Results tagged ‘ Cole Hamels ’

In Control: An Interview with Tyler Phillips

When Tyler Phillips was a member of the 2017 Hickory Crawdads, the outings were painful to watch. A 6.39 ERA over 25.1 innings and a .280 OBA quickly showed that Phillips was not ready for class Low-A. The five hit batters and 9 walks over that stretch showed he didn’t trust the stuff he had.

A demotion to the Texas Rangers extended spring was an awakening for the then-19-year-old from Pennsauken, N.J. Dealing with the anger over the demotion, Phillips, who was 18-0 during his high school career, was also dealing with the reality that he was experiencing failure and needed to make mental changes.

The start of the short-season Northwestern League at Spokane (Wash.) had its ups and downs, including a three-walk over a four-inning start on June 23. Since then, Phillips has made 26 pro starts. He’s walked more than one in a start just once. That came on opening night 2018 to back-to-back hitters at Greensboro.

Over his last eight starts with Spokane, the right-hander in 49 innings allowed 47 hits, 13 earned runs (2.39 ERA), one hit batter, 5 walks with 55 strikeouts.

For much of the season, Phillips has been the Crawdads most consistent starter. Following the opening-night loss to the Grasshoppers, Phillips has gone five innings in his remaining 14 starts. All 14 has seen 0 or 1 in the walk column. He has 85 strikeouts to just 10 walks over 88 innings (through July 9).

His fastball is around 91-92 mph consistently, but it’s the changeup that is often his money-maker. In a July 2 start vs. Greensboro, Phillips had, by my count, 16 missed bats out of 54 strikes, 12 of those on changeups.

However good Phillips’ control has been over the last 12 months, that has come, in many ways, through the ability to control some of the fiery emotion he battled on the mound, and to control some self-doubts, regaining his confidence.

The following interview took place the day after the Greensboro start on 7/2/18 and it starts with the outcome of that outing and then weaves through the events of his career over the past year.

 

First of all, last night’s start, I don’t know how you felt about it but it seemed like once you got through the first inning you seemed to find a groove. What was the key for you?

Phillips: To be honest, in that first inning I was pretty gassed. I was down there in the bullpen warming up and the humidity was getting to me and I was sweating, and I couldn’t catch my breath. And there was a little bit of miscommunication in the dugout, so I went out there earlier than I wanted to. That’s kind of the whole reason the first inning seemed a little longer than it should’ve been.

After that, me and (Yohel) Pozo – I told him the plan before the game, they’re an aggressive team and they swing a lot. You don’t really see many adjustments made, so I’m just going to keep pitching to my strengths. I said, “Hey, I’ve been watching them and we’re just going to keep them mixed up and let them get themselves out.” As hitters, they’re hitting .250 for a reason and they’re not going to hit it every time. So, I just kept it mixed up and kept making them uncomfortable. That’s why I fell into that groove there. We just stuck to our plan. I just kept making pitches and he was blocking pitches in the dirt. That was a big help from him.

 

A lot of changeups last night. Has that pitch come along for you over the last year?

Phillips: I mean, the changeup is a feel pitch. I guess it was two years ago I started working on it, because it was always too hard. I got it and then I started to lose it a little bit, then I got it back last year when I went back to extended after getting sent down from here. I just practiced that because that’s the last pitch a hitter is going to learn to hit, and it looks just like a fastball, if you throw it right. I just practiced it every single day.

My last three, four outings, it hasn’t really been there. So, like I said, it’s a feel pitch and every day for the past two weeks I’ve been out here every day just tweaking my grip and messing around with different things until I got it back. I was playing catch with A.J. (Alexy) and he was throwing his hard, so I just started throwing mine hard and that’s kind of how I got it to come back. You’ve just got to trust it. That’s been the big pitch for me.

 

Is that the hardest pitch for a starter to learn?

Phillips: I picked it up pretty quickly, but it’s different for every guy. Some guys have more feel than others. It’s just something that I put a lot of time into it. I kind of take pride in that pitch a lot. I know (Alex) Eubanks is working on one right now. Some things will click for some guys and some things won’t. I tried telling him things that I do with mine, but that might not click for him. So, you’ve just got to talk to teammates and talk to coaches, and eventually it’ll come. It’s a tough pitch to come along with.

Tyler Phillips 2

Tyler Phillips from a 2017 start (Crystal Lin/ Hickory Crawdads)

 

Who have you seen either on the major league level, or even at this level, that has a changeup that you have looked to, or were impressed by?

Phillips: Probably Cole Ragans. Unfortunately, he got hurt in spring training; I would’ve loved to have had him here. He’s another guy, we’d sit there and we both have similar swing-and-miss changeups. I love watching it because it’s a fun pitch to watch come out of his hand.

I know he models his after Cole Hamels, which – I’m a Phillies fan because I’m from New Jersey, and I’m a Cole Hamels fan, too. Those are the two guys that come to mind when I think about a changeup. Obviously, there’s Pedro Payano, he’s got a good one. There’s a lot of guys, but both of the Coles, they come to mind when you talk about changeups.

 

You mentioned Cole Hamels, have you been able to talk to him any?

Phillips: He talked to us just about routines and stuff, like all of the pitchers. But whenever I see him, we talk about the Eagles basically. I wish I could have a little bit more time with him, just to talk about pitching and all the different aspects to it. He’s a smart guy, obviously. He’s been in the league for a long time and he’s had success. I wish I could talk to him more about it.

 

Is that an awe thing for you? Like, dude, this is Cole Hamels.

Phillips: This was weird how that came about. My assistant high school baseball coach, his brother’s friend sent him these selfies with Cole Hamels, so apparently, they’re friends. Cole came up to me and my heart was pounding, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is Cole Hamels.” It is a little weird, but he’s just another guy, just like us. He just has a little bit more experience.

Tyler Phillips 2018

Tyler Phillips warming up for a 2018 start (Hickory Crawdads)

 

You have a real calm presence on the mound, or at least it looks like that to me sitting up in the press box. I get the impression that you have this cool demeanor on the mound. Is that important for you as a starter? Where did you gather that?

Phillips: That’s another thing that just comes along just talking to older guys and talking to all kinds of people that have been through it.

I know in high school I was successful. I was 18-0 and I didn’t really experience failure. I went to Spokane my first year and struggled there, and there were errors and stuff. I wasn’t really liking that and I was getting fired up on the mound. Then I sat down with Rags (Corey Ragsdale) and he was like, “Hey, man, they’re not perfect and you’re not perfect. You’ve just got to trust it, man. You’re working. You can’t sit there and deny that stuff and you can’t control it. You need to work harder and get better yourself.”

That’s kind of where it started, that and all the peak-performance classes we have with Josiah (Igono), who’s our big-league, peak-performance guy now. He was just like “You don’t want to waste energy out there and it’s not going to do anything by getting upset.”

When I walk guys – I don’t like walking guy, when I walk guys, I get angry – you’ve just got to step off, regather yourself and make your pitches. I try to do that and I try to have a little fire in my eye. It’s just a big confidence thing and it’s what’s making my season better now. I go out there and I walk out there and I think I’m the best one here and no one’s better than me. It’s not true, but you’ve got to fake it until you make it. There are plenty of pitchers out there better than me, but it’s all up in the mind.

 

Did you grow up a lot from when you were here last year?

Phillips: A whole lot (laughing). Maturity, I feel like. A lot of guys and a lot of coaches have said that I’ve become much more mature. I guess I do see it and it’s just like, you just learn things.

My offseason throwing partner (Scott Oberg) – he’s in the big leagues with the Colorado Rockies right now. He talks to me a lot right now about philosophies and Chinese proverbs, and I’m just sitting there just taking it in. I know that he’s in the big leagues, so why not listen to him and take advantage of your resources. And the whole thing with Josiah, just listening to him.

I’m getting older and if I want to move, I’ve got to get mature. Just like Spanish players, you’ve got to learn English. They don’t have to, but it makes a big impact in the game. I feel like it makes me a better person on the field and off the field. It makes it easier to be a pitcher if you’re not worried about that other stuff.

