Saturday, March 7, 2009

Andy Phillips

George Andrew "Andy" Phillips was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers as a shortstop in the 41st round of the 1995 draft as a high school senior, but he passed and signed on with his hometown school, the Crimson Tide. Good choice, too - the team went to the College World Series three times in his four years on campus.

The New York Yankees got him in the 7th round of the 1999 draft after his senior year at University of Alabama. He signed with them, and began a hard climb to the MLB.

Phillips was assigned to the short season Staten Island Yankees, and the third baseman hit .322 with 7 HR and 48 RBI, and was almost 1:1 between walks and strikeouts.

He spent most of the next season at High A Tampa, where he moved to second base. Phillips hit .287 with 13 HR and 58 RBI, earning him a brief stop at AA Norwich. 2001 saw him back with Tampa, but after a .302-11-50 line, he moved up to Norwich in midseason, where he hit .268 with 6 HR and 25 RBI.

After hitting .305 with 19 HR and 51 RBI, it was on to AAA Columbus later in 2002. His line was .263-9-36 there. He was out for much of 2003 with bone spurs in his elbow, getting into only 17 games for the Clippers. The Yankees played Phillips almost exclusively at the corners after that lost season.

He had his coming out party in 2004. Phillips spent 10 games at Trenton, tearing it up before he returned to the Clippers. Combined, he hit .319 with 29 longballs and 100 RBI; he also charted an impressive .576 slugging % and .949 OPS.

The infielder received the Yankees' Kevin Long "Minor-League Player of the Year" Award and was voted the MVP of the International League All Star Game after hitting a 10th inning walk-off home run.

More importantly, he finally got a chance to play MLB by earning a September call-up. Phillip's debut in the show was on September 14, 2004, and he did it up in style by hitting a home run over the Green Monster in Fenway Park during his first at-bat.

In 2005, Phillips earned the James P. Dawson Award as the Yankees' most outstanding rookie during spring training. Lot of good it did him. He got into 27 games with the Evil Empire, mostly as a defensive replacement, and didn't hit his weight.

It was back to Columbus, where he hit .300 with 22 HR and 54 RBI. Was he about to join the ranks of the accursed AAAA roster?

The news got worse. In the spring, his wife Bethany was diagnosed with a rare cancer, brought on by a lost pregnancy. But he soldiered on, not even letting his teammates in on the story.

In 2006, Phillips started the year as the backup at first base, behind Jason Giambi. But a string of injuries dominoed him into a semi-starting gig, playing 94 games at first. He started out on fire, hitting .333 into late July. But he faded as the dog days wore on, and the Yankees brought in Bucco Craig Wilson to be the first base caddy. Phillips ended up with a sad .240-7-29 line.

2007 didn't start off very well at all for Phillips. His mother Linda was hurt in a car crash, and so he missed a week of his 2007 spring training and played like a man that had his mind on other things when he got back in action. Josh Phelps (remember him?) had a great camp, and overtook Phillips on the roster.

When manager Joe Torre told him he was getting cut in favor of Phelps, Phillips reportedly thanked Torre for the opportunity and asked if Phelps knew of the decision yet, so he could congratulate him. That's not the kind of story you're used to hearing from the MLB, but it's typical of Phillips.

And it had a happy ending, for Phillips, anyway. He was called back up to the Yankees in mid-June, after Phelps was DFA'ed. During the 2007 season, Phillips became key component of the team as first basemen Jason Giambi and Doug Mientkiewicz (do the coincidences never end?) both went down.

Phillips got into 61 games, and hit .292 with 2 HR and 25 RBI in 185 at-bats. But he would join the walking wounded when on September 2, when he was hit by a pitch. Phillips had a fractured wrist and required surgery, ending his season.

And his Yankee career. Phillips was DFA'ed himself in December to make room for Jose Molina. He cleared waivers, and was offered an outright assignment to AAA Scranton. He said thanks, but no thanks, and opted to become a free agent. It would start quite a 2008 roller coaster ride for Phillips.

On January 4, 2008, he signed a minor league contract with the Reds. After hitting .277 in spring training, he was assigned to the AAA Louisville Bats. He hit .315 there, and in May, the Reds added to the active roster.

Not for long, though. On June 22, Phillips was DFA'ed to make room for Jeff Keppinger, who was coming off of the disabled list. Three days later, Phillips was claimed by the New York Mets and added to their 25-man roster.

It gets wackier. He was then DFA'ed by the Mets on July 1 when Ryan Church returned from the DL, and was again claimed by Cincinnati off waivers on July 3. At any rate, all the traveling around didn't do much for Phillips; he hit a combined .231 with 3 HR and 10 RBI in 78 at-bats.

In December, he joined the Bucs as a free agent, signed to a minor-league deal. What they have is a versatile guy - he can play the corners and second, if needed, and even played LF for the Mets - with a .250 lifetime average, 14 HR and 70 RBI in 557 at-bats.

He's also a good head, often described as one of the nicest players in baseball, and a deeply religious guy. And right now he's batting .467 with 7 RBI.

The scouting report is that he's got a line drive bat with a little pop, and is fairly useful as a bench piece. The down side is he doesn't run very well, and lacks the power that an everyday corner player needs.

We don't know how great a chance he has to break with the team - Craig Monroe and Eric Hinske are the early favorites for a couple of spots on the bench (although Monroe still has a month to blow his bench spot), and the Pirates have to decide if they want a corner-type player or a middle infielder to compliment Ramon Vazquez.

And geez, you'd think that he deserves a break, considering all the bad karma ex-Bucs Craig Wilson, Josh Phelps, Doug Mientkiewicz and Jeff Keppinger laid on him already!

* The Bucs got back on the winning track, clubbing the Twins 10-1 today. The LaRoche boys had a pair of hits (Andy is hitting .538), as did Garrett Jones and Andy Phillips. Jeff Salazar drove in three runs.

The pitching was top notch, too. Zach Duke, Daniel McCutchen, