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Player Profile: Brandon Phillips

After becoming what seemed like a lost cause and a forgotten prospect, Brandon Phillips was handed a chance to succeed in Cincinnati in 2006, and has done nothing to show that he should lose it. He slowed down somewhat after a torrid April that no one expected, but his statistics still show him to be a valuable part of the Cincinnati offense and defense.

Brandon Phillips was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the 2nd round of the 1999 amateur draft. He was placed in the rookie ball at age 18 for the rest of the 1999 season, and hit .290/.348/.408 in 169 at-bats for the Gulf Coast Expos.

His statistics were impressive for an 18-year old, with a Secondary Average of .260 and a BB% of 8.2%. His first year of full season ball did not go as well, as he only hit .242/.306/.378 for the season Single-A Cape Fear. His Isolated Power increased somewhat, and his walk and strikeout rates were essentially static, so it was not all bad. After his promotion to A+ Jupiter for the 2001 season, Phillips really started to come into his own offensively.

Brandon Phillips 2001
Jupiter (A+) 194 .284 .414 .428 .412 33% .144 15.9% 14 85% 18.8%
Harrisburg (AA) 265 .298 .337 .449 .223 29% .151 4.2% 19 68% 14.8%

He increased his walk rate a great deal while at Jupiter, but then it regressed below his previous established level when he jumped to Double-A Harrisburgh. Interestingly enough he also cut down on his strikeouts. Considering he was 20 years old and in Double-A, this was a very impressive half season. Baseball Prospectus 2001 had this to say before his 2001 stint:

A tools guy who generates power through great bat speed, Phillips spent most of the year hitting third in the lineup. That says a lot about the state of Expo prospectdom. Afield, he's got decent range, good hands, and a lot of work to do. Phillips gives me a Hubie Brooks vibe for reasons I don't understand. It must be the hitting third thing, because it isn't something I'd trust.

After his successful stint at A+ Jupiter, and his mostly successful half season at Harrisburgh, Brandon Phillips started the 2002 season repeating at Double-A. Baseball Prospectus 2002 was excited about Phillips' potential:

This is the reason teams continue to draft raw athletes. If, like Phillips, they can translate their tools into skills, it makes for a potentially dominating player. When the organization challenged Phillips to walk more than he struck out, he made the intelligent choice--he decided to be more patient at the plate rather than cut down on his swing. Though he found Eastern League competition tougher, he followed up with a dynamite stint in the Arizona Fall League, playing mostly third base. The defensive switch was made only so that he could participate; he projects to be an above-average shortstop, with plus range, soft hands, and a strong arm. Phillips is coming like a freight train and could be in the Expos' 2003 Opening Day lineup.

If Phillips was a freight train prior to the 2002 season, he was more like a missile after his first half of a season at Harrisburg. He hit .327/.380/.506 in his second stint there, increasing his walk rate back to up a smidge to 6% while further cutting his strikeouts down to 12.4%. Sadly for the Expos, the missile was directed at Cleveland. Phillips became the centerpiece of a 5-player swap between the Expos and Indians. Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore and Lee Stevens all headed to Cleveland, while Bartolo Colon and Tim Drew headed north of the border. This deal was made at the time when the Expos were supposedly going to fold in the near future, so Minaya dealt away a future that the city of Washington D.C. probably wishes was still intact in order to remain competitive in the short term.

Upon his arrival in Buffalo, the Triple-A affiliate of the Indians, Phillips strikeout rate increased, and most of his offensive statistics took a small dive. He hit .283/.321/.453 in 223 at-bats before earning a promotion to the big league club and making his debut on September 13, 2002. He hit a respectable .258/.343/.419 in his first 11 games with the club, actually increasing his walk rate and keeping his strikeout rates consistent with his minor league numbers.

Baseball Prospectus 2003 details Phillips switch to second base for the Indians:

The Indians sent Phillips to the Arizona Fall League to keep working on becoming a second baseman because Omar's under contract for another two years. There's no reason to believe Phillips can't make the switch. It may even be for the best, since he's never been an outstanding defensive shortstop, although he has the arm for the position. However, because of his stick he's rightly regarded as one of the top infield prospects in baseball. If he doesn't stick at short, his value will go down a little, but the difference between a decent shortstop with a great stick and a good defensive second baseman with a good stick isn't that huge.

Phillips actually spent a great deal of the 2003 season with the big league club, but he did not show any of the star potential that was all over his previous numbers. For the season, he hit only .208/.242/.311, with a SecA of .138 go to along with the lowest walk rate of his career (3.6%) and the highest strikeout rate (19.6%). His stint in Buffalo did not go much better, as he hit only .175/.247/.279, although with improved control of the strike zone.

He spent all but 24 of his 2004 plate appearances in Buffalo working on recovering his top prospect status. He managed to hit .296/.353/.416, keeping his walk rate consistent with his 2003 minor league numbers, with the most encouraging statistic being his strikeout rate, which dropped all the way to 9.1%. The power that made him so impressive as a middle infield prospect continued to elude him though. It wasn't enough to earn a promotion to the Indians in 2005 though, as Jhonny Peralta took over at shortstop when Omar Vizquel skipped town to join the San Francisco Giants. Since Peralta hit .296/.366/.520 in his debut season, and Ronnie Belliard surprised with another valuable season, Phillips never received the call to the majors after his initial demotion, instead hitting .256/.326/.409, his least impressive full season minor league statistics.

Baseball Prospectus 2006 was very direct and to the point about what Phillips needed to accomplish in order to crack a major league roster:

Everything that was said about Peralta, above, could be said about Phillips, except the part about the extra consonants. Phillips has clearly improved his understanding of the strike zone from where it was two years ago, making far better contact and taking a few more walks. He's still going to have to do a disproportionate amount of hitting 'em where they ain't to make an impact.

With Peralta supposedly firmly entrenched at shortstop, the newly acquired Andy Marte set to take over at third when Boone faltered, and Ronnie Belliard still the second basemen, Phillips had nowhere to go except Buffalo. His PECOTA projection was nothing close to inspiring, with a .251/.306/.371 line forecasted, along with a .247 EqA and essentially league average defense at short.

Wayne Krivsky, the new General Manager of the Reds, decided to make a move for Phillips to help shore up the infield of a team that often needs the depth it has. Currently, Phillips has a 6.1% BB%, and has lowered his strikeouts to 12.1%, his best mark as a major leaguer. He has also started to show some of the power he displayed as a minor leaguer, with 7 homeruns in 196 at-bats. His .311/.355/.474 line bests his 90th percentile PECOTA projection of .280/.335/.428 by a large margin.

Here is Phillips' Batted Ball data, courtesy of The Hardball Times:

Brandon Phillips Batted Ball Data 2006
2006 23.5% 43.6% 4.4% 10.0% .335 .355

He's actually underperforming his expected BABIP, although his line drive percentage may be a little high to sustain. Even with a little bit of regression in that department, Phillips is still going to turn out quite the season. Don't be surprised if his final season line looks somewhat similar to his current one. After a torrid April and a decent May, his June numbers closely resemble his seasonal averages, and those are reasonable considering his past history and current peripheral statistics.

To read previous player profiles, check out this link.