: Obviously the big news with you lately has been your addition to the Rangers' 40-man roster. Talk to me about getting added and what it means to you.

Zach Phillips: It's awesome. It's some of the best news I've heard–ever. I'm just really, really glad that they protected me. I've been with the Rangers for five years, and I pretty much know everyone. Everyone is really cool, and it's good to be a part of it still.

Cole: Obviously you knew this was going to be a big season for you coming into it, but when you were in Spring Training this past year, did you have it in your mind that it would be your protection year?

Phillips: I knew it, but I didn't really think about that. I really thought about going out there, getting my work done, and pitching like I know I can. Like I know I should. I didn't really think about it. I just went out there and focused on what I had to do.

Cole: Once you got to Frisco and started pitching well, did you start to think there was a chance you'd get added?

Phillips: I wouldn't think so until after the season. There were a lot of people they could have protected, and I pretty much thought I was a long shot even though I had a good year. There are still a lot of really good players out there and a lot of people that needed to be protected, so I really wasn't sure.

Cole: Well tell me about how you found out. When did you find out you were being added, who was it that called you, and what did you guys talk about?

Phillips: I was actually at work and I got into my car from break. We got a little break. Then I looked in my phone and I had a text from my agent saying, ‘Congrats, you're on the 40-man. Call Jon Daniels back.' I was like, ‘What?' I looked in my missed calls, and I had a missed call and a voicemail from Jon Daniels, so I called him back and talked to him for about five or ten minutes.

Cole: You said you weren't really completely expecting to be added. Even in the days leading up to when you knew the decisions would be made, were you thinking about it at all?

Phillips: I thought I was going to be added on Friday, and I got added on Thursday. I got a call on Thursday, so it was completely out of nowhere. I was just so happy when it happened. It definitely made my day right then and there.

Cole: Obviously now you get the automatic invitation to Major League camp during the spring. Tell me how much you're looking forward to doing that, and how much time have you spent on the big league side in the past?

Phillips: It's going to be awesome. I can't wait. The past three years, I've gone to a few games during Spring Training. I got into one–I actually got into a game last year. But the past few years, I've been over there a few times, so I kind of know a little bit, but I don't have the full experience yet. It's going to be awesome.

Cole: And now you get a locker over there, and you get to soak up some things from the big league guys on a daily basis.

Phillips: Oh yeah, definitely. Every Spring Training, I always talk to C.J. Wilson because we're both left-handed and all that. He always gives me advice here and there. He looks after us–me and Kasey Kiker. He always comes up to us and talks to us. It's going to be awesome.

Cole: Being added to the 40-man–does that motivate you a little more? Does it allow you to realize how close you are to the Majors at this point?

Phillips: Definitely. I've always been motivated–I've always been a hard worker and all that. But this is just one step further for me. I'm getting after it even more now. Just like you said, it's one step closer, and I could have a chance if I perform like I can.

Cole: I want to step back and talk about your 2009 season that got you added to the roster. Overall, you ended up with the ERA below 1.40 and everything. What was the major difference for you between this year and years in the past?

Phillips: The major difference–I would have to say definitely attacking hitters. My ball was more down in the zone. My mindset was like I just thought I could get the guys out and I knew I was going to.

Cole: Where did that come from this year? Was it just sort of a sudden realization? Do you think the move to the bullpen helped you out a little bit?

Phillips: I think that the moved to the bullpen helped me out a little bit. Coming out of the bullpen, I felt like I was just way more focused. I was definitely more locked in on the catcher and putting the ball where I wanted to.

Cole: I don't want to put words in your mouth, but is that one of those deals where you aren't able to overthink something?

Phillips: Yeah. Definitely not overthinking. I was getting the sign and if I liked it, then I was focusing more and more.

Cole: One of the pitches that has come a long way for you lately is your changeup. I know your curveball is good, but would you consider that to be your second-best pitch right now?

Phillips: It's hard to say. I love my curveball and all that, but my changeup–I'm comfortable with that in any count also. That improved this year too. I threw it for strikes probably more than in the past, which helped me out too.

Cole: Have you talked to the Rangers at all about your 2010 season? I know you had quite a bit of time in Frisco, but still a little less than half a year. Do you know if you should be going back to Frisco, or if you'll start in Oklahoma City?

Phillips: I have no idea. They haven't said anything like that. Jon Daniels just said, ‘Congratulations on being put on the 40-man. We're happy for you and happy to watch you grow up throughout the years.' That's pretty much all they told me. I have no idea where I'm going.

Cole: Personally, looking forward to next year, do you have any goals in your mind already?

Phillips: Personally, just to have another good season. Another quality season. I don't want to fall behind–I just want to go forward.

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