 

I know you saw my tweet about your last 25 starts (Tyler Phillips walked 3 in a start with on 6/23/17. In the 25 starts since, he’s walked more than 1 batter once – back-2-back on opening night 2018. Since then: 144.2 IP 16 walks, 147 Ks), Was there a point where you began to trust your stuff? I know you went down from here last year and learned some things, but there comes a moment where you’ve got to trust what you do. For some guys there’s a moment or a conversation that gets you to trust your stuff.

Phillips: It’s just a big confidence thing. At instructs, Rags asked me, “What’s different?” I came from here and got moved down, and obviously, I’m not going to be happy. Josiah said, “You should take this week to be pissed off. I know you’re going to be angry and you’re going to be upset, but none of these younger guys here in Arizona, they don’t feel bad for you. They see it as an opportunity for them to move up and they’re going to take advantage of that, if they can.”

That kind of really hit home for me and I really starting to get worried, like “What am I doing? Yeah, I’m going to be pissed off, but I’ve got to get back there and I’ve got to keep moving up and keep getting better.” So, I went out there every single day and just worked hard. That’s really all you can do. It just clicked for me there and that’s the big thing. I went out there and started to throw better and started to pitch better and my confidence started to come back up. I realized, “Hey, this is what’s going to make me better than everyone else.” I’ve been there, and I wasn’t confident, and you saw what happened last year at the beginning of the season. That was just a big thing for me.

Was the all-star selection a big moment for you?

Phillips: Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to make it. My last outing wasn’t the best and I was looking at my stats on the milb thing and thought, “Oh man.” But it happened. That was one of my goals for the season.

I told them in my individual meeting, “Yeah, I want to make an all-star game. I want to move up halfway through the season.” Hopefully, that happens, but if it doesn’t, as long as I progress in my pitching and just keep getting better, that’s what I want. But, the All-Star Game was big for me. I was happy about that.

 

Good experience for you?

Phillips: Yeah, it was a really good experience. It was weird being in the clubhouse with all the other teams. Like, you’re trying to beat them as a pitcher and I’m trying to strike them out and I’m trying to get them out. Like I told you, I had that little fire in my eye and I’m thinking of staring guys down. It’s just a mental thing, but I get in the clubhouse with them and I feel like nobody liked me. Like, this is weird. But, it was definitely fun to meet some of those guys and hear some of their stories of the things they’ve done. It was all a good time.

 

What does your path to the major leagues look like? You probably don’t see the whole journey, but you guys are always looking at the next thing, the next step.

Phillips: I mean, I’m still young. I’m only 20-years-old right now. I’m hoping I move up every year from here on out, kind of just keep a steady track. That’s what my goal is. If anything happens before that, great, but I don’t need to rush myself, I don’t think. Because, what’s the point of going up too soon and you risk not having a good season and you just go back to square one? Hopefully that doesn’t happen to where I’ll lose some confidence. I just want to move steadily.

 

Who have you met from the Rangers – I know you mentioned Cole Hamels – but who you’ve met that you’ve gravitated towards?

Phillips: I mentioned Rags. I mentioned Josiah, and I try to talk to him as much as I can. It’s a little different now because he’s pretty busy with the major leaguers. That’s the main one, Josiah.

Everyone says that baseball is 90 percent mental and the other 90 percent is physical, but it’s all mental, I think. This is a grind. I like talking to teammates just to see what they have to say. I try to go towards older guys and put myself out of my comfort zone. I used to be really shy and I didn’t really want to talk to anyone. You’ve just got to force yourself to do some things.

I talked to Kyle Cody last year before I got sent down. I talked to him the short time I was here to get some input from him and his thoughts. I talked to guys my age just to see what they think and compare things and see what works for people. I’m a big observer. I like to watch and not talk as much.

And there’s a time where you can let some stuff out, because you’ve experienced it. I like to experience things through other people’s experiences. That’s really what I do; I don’t really have a set person. I just try to watch people and see what they’ve got going on. There’s a lot of smart guys and I’m not going to get to talk to all of them.

