|Jeff Morris. Follow him on Twitter @AtlBravesJeff|
When the 17th round of the 2015 MLB draft began, Evan Phillips was waiting for his name to be called. A right-hander out of UNC-Wilmington, Phillips had been promised by the New York Yankees that when the 18th pick of the round – and #513th overall – came up, it would be his name that would be called. You can imagine that Phillips had a moment where he imagined what it might be like to wear those iconic pinstripes and walk onto the mound in the new Yankee Stadium.
But something happened before that. With pick #510, Phillips received a call from Billy Best, an area scout for the Atlanta Braves, that it would be the Braves, not the Yanks, that would select the Clayton High School alum (NC). He quickly signed with the Braves and he was a professional.
Phillips, who also had been picked by the Kansas City Royals coming out of high school in 2012, was assigned to the Danville Braves to begin his professional career at just 20-years-old. A starter in college, Phillips was tabbed to be a reliever in the minors and immediately opened some eyes with a half-dozen games in Danville. He allowed a solo homerun, the only blemish during his 13.1 innings. All the while, he K’d 17 and walked just four. It was quickly apparent – and the Braves agreed – that rookie ball was beneath him. He spent the final month-plus in Rome. The results weren’t nearly as dominant (4.41 ERA, 3.67 FIP, 4.41 BB/9), but considering he was just a couple of months out of college, Atlanta was pleased with the volume of work.
Rather than a return trip to Rome, Phillips was tabbed for a promotion to Carolina to open 2016. On one hand, he had a 1.27 ERA and eight saves over 21 games with a 2.54 BB/9, his single-best total anywhere. On the other hand, his strikeouts were significantly decreased and his .217 BABIP gave the impression of a pitcher who was getting pretty lucky. Regardless, by mid-June, the Braves again gave Phillips a promotion up the ladder and in just over a year since he was drafted, Phillips was already in Double-A ball. The rapid climb meant that Phillips was the first draftee from 2015 to make it to Double-A to stay (Trevor Belicek made a one-game appearance in April before returning to A-ball). Soon, A.J. Minter and Patrick Weigel would join Phillips in Mississippi from the Class of ’15.
With the Mississippi Braves, the strikeouts returned. After falling under 20% with Carolina, it climbed back up to 28.5%. the control wasn’t as pinpoint as it had been with the Mudcats, but Phillips continued to show an ability to get out hitters – though a .348 BABIP and 61.4% LOB% were his downfall ERA-wise. That mark went from 1.27 to 4.46. This is despite an FIP that dropped 10 points compared to Carolina and an xFIP that fell nearly a run. A deeper look showed a pitcher who was prone to giving up runs in a short amount of games. Between July 8 and July 24, Phillips was charged with five earned runs over 9.1 ING (5 games). Toward the end of the season, a three-game run saw him give up nine earned runs over 2.2 innings. Those three games jacked up his ERA from 2.20 to 4.60.
Phillips’s 2016 was not finished. He headed to Arizona to play in the Fall League with some of the best minor league talent in baseball. He appeared nine times and though he did strike out a little over a batter an inning, he walked nearly as many. He was rather fortunate that he only gave up six hits in 10.2 innings because had he given up many more hits, his ERA would have looked even worse.
Unlike the previous two seasons, an iffy run down the stretch with a new team wasn’t followed by a promotion to begin the next season. Phillips headed back to Mississippi to open 2017 and things…have not gone so well, but again, a deeper look into the numbers shows that things may not be what they appear.
Considered a strong possibility to close games for Mississippi, Phillips was blasted early-and-often to begin the season. Two big stinkers on April 13 and April 20 were ERA-ruiners. On the 13th, after Kolby Allard and Jesse Biddle had tossed a combined 7.1 scoreless innings, Phillips entered. He stranded a runner in the 8th and entered the ninth with a 7-0 lead after the Braves added four in the top of the inning. The wheels came off from there. He retired two batters in the inning, but allowed six runners to reach on five singles and a hit batter. When he left, the bases were loaded and three runners had already scored. That’s when Danny Reynolds compounded the problem and despite a 7-0 deficit entering the ninth, Tennessee walked it off with an 8-7 win.
A week later, there was significantly less drama as Phillips replaced an ineffective Max Fried and was charged with five runs in just one inning of work. Since that game, Phillips has righted the ship for the most part. He did give up three homers in a pair of appearances in early May, but in 16 innings since April 20, Phillips has allowed just five runs (2.81 ERA), struck out 18, and walked seven. Of course, when you see that his ERA is 8.14, it’s worth knowing that since April 20, he’s brought his ERA down 17 runs from 25.20 to 8.14.
As for a brief scouting report, Phillips is 6’2″ and about 215 pounds. He has a quick delivery in which he pushes his weight back an explodes to the plate. He’s not gifted with plus-plus velocity, but can hit 95-97 mph with max effort, though he’s more likely to be a few ticks under. He changes speeds well and appears to throw both a four-seam fastball and cutter. His slider is his best delivery and when he’s able to get ahead on the heater, his slider has swing-and-miss potential with great late movement. Occasionally, he throws what looks like a show-me changeup, but it wasn’t utilized frequently in the game footage I watched.
Phillips’ biggest issue is with his delivery – or more specifically, one part of his delivery. Even in the short footage down below, you can see that everything looks smooth except where his landing foot is. Using the dug up scuff of dirt as a guide, check out the landing spot at 0.03, 0.10, 0.18, and 0.25. Benjamin Chase of Tomahawk Take also spoke about this during a scouting report. Consistency throughout the delivery is very important and right now, Phillips has issues there. When he’s on, he’s dominant as we’ve seen. When he’s not, his control waivers. It’ll be something to keep track of moving forward.