By Bob Behre
In his third full season of minor league ball, former NJ Super 17 player Tyler Phillips has truly begun to turn heads.
The 20-year old from Pennsauken, N.J. posted a 12-5 record to go with a 2.64 ERA at two levels of A-ball this past summer in the Texas Rangers chain and made his league’s all-star game.
Phillips, a 6-5, 200-pound righthander, has elevated his game with a low-to-mid-90s fastball, a changeup that scouts say “flashes plus surprisingly often” and a curveball the same scouts believe has the potential to develop into the “plus range.” His fastball has touched 95 and has heavy sink.
A rocky start to his 2017 season caused the Bishop Eustace grad to be demoted from Low-A to extended spring training with the Rangers but the gritty righty has turned that adversity into a valuable learning experience. Phillips rebounded nicely in 2017 before his stock skyrocketed during a highly successful 2018 campaign.
Concerns early in 2017 about Phillips’ command have been erased by a 2018 season that saw him strike out 127 and walk a stunningly miniscule 16 in 133 innings with Low-A Hickory in the South Atlantic League and High-A Down East in the Carolina League. The impressive 2018 season earned Phillips a South Atlantic League All-Star Game berth. He’s been tabbed by FanGraphs as the Rangers’ No. 23 prospect.
“I’m only 20 years old,” Phillips told the Crawdads Beat blog. “I’m hoping I move up every year from here on out. That’s my goal. If anything happens before that, great, but I don’t need to rush myself.”
Phillips was called up from the Low-A Hickory Crawdads to High-A Down East in time to pitch one game before the end of the season. He surrendered one run on two hits over five innings, struck out three and walked two in his High-A debut. Phillips had been the Crawdads most reliable pitcher this summer, posting an 11-5 record with a 2.67 ERA while striking out 124 and walking 14 in 128 innings. He also boasted a paltry 1.02 WHIP.
That every-improving changeup seemed to round out Phillips’ arsenal nicely.
“The changeup is a feel pitch,” he told Crawdads Beat. “I guess it was two years ago I started working on it, because it was always too hard. I got it then I started to lose it a little bit. Then I got it back last year when I went to extended (spring training). I just practiced it because that’s the last pitch a hitter is going to learn to hit. It looks just like a fastball if you throw it right.”
Phillips spent a month in Arizona in the summer of 2017 grinding through extended spring training, trying to right his ship. He was then sent up to short-season Spokane where he, at times, overwhelmed hitters. He went 4-2 with a 3.45 ERA at Spokane while striking out 78 and walking 11 in 73 innings.
The Spokane improvement earned Phillips a promotion to Low-A Hickory for the start of 2018 and set in motion his best season in pro ball.
NOTE: Phillips was 18-0 in his high school career at parochial power Bishop Eustace.