Heath Michael Phillips is a 25 year old lefty who qualifies as a bit of a cliché. "Crafty lefty" may be one of the original baseball archetypes and he fits the bill. Since being drafted by the White Sox out of a Florida JuCo in the 10th round back in 2001, he's slowly climbed the ladder, culminating in a spectacular season in Charlotte last season. He doesn't have great stuff, working mostly with a mid/high 80's fastball with movement and command and a better than average changeup.
Last year was dominating and showed promise for a Major League career. If you would have asked me before the season, I would have told you that he's surely capable of being a lefty specialist in the big leagues. But his struggles this season have me wondering if his 2006 campaign was a career year rather than a breakthrough. His strikeout rate is mediocre and his walk rate is spiking. He's allowing more home runs. He's overall not showing the kind of ability to keep hitters off balance as he showed in 2006.
This is the problem with guys who have subpar stuff. They're always working to keep hitters off balance, get them to roll the hands over and weakly ground out to the second baseman. When their command is off a little bit or the changeup has a little less movement than usual, they don't have another trick up their sleeve to go to. Even the guy Phillips hopes to grow up to be, Sox lefty Mark Buehrle had a terrible stretch at the end of last season where he completely lost his ability to get hitters out.
Phillips is pretty neutral when it comes to ground outs/flyouts, which if he gets to the Cell might be a problem. The International League has a lot of parks that are difficult to hit the ball out of. The south side of Chicago does not have that advantage for him to exploit.
There's still hope here in the future if he develops his curve into an out pitch or if he becomes a real command specialist in the Bob Tewksbury mold. If he doesn't do one of these two things, he'll be a competent AAA pitcher for the foreseeable future, maybe getting a cup of coffee when the big club needs a spot starter or an extra lefty in the pen. If he does make one or both of those improvements, then I think he might be able to pass as a fifth starter or a long reliever.