Name: Zach Phillips
Position: Relief Pitcher
DOB: September 21, 1986
Acquired: 2004 Amateur Draft, 23rd round (signed in '05 as draft-and-follow)
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 a sparkling 1.39 earned-run average.
Phillips' numbers with Bakersfield alone were simply stunning. In his second year with the California League club, he surrendered only 19 hits in 44 innings [.123] while posting a 1.23 ERA.
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 , as his two-seam fastball often hung up in the zone.
After the '08 season, the Rangers sent Phillips to Fall Instructional League in an effort to clean up his mechanics.
The 23-year-old was able to maintain some deception in his delivery, and he was outstanding throughout the 2009 season. He commanded his fastball in the bottom-half of the strike zone and was able to get ahead of hitters with consistency.
In a mid-season interview with Lone Star Dugout, Bakersfield pitching coach Dave Chavarria explained Phillips' breakout performance.
"His confidence is very high," Chavarria said. "I think his delivery is a lot cleaner than it was last year. Right now, I think he's in a good spot confidence-wise and mindset-wise. He's really slowing the game down right now.
"Last year it seemed at times that the game sped up on him. But right now, mindset-wise, he's working really well slowing the game down. It's really good for him."
Phillips' fastball was a key factor all season, allowing him to get ahead of hitters, induce 1.5 groundouts per flyout, and surrender just two home runs all season. But his two secondary pitches also played a role in his success.
Chavarria believes Phillips has a chance to be a weapon out of the bullpen with his three-pitch mix.
"His curveball is anywhere from average to above-average at times," he said. "Really tough on left-handed hitters. His changeup is a plus pitch at times also. He has a real good feel for pitching.
"He's a little different, where a lot of guys make the transition from starter to reliever because they only have two pitches. With him, he has three pitches and he has always had three. He adds a little bit different recipe down in the bullpen than the other guys."
Phillips' phenomenal 2009 season landed him a spot on the Rangers' 40-man roster over the offseason. He may be a big longshot to begin the 2010 season in the Major Leagues, but if he continues to build on last year's success, he should at least get a taste of the Majors by September.
Also See: Roster addition catches Phillips by surprise (December 2, 2009)
Sizing up the left-handed relief prospects (October 3, 2009)
Phillips finding home in bullpen (August 12, 2009)
Phillips trusting his stuff (June 29, 2009)
Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Dave Chavarria (May 16, 2009)
Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup.
Fastball: Throughout Phillips' professional career, fastball command has been the primary key to his success. The southpaw relies on a two-seam fastball with good action, and prior to the 2009 campaign, he struggled to consistently throw it for strikes and down in the zone. Phillips never had particularly bad control in the past, but he often had high walk rates [4.5 per nine innings in '08] because of a tendency to nibble around the strike zone.
Last season's move to the bullpen helped Phillips' velocity tick up into the 88-90 mph range, and he touched 91 at times. As a starting pitcher in '08, Phillips generally sat around 86-88 mph. But most importantly, Phillips was more aggressive out of the ‘pen and he showed much improved fastball command. The prospect consistently pounded the bottom half of the zone with his sinker, got ahead in counts more often, and that made his solid curveball-changeup mix all the more effective as put-away pitches.
Other Pitches: Ever since he signed as a draft-and-follow out of Sacramento City College in 2005, Phillips has been best known for his tight 75-78 mph curveball. While the curve is still solid, and it made him dominant against lefties last season, his changeup has gradually improved and developed into his second-best pitch. Phillips' plus low-80s change has great fade and deception, and it has become a legitimate out pitch against right-handers.
Projection: After starting for his first four professional seasons, Phillips is now strictly a reliever. He spent his entire '09 campaign coming out of the bullpen, with the exception of three spot-starts in Bakersfield. Although Phillips doesn't profile in the back-end of the bullpen, he can be a valuable asset in middle relief.
Phillips is tough on lefties because of his deceptive delivery, two-seam fastball, and curveball. They were just 4-for-66 [.061] against him in Bakersfield last summer. But his rapidly improving changeup has developed into an above-average pitch, making him extremely effective against right-handed hitters. He held righties to a .180 average last between the two levels last season. If Phillips gets ahead in the count and works down in the zone, he could carve out a lengthy big league career as more than just a lefty specialist.
2010 Outlook: As a member of the 40-man roster, Phillips could be bound for Triple-A Oklahoma City out of Spring Training this year. While he was solid with Frisco last season, he logged just 33.2 innings at the Double-A level, so it wouldn't be a complete shock to start the season back in the Texas League. Phillips may get his first crack at the big leagues in 2010, but he likely won't be in the mix for a full-time role with the Rangers until next season.
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