By Bob Behre
Former Super 17 player Tyler Phillips went 8-0 with a 1.42 ERA in his final 10 starts of the season in the Texas Rangers minor league system last summer. That remarkably run of domination would propel Phillips to an honor presented to the top pitcher among all Rangers’ minor league affiliates.
Phillips was named the Nolan Ryan Pitcher of the Year after completing a 12-5 season with a 2.64 ERA in 23 games with the Rangers’ Class-A Hickory and Advanced-A Down East affiliates. His 12 wins topped the organization and his 133 innings-pitched was second among the Rangers’ minor league pitchers.
“The difference this year compared to previous years was a change in my mentality on the mound,” Phillips told Criswell’s Clubhouse Chatter blog. “I utilized everything I had learned from my peak performance classes, pitching classes and past failures and those things translated to a new confidence that I didn’t have in the past. This new confidence also made it easier to create a routine that I felt comfortable with to ensure my success.”
Through his third full season of minor league ball, Phillips truly began to turn heads inside and outside the Rangers organization. Phillips, 18-0 in his high school career at Bishop Eustace in Pennsauken, N.J., is now ranked No. 15 among the Rangers major league prospects, up from No. 23 early in the summer. He is called by prospect evaluators, “One of the more projectable starting pitching prospects in the Rangers’ system.”
Phillips, a 6-5, 235-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. He made the South Atlantic League All-Star team this summer before his elevation to the Advanced-A Carolina League.
Phillips admits to having to make some adjustments at the professional level as a fresh-out-of-high school pitcher who was just 18 years old when he arrived in Arizona for his first professional season.
“I never really experience failure at Bishop Eustace,” he said. “I had to learn how to deal with failure and use it to my advantage. Also, there were so many more things to learn about reading hitters and pitch sequences that aren’t a necessity in high school baseball.”
MLB Pipeline estimates Phillips, who received a $160,000 bonus when the Rangers drafted him in the 15th round in 2015, to arrive to the big leagues by 2021.
Phillips was called up from the Low-A Hickory Crawdads to Advanced-A Down East in time to pitch one game before the end of the 2018 season. He surrendered one run on two hits over five innings, struck out three and walked two in his Advanced-A debut. Phillips had been the Crawdads most reliable pitcher last 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 ever-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. I practiced it every single day.”
Phillips has taken nicely to a patient approach that includes hard work on his mechanics, arsenal and his body. While he’s listed as 6-5, 200 in his minor league bio, Phillips weighed 235 pounds heading into the offseason and continues to pack on muscle.
“I’m only 20 years old,” Phillips told the Crawdads Beat blog during the summer. (He turned 21 in October). “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 has been a strike-throwing machine throughout his minor league career, evidenced by his 127 strikeouts and just 16 walks in 133 innings in 2018. He’s been improving, too, in the critical area of “missing bats.” His efficiency really showed when he struck out 62 and walked just eight batters during the 57 innings that made up his 8-0 finish to the 2018 season.
His changeup remains his out pitch while he continues to make strides in an effort to improve his curveball.