The Heir Apparent?: Nate Phillips

Leadership qualities, a cannon for an arm and 30 HR power are all attributes of 18 year old, switch hitting, 2004 6th round pick, Nate Phillips. In a exclusive, hearing from Phillips, the Yankees and his teammates, let's learn why he is lined up to be the next great Yankee catcher.

When the Yankees begin making plans for you and comparing you to great players, some may get the feeling the they have big plans for you. Well, in the case of Nate Phillips, this would be absolutely correct. The Yankees have become known for their infatuation with certain young players; Nate Phillips is one of them. When a Yankee scout first saw the former shortstop play, he saw big things ahead of him. Not only did he have the natural Yankee temperament in him already, but the work ethic and all around potential as well. At the time, it was not certain if they had a chance at him in the 2004 draft, but when the day came, the 18 year sat high on the draft board.

"Leading up to the draft, I never thought things would play out the way they did," Phillips told "Going in the 6th round, it was just amazing. I'm not sure why but I was thinking I was going in the 15th-20th rounds. I got a call during the first few rounds saying that the Yankees were going to take me in the 5th or 6th round. I just couldn't believe it. I was so excited and just couldn't wait to get going."

The switch hitting shortstop wasn't the only one that was happy about the selection. In the Yankees eyes, they may have gotten one of the biggest steals of the draft.

"When he makes it, it is going to look a like a steal," said an unnamed Yankee source. Why would it be a steal? Well, it turns out that the Yankees drafted an infielder, but were able to see something a little more in his not so distant future. They sent him to play in the Gulf Coast League before they disclosed their eventual genius idea. Phillips went on to have a a season that many projectable high school players go on to have in their first pro season, batting .242. However, the Yankees were not so concerned about that yet, considering his high school performance and all the possibilities for the Texas native.

Before getting any further into the story of Nate Phillips, it may be nice to look back at back at the high school career of this Yankee project and just what the Yankees saw in him prior to the draft.

"Wow, my high school statistics were pretty crazy," said Phillips. "I batted something over .400 for my whole career there and I hit 7 or 8 home runs in my senior year." Well, statistically you can't get much more impressive than that. But, it is the tools that turns the Yankees on about Nate. "I think they really liked me for my projectability," he said. "Mark Newman liked how I was big, tall and had a lot of potential. I think there were guys better than me, but they saw a big future ahead of me."

The Yankees did see a lot ahead of him with the bat and on the defensive side of the ball as well. After a season at shortstop in the Gulf Coast League, the Yankees opened a new possibility for Phillips, a move behind the plate.

"A move behind the plate for Nate Phillips is a Posada like move," said an unnamed Yankee source. "Nate has a great arm, he's agile and he's going to have power and hit for average. It is just a great move."

It is amazing to think that the Yankees think that highly of a guy that is not yet 19 years old and did not crack .250 in his first pro season. We asked Nate Phillips just why he thought the Yankees thought enough of him to put him atop their list of catching prospects and tab him as the possible heir to Jorge Posada.

"They told me when I made the switch to catcher that they thought it would be as big a move as Jorge Posada made when he was in the minors," Phillips explained. "They told me that they loved my arm and natural leadership skills. Saying that, they have a lot of confidence that I'll be able to work really well with the pitchers and calling games." There's no doubt the Yankees nailed this young man's personality; he is pure leader on and off the field and seems to give you the same sense that Derek Jeter has given Yankees fans since he first emerged on the big stage.

"From what I see, this kid's going to be another Yankee lifer like Posada, Jeter and Bernie," the source exclaims. So, why so much recognition? Not to jump the gun, but does anyone remember what another great Yankee, Derek Jeter batted in his first professional season?

"I wouldn't worry about Nate," the 6th round pick's friend and teammate, Christian Garcia tells us. "He struggled early but caught fire late in 2004. He's going to be an amazing hitter; he works hard and he has the tools to do it."

Although it is not what he aimed for, Phillips certainly isn't disheartened by how his season went in 2004. With the attitude he has toward the game, struggling is just another step towards getting better and becoming the player he and the Yankees believe he can be.

"I didn't really have a great year. And, it was different because I was used to playing so well in high school. The first year was just tough. My swing was a little long; it is something I was able to get away with in High School with aluminum bat. But, I've worked really hard this off season and I think I've really shortened up. I'm not worried about having to make adjustments because they only make me a better player."