 

You call the call to the major leagues, what do you think that will be like for you? Who do you call?

Phillips: Both of my parents, obviously. My girlfriend, she’d definitely be pretty excited about that.

I wish I had my grandpa around to tell him that. So, I try to pitch for him every time I go out there. If you ever see me behind the mound just staring up, I pick out a cloud out there, a tree or something and just try to talk to him a little bit right before I pitch. That always settles me down. I wish I can call him, but I know he’s watching. That’s one guy, but my parents will tell everyone else and reach out. I’ve got my two best friends that I’d call.

 

What’s your grandpa’s name?

Phillips: Frank Phillips.

 

What did he mean to you?

Phillips: I was young when he passed, probably 9 or 10 years old, but he was one of my heroes. He was in wars, he was in all the wars. He has a purple heart and just had some great stories and just took care of me, whenever my dad would bring me over there. We had fun and he showed me how to pitch and play checkers and do all the things that you teach younger kids how to do. I just loved being around him and he was really a great guy. He was awesome, and I was pretty close to him. I like to try to model myself after him, I think he was a good guy. He taught my dad everything that my dad knows and my dad tries to teach me everything that my grandpa knew. I know he would’ve loved to be there. He’s never seen me pitch. That’s something I wish he could’ve done, but I know he’s up there watching.

Catching the Wave: An interview with Texas Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones

I will not be partial here. I love catchers. For me, the position is greatly undervalued. The good ones not only swing the bat and play the position almost flawlessly, but they are also full-time field generals and part-time psychiatrists. Most World Series teams have a guy behind the plate that is the heart, the soul, the pulse, the lifeblood, etc. of the team: Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, Jorge Posada, Salvador Perez to name a few.

When the Texas Rangers were in the midst of their 2016 playoff run, they chose to give up prospects Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz – both former first-round pics – and Ryan Cordell to the Milwaukee Brewers for catcher Jonathan Lucroy. It was hoped that Lucroy would play a big role handling the pitching staff and bring another consistent bat into the lineup and put the Rangers in World Series contention.

Part of the need for Lucroy was because the Rangers had not developed their own catcher. A possible starter, Jorge Alfaro, was used in a trade in 2015 to get pitcher Cole Hamels. The lack of a homegrown catcher is something that Rangers catching coordinator Chris Briones wants to see rectified.

Since joining the club in 2015 as the catching coordinator, Briones is helping the Rangers build a stable of young catchers in the minor-league system that may one day put “THAT GUY” in the forefront of leading the team. According to MLB.com, among the Texas Rangers top-30 prospects six are catchers at least part-time.

Crawdads catcher Sam Huff is a part of that top-30 group, but two others that started the season at Hickory are perhaps not far behind the list. Yohel Pozo hit .338 for Hickory in the second half of 2017 and Melvin Novoa showed good defensive skills (threw out 5 of 6 base stealers with Hickory) with a bat that was quickly deemed too good for this level and his now at high-A Down East. The three started the year at Hickory and rotated catching duties, then played first or DH’ed when not behind the plate, so as to keep the bat in the lineup.

Briones was in the area this week to check on his pupils and, as he calls his visits, to refill the tanks. I had a chance to talk with him about the Hickory catching situation, but also touch on the state of the Rangers catching prospects.

 

You had a three-headed monster here and now it’s down to two. I know it wasn’t the perfect scenario for what you wanted, but you had to get guys at bats. The three of them that were here, Novoa, Huff and Pozo, how did you see them working through that together?

Briones: It was a really unique situation to where you had three young catching prospects that are the same age and they needed to play. Like you said, the three-headed monster were going to get 45 games apiece for the season, rotate through at first base, rotate through as the designated hitter, and days they weren’t catching they were going to get the extra work with (coach) Turtle (Thomas). It was a challenge. As you think about it, was it going to be enough to consider really developing three catchers? And it was working out well.

The fact that Melvin came out swinging the bat really well, it created an opportunity to move him up and the opening up at Down East was there for him to basically slide in and split some time up there with Matt Whatley. In my opinion, it just creates a better opportunity for Sam and Pozo to get more reps. The more that they’re back here, I think the more opportunity there is to develop.

The game action is the most important thing to get versus the drills and all the practice. The more games and innings that they can add to that line, that’s where they get to develop – the game action.

 

I’ll just go through one at a time. Sam Huff, who I just talked to. He seems like a kid that just wants to win, period. He mentioned several times ”I just want to win, I just want to win.”

Briones: Absolutely. He actually gets that from Jose Trevino. He has a really good relationship with Jose. Jose’s bottom line is to win. He won here and Jose won at the next level. They spent a lot of time together in spring training. If that’s the goal, to win, then everything else will take care of itself. The way that Trevino went about his business, Sam is trying to follow in his footsteps.

Huff Jaimes Mendez mound visit

Catcher Sam Huff (r) during a mound visit with pitcher Sal Mendez and pitching coach Jose Jaimes (photo courtesy of Tracy Proffitt)

 

What are some of the examples that Trevino set that Sam and some of the other guys are trying to follow? Are they the intangibles or other areas?

Biones: Definitely the intangibles, paying attention to the opposing team. Everything that we ask of the catchers, Trevino did: From taking care of the pitching staff, knowing the opposing hitters, just knowing everything that he could possibly know. From a catcher’s standpoint, that’s what I’m asking them all to do. Pay attention to all the little things, and create relationships, and have good communication with his pitching staff, have good communication with his manager and pitching coach. I always looked at the catcher as another part of the coaching staff, to where they need to know everything that is going on.

Jose Trevino catching

Catcher Jose Trevino during a 2015 game against Hagerstown (Tracy Proffitt)

To have the opportunity to have Trevino my first year and to see what he was like, he set the bar for all the young catchers extremely high. I use him as the example for the Pozos, the Novoas, the Sam Huffs, the Matt Whatleys. It’s like, this guy does it the way that you want to do it. Watch how he does it. He’s got his second Gold Glove a couple of weeks ago. In a short period of time, he’s got a tremendous resume and Sam looks at that. All of the other kids look at that and see how he does what he does. He’s got a great game plan and recipe for success.

 

What is Sam working on now? What do you see him working on for the remainder of year? Well, let me refocus, this is such an evolving position, what is he working on at this point?

Briones: From the defensive standpoint, just getting the innings and playing.

It’s the first time that he’s out of the complex. He’s an Arizona kid. He had the ability to go home every evening. Every Saturday, he could jump in his car and drive 40 minutes to go home and see Mom and Dad. This being his first opportunity to be away from home, I’m constantly checking on him to make sure he’s not homesick.

What is he working on the field? Every aspect you could possibly think of: running a pitching staff, learning to communicate, learning to pace himself with the grind of playing every single day and having one or two days off a month. This is something that he’s never done. In Arizona, they play 10:30 games and then they have the rest of the day off. Here, he’s got to learn how to time manage and know how to get everything that needs to be done in a day done, and be ready to play. We try to keep an eye on his workload, and keep an eye on his fatigue, and keep an eye on his diet and hold him accountable to do all of that also, and make sure he shows up ready to play every day.

Pozo. He came here and had a tremendous second half with the bat. A little slower to start this year, is part of that was, last year he was catching a lot in the second half last year, where as this year he is having to split more of that time?

Briones:  He’s splitting the time but he’s still in the lineup with the innings at first base and the innings as a designated hitter. So, he’s getting his at bats. It’s a little harder to get the rhythm defensively. The defense for me has been fine.

Offense, that’s a tricky one. It comes and goes. He’s getting his at bats. It’s not like he’s catching and hitting, and then getting two days off, and then catching and hitting, and then getting two days off. He’s still getting the consistent at bats. That’s how this game goes with scouting reports to where, they have last year’s scouting reports to go off of and they have an idea on how to pitch him. Whether you are in A-ball or AA or AAA, they’re going to find out what your scouting reports are – whether you are aggressive, if he chases. Repeating this level, they have notes on him and what he can do and what he looks for. That’s what scouting reports are for.

Yohel Pozo catching

Yohel Pozo during a 2018 game vs. Columbia (Tracy Proffitt)

What is he working on at this point?

Briones: Learning to love the work of defense. That’s where Turtle Thomas comes in on a daily basis. The kid loves to hit. He loves to hit. We’d love for him to get to where he loves the defensive side and the practice that goes into it. Running a staff and just working like Sam did last night – work his but off for nine innings and be able to separate the offense from the defense. Pozo, we’re trying to get him to where he loves the defensive side as much as he loves the offensive side.

 

What are the biggest intangibles that catchers at this level have to pick up on? Catching is such an intangible position beyond the defensive and offensive skills?

Briones: The biggest one is building the relationships and learning the pitching staff. Having the consistency of 12 to 15 pitchers to work with on a daily basis and to know who are the ones you have to wrap your arm around and who are the ones you have to kick in the butt. That’s something that Sam and Pozo and Novoa, when he was here, that’s not a physical thing that we can practice, but that’s something that’s highly important.

That’s something with which Trevino did a great job. When you build that relationship, you’re going to build trust. When you have that trust and you get out on the field – last night there was trust built between Casanova and Huff. It started off shaky, but they fed off of each other and it was a beautiful game. That’s something that Sam’s gotta learn. When you’re in Arizona as a catcher, there’s fifty pitchers there and it’s hard to build trust and a relationship when you have a pitching staff that’s huge.

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Melvin Novoa (left) congratulated by Sam Huff after scoring (Tracy Proffitt)

 

You look at almost every World Series team they have that catcher, the Poseys, and Yadier Molina, and Varitek and Posada. For the average fan, and probably for the average me, what is the thing behind the scenes that most fans don’t see that really goes into that position to make a major league team successful?

Briones:  The fact is that all the names that you mentioned, they are homegrown. I think that is something that is a key for a championship team. You mentioned the Buster Poseys, the Posadas, the Yadis, they all came through the system. They’ve known the system from the first time that they signed a professional contract. That’s something that we need to develop.

I look at the wave of catchers that we have from Trevino to Chuck Moorman to Novoa to Matt Whatley, who is the newest one in the mix. We have five, six, seven, eight guys that are in the system that are all homegrown. Now, we just need to graduate one and the first one, that hopefully we’ll graduate, will be Trevino. Actually Brett Nicholas was one of the first homegrown ones, but we need to create that. They know the system. They know what we’re looking for. They know they’ve got that trust with all their pitchers throughout the organization. We have waves of it. Every age bracket, we have them coming.

 

Trevino ready to take the next step forward?

Briones: Behind the plate, for me defensively, absolutely. Defensively, he can do the job. In the industry, the way he’s swinging the bat, he’s a backup catcher. He just came back from the disabled list and in his first game back he went 2-for-2 with two homers.

Pitching has gotten better as he got to AA. It’s going to get better at AAA and it’s better in the big leagues. I think he can hit. I’ve seen him hit and we’ve just got to keep him healthy and get his bat right. If his bat is correct and it improves, he’s a front line, every day catcher. If the bat doesn’t improve, he’s a really good backup catcher.

 

Who’s behind him in your system right now?

Briones: Josh Morgan, who you saw as an infielder. He’s like the sleeper because it took a couple of years for him to agree to do the job and put the gear on and get there.

A guy who’s already in the big leagues who could do it, who I would love to see, is Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa, I mean, I could name 10 names right now of catchers that are in the wave. But Kiner-Falefa is 23-years-old, he’s two years younger than Trevino. If he gets the opportunity to catch, he’s going to hold his own and it would be wonderful. And he swings the bat.

You’ve got Trevino, 25, Kiner-Falefa, 23, Josh Morgan, 22, Chuck Moorman, 24, all these guys, given the opportunity, they can catch. So, there’s a lot of “next guy’s up”.

isiah Kiner-Falefa

Isiah Kiner-Falefa, a Crawdads shortstop in 2014-15, is possibly among the future mix of the Texas Rangers catching corps. (Tracy Proffitt)