On Tuesday night the Cincinnati Reds and Seattle Mariners completed their trade from earlier this spring by naming right-handed pitching prospect Connor Phillips as the player to be named later in the deal that involved Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez heading to the Pacific Northwest.
Connor Phillips was the Mariners 2nd round draft pick in the 2020 draft. With the minor league season cancelled he didn’t get a chance to pitch that year after making just four starts at a junior college as a freshman. He went 64th overall to Seattle, but was rated 95th in the draft by Baseball America.
When the 2021 season began the Mariners sent the 20-year-old to Low-A Modesto in what used to be the California League (and is once again the California League). He would spend nearly the entire season there, too. He was skipped over a few times in the rotation from mid-June through the first week of July before he returned to the rotation.
After a few tough starts in July when he returned, Connor Phillips went on a strong run to end the season…. with one lone exception. In five of those starts he combined to threw 25.0 innings where he allowed just nine hits, two earned runs, had nine walks, and he struck out 47 batters. He was absolutely dominant over those five games. But there was a game in the middle of that run where he was very bad, too. He allowed eight earned runs in just 2.0 innings as he gave up six hits and walked five without recording a single strikeout.
You can see where a team could view the upside for Connor Phillips as very high. When he’s on, he’s really on. But he’s been off quite a bit in his one year on the mound as a professional, too. Consistency has been an issue for him. Control has been rather hit or miss – in 2021 he walked four or five batters in seven of his 17 starts. But he also had two other outings where he walked as many batters as he had innings in the start, they just came in very short starts.
The consistency isn’t the only negative on his resume, though. While he’s been a starting pitcher in high school, junior college, and his first year as a professional, there’s a lot of bullpen risk that’s not just related to the inconsistency with his control. Phillips has a poor third offering in his change up that he will need to improve if he’s going to remain as a starting pitcher long term.
The flip side to that, though, is that he’s got two potential plus offerings with his fastball and his breaking ball. The fastball works in the 93-96 MPH range and has touched 98. And it’s got good movement to it, too. His breaking ball is a sweeping slider that some may classify as a slurve that works in the mid-80’s. Seattle’s farm director Emanuel Sifuentes told Baseball America earlier this month that the organization had some TrackMan information from his time at McLennan Community College that “really lit up our systems from a pitch quality standpoint and a pitch action standpoint”.
Cincinnati seems to have acquired a bit of a high-risk/high-reward player in Connor Phillips. He’s got a lot of upside, featuring two plus pitches at the age of 20. But he’s also got a low ceiling as a guy who goes through some real bouts of control issues. With the deal now complete, Phillips wasn’t the headliner in the trade – that would have to be Brandon Williamson at this point – but he’s a quality addition to the deal that does make things look a little better for Cincinnati. With that said, Christopher Crawford probably put it best when talking about the trade:
Connor Phillips is a nice get for Cincinnati. The command needs a LOT of work, but I think there's some real upside in that arm.
Still an easy trade for Seattle to say yes to.
— Christopher Crawford (@Crawford_MILB) March 29, 2022