Even thought he didn't truly meet his expectations at shortstop either, Phillips doesn't feel that was the reason for his move behind the plate. It was more so because his value as a catcher simply seemed too immense to ignore.

"I made like 13 or 14 errors at shortstop this year, but I don't think I looked bad," Phillips explains. "To be honest, I think I could still play shortstop, but my value seems to be behind the plate. I just want to be where I have the most value to the team and get to the big leagues the fastest. Everyone knows that the way to do that is catching"

But, don't think the Yankees were just looking for a catcher when they moved Nate behind the dish. It was something they thought he was made for since the beginning.

"In the first reports we had of Phillips, we saw that he had the tools to be a catcher," our Yankee source says. "His talent is too big to waste and from the beginning when we first saw him in High School, catching was a possibility."

But, on the other hand, Nate Phillips did have an original fallback plan to shortstop, but it wasn't catching; it was pitching. "In High School, I threw like 88 MPH," he told "I spent half my time pitching and half my time at shortstop. I had heard that the Yankees had an interest in drafting me as a pitcher, also. I'm not sure. But, I had always thought that pitching could be my fallback plan. But, the Yankees just really liked the projection I had at the plate."

However, when the Yankees proposed the idea of catching to the 18 year old, he was all for it. Of course he would be; that's what a true Yankee would do.

"They brought me in to the instructionals and told me they'd try to get me in some games at catcher," said the switch hitter. "I can't say I wasn't surprised, but I was more than willing to do it. I ended up getting in three games in mini-camp and they liked how I did I guess. They told me I was going to be a catcher now. So, now I'm a catcher."

So, has the transition been a difficult one for Phillips? The work has been long and hard, but according to the confident backstop, the process is progressing well thanks to his hard work.

"For me, the difficult part was not so much learning the pitchers, calling games and receiving, but more with blocking pitches. That was one area I've had to work the hardest on this off season. Three times a week, I work on blocking pitches and just work on the catch and throw stuff. Just keeping on it has made me a much better catcher already. I feel I already have the strong throwing arm and the hands for it, just working on the blocking was the biggest thing. I worked on a lot of the pitch calling and stuff like that during instructionals and probably will again in spring training. And, I'll keep working on everything else until spring training starts. I don't just want to be a catcher, but an excellent defensive catcher too."

All of this sounds great, but how does it set Nate Phillips for his development? Some players may be opposed to the switch considering they may have to repeat a level to further develop. In fact, the Yankees newest catcher will likely start in the Gulf Coast League in 2005, but he tells us he has no problem with that.

"At first, I heard I was going to be the starting shortstop in Staten Island in 2005. But, once they decided to make me a catcher, the plans changed. I think the way it will play out now is that I'll play half a season in the Gulf Coast and make it up to Staten Island and catch there for the rest of the season. I expect to adjust much better with the bat, so I think that's the way it will go. I struggled in 2004 but I believe things will go much better this year with the bat and I look forward to the new challenge of catching."

So, now we know the baseball side of Nate Phillips and that, to the Yankees, he was cut right out of the Bronx Bomber mold. But, are New York and this teenage catcher a match made in heaven? It sure appears that way.

"Going into the draft, the Yankees were a team that contacted me and had a lot of interest. But, they were definitely my number one choice going in. I mean, the organization is just unbelievable. Being with the Yankees is just incredible."

And, then there is the Yankee standpoint. Looking at all early indications, don't think for one moment that they aren't overjoyed to have a projectable yet defensively gifted young catcher.

"With some development, Phillips is going to be great," added our Yankee source. "We love his leadership skills and we think he is going to be one of those true Yankee lifers. He is everything you could want in a young, Yankee player."

Is Nate Phillips a little far off from the Majors? Yes. Might it be early to be lining him up as a future great Yankee catcher? Maybe. But, it is not too early to realize just how the Yankees look at Phillips, his sky high catching possibilities, switch hitting power and Derek Jeter-like personality on and off the field. Granted, he has a long road to travel, but one that could be traveled by one of the best true Yankees to come down the line in a very long time. would like to thank Nate Phillips for his contribution to this exclusive content.

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