The hope for Brett Phillips as a member of the KC Royals in 2020 is that we at least get to see enough at-bats from him to make a reasonable judgment.
Welcome back to the Kings of Kauffman 2020 KC Royals season previews. We are working our way through 30 different Royals that fans will likely see during the 2020 season. We will take a look at their previous season, some expectations for 2020, and any other pertinent information. This time, we are looking at Brett Phillips.
What did he offer last season?
Brett Phillips is another KC Royals player for which 2019 was, essentially, wasted. He made appearances in only 30 games with only 79 plate appearances. Nowhere near enough of an opportunity to make any decisions on the ultimate contribution a 25-year-old center fielder may one day make at the major league level. For comparison, Billy Hamilton made almost four times as many plate appearances for the KC Royals last season.
In his limited major league appearances in 2019, Brett Phillips still struck out too much. He carried a walk rate of almost 13 percent, which is acceptable, but not if his strikeout rate remains around 30 percent. He also showed very little pop at the major league level and missed too often on slow fastballs in the strike zone.
Before we make any long-term proclamations about Brett Phillips, however, we should consider his performance at the one level where he actually did play last year – AAA baseball for the Omaha Stormchasers. Over 105 Pacific Coast League games in 2019 Brett Phillips carried an on-base percentage of .378. His slugging percentage was over .500. He still struck out more than I would like to see, but his 18 home runs and 39 extra-base hits make his overall AAA offensive numbers very appealing.
We also cannot properly assess Brett Phillips without acknowledging the one skill that has shown up during his short major league stints thus far. His exceptional defense. He has otherworldly talent defensively. With his ability to make diving catches and an arm that can bring a ball to home plate with accuracy at over 100 MPH, he is the rare defender that can make StatCast shake its head in disbelief.
Frankly, just the defensive gems, alone, that we have seen from Brett Phillips should have earned him a thorough look in 2019. And, if we still fail to give the young man more than 350 plate appearances in 2020, it is bordering on malpractice. Especially if those at-bats go to a 36-year-old outfielder on a team that, once again, loses 100 games.
What should we expect in 2020?
B-Ref: .227/.302/.391 line, 2 3B, 8 HR, 27 RBI, .693 OPS
FG: .215/.304/.382 line, 4 3B, 8 HR, 30 RBI, .686 OPS
The important point to notice here is that Baseball-Reference is projecting that Brett Phillips only gets 254 plate appearances for us this season. If that is the case, that would be a serious mistake. We gain nothing by, once again, giving Phillips only short major league stints surrounded by months in AAA.
Phillips needs to strike out less when he gets his opportunity. Especially at the major league level. He has shown a willingness to take a walk. He has demonstrated he will take the extra base and he can play exceptional defense. But, he still needs to improve his contact rate if he wants to become a major league regular. He has struggled at different levels throughout his minor league career. But each time, with enough chances, he has figured it out. We should give him a chance to figure it out at the major league level in 2020.
2020 will be Brett Phillips’ age 26 season. We know he can play defensively at the major league level. He can even excel in a high-profile defensive position like centerfield. In 2019 his defense was good enough to keep his WAR positive even while struggling mightily offensively in his very limited opportunities.
Brett Phillips is not a complete unknown. He has played almost three hundred games of AAA baseball. He has made more than a thousand plate appearances at that level. Over that span, he has an OPS of .870. We have nothing else to learn from a 26-year-old Brett Phillips in Omaha this season.
If the KC Royals’ plan for Brett Phillips in 2020 is for him to, once again, get the majority of his at-bats for our AAA team they are informing us that they do not believe he will ever hit at the major league level. And that, unless Jorge Lopez finally shows the ability to consistently find the strike zone, shows that their Mike Moustakas trade back in 2018 was a complete bust.
I would expect Phillips to still strike more than he should this season. I would also expect him to, eventually, catch on and begin to show some of his power. Just as he has at every other level of baseball. Most importantly I would expect us to not again give hundreds of plate appearances to outfielders that will not be on our team in a few years when we will be, presumably, ready to compete while a prospect like Brett Philips racks up even more meaningless AAA statistics.