Connor Phillips spent the second half of the 2022 season in Double-A Chattanooga, but he had some struggles along the way. Still just 21-years-old when the 2023 season began, the Cincinnati Reds opted to send him back to join the Lookouts rotation.
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It would be tough to ask for much more out of Phillips in his first start of the season. Taking on Rocket City he allowed one hit in 4.0 shutout innings with seven strikeouts. The next time out didn’t go nearly as well as he allowed three home runs and five earned runs in 4.0 innings against Mississippi.
Over the next five starts he was solid when it came to giving up runs – posting a 3.47 ERA in 23.1 innings while striking out 40 batters with 12 walks. From there, though, he went on a strong run over his next six outings as he allowed nine earned runs in 32.2 innings (2.48 ERA) while striking out 57 batters and issuing just seven walks. The start that followed, though, was a clunker as he failed to get out of the 1st inning, throwing 34 pitches with just 16 strikes before being pulled after walking three batters and giving up a hit while recording just one out.
Despite the poor start on June 24th, that would be his final outing for Chattanooga as he was promoted to Triple-A Louisville at the end of the month. Things didn’t go much better on June 30th. Throwing a normal baseball – the Double-A Southern League used a pre-tacked baseball in the first half of 2023 – Phillips struggled to throw strikes, walking five batters and allowing two runs in 1.2 innings. He settled in after that for his next five starts as he posted a 1.38 ERA for the Bats in 26.0 innings while striking out 31 and walking 14.
Things went south over the next four weeks, though. Over the course of four starts between August 2ns and August 30th he didn’t get out of the 2nd inning three different times. The one time he did, he pitched in relief and threw 2.1 hitless innings before rain ended the game. On August 31st he came out and threw 6.0 shutout innings against Omaha. It would be his final start in the minor leagues during the year.
Cincinnati called him up in September. He battled to find consistency in his first four starts. It was his final start of the year, though, that he’d like to forget about. Taking on the St. Louis Cardinals he didn’t record an out and walked all three hitters he faced before being pulled from the game.
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Connor Phillips Scouting Report
Position: Right-handed pitcher | B/T: R/R
Height: 6′ 2″ | Weight: 209 lbs | Acquired: 2nd Round, 2020 (Mariners), Trade (March 2022)
Born: May 4, 2001
Fastball | A plus pitch that averaged 96.1 MPH between Triple-A and MLB in 2023.
Slider | A plus pitch that works in the low-to-mid 80’s.
Curveball | An average pitch that works in the low-80’s.
Change Up | A below-average offering that works in the upper 80’s.
At times Connor Phillips can feel like a bit of an enigma. When he’s at his best he can be dominant and look like a future ace. But he is also the guy who failed to complete two innings six different times this year.
With two plus offerings, a third solid offering, and a 4th pitch that’s there to at least keep hitters honest, Phillips has the stuff to be a starting pitcher and a real good one at that. No one has ever really questioned the stuff, though. The ability to throw enough strikes has been something that’s followed him around as a professional. In his minor league career he’s walked 5.2 batters per 9-innings pitched. In his limited big league time this past season he walked 5.7. Both of those numbers are too high to remain a starting pitcher in the long term.
Phillips is just 22-years-old, and he’ll still be 22 when the 2024 season begins. Age is on his side in this case, for sure. And he has shown in the past that he can improve his ability to throw strikes when he has more time at a given level. Being able to do that, and probably be a decent amount at the big league level, will be key for him remaining a starter.
If Phillips can’t make the improvements needed in his ability to throw strikes a little more consistently, he’s got all of the things you want to see out of a high-leverage reliever. The control concerns will still be there, but relievers can usually get away with lesser control than starters do. There’s plenty of risk involved when it comes to Phillips being a starter long term, but with how good his stuff is there’s less risk of him not being a useful reliever, giving him a solid floor with tons of upside in either a starting or relieving role.
Interesting Stat on Connor Phillips
During his time between Louisville and Cincinnati he threw 252 sliders. He allowed just one extra-base hit – a double – when he threw it. Opposing hitters he just .117 against it and slugged .133 on it.