The Kansas City Royals have been without an adequate everyday center fielder since trading Lorenzo Cain. Maybe we already have the next one.
No one has been more adamant than me that the Kansas City Royals need to spend some money in 2020. I would say we need at least three or four pitchers, between the rotation and the bullpen, and we need 2 more legitimate bats. But I am also aware that simply purchasing new players will not fill every hole we have. Some of our existing guys are going to have to step up. Identifying which guys are ready to step up may very well be the difference between success and another failed season in 2020.
There is no exact science in attempting to determine which young players are about to have a breakout season. But I do think there can be informed decision-making. One of the young players that I believe we should be playing every day is Brett Phillips.
There was once an exciting young center fielder in the Milwaukee Brewers organization. His defensive abilities were mythical. His range almost made no sense because he covered so much ground. And, even on diving catches where he landed violently, his glove was sure. Although there were times when his bat demolished minor league pitching, there were also stretches when it was not clear if he would ever be able to handle major league pitching. The Brewers would eventually give up on Lorenzo Cain and trade him to the Kansas City Royals for Zack Greinke.
There are some eerie similarities between the professional paths of Lorenzo Cain and Brett Phillips. They both spent significant time as prospects for the Milwaukee Brewers. They were both sure things when it came to defensive ability. They were both dogged by questions regarding whether or not they would ever hit MLB pitchers. And they were both traded to the Kansas City Royals for midseason pickups in the middle of playoff races.
I was late to the understanding just how good Lorenzo Cain could be parade. I am choosing to lead the parade for Brett Phillips. He dazzles us nightly with his defensive ability in centerfield. With even a mediocre bat that level of defense in a position like centerfield is worth it. Especially for a team that plays in Kauffman Stadium. He should currently be playing out in the grass behind second base every night.
I also believe we should go into next season with Phillips as our centerfielder. Bat him in the 9 spot and let him get comfortable as an everyday player. Tell him it is his job to lose and we will see what he can do. Give him some time to figure it all out. At each level of the minors, he has eventually figured it out. And when he puts it all together at the major league level he could really be something special.
Brett Phillips has not yet shown he can hit at a major league level. But he is only 25 years old. Lorenzo Cain got his first real shot when he was 27. And Cain’s bat began to blossom when he was 28. Kevin Kiermaier on the Tampa Bay Rays has made a nice career with a mediocre bat and superhuman centerfield defense. You do not have to squint too hard to see Phillips becoming a Kevin Kiermaier. And if you close your eyes long enough you can even daydream about him becoming a Lorenzo Cain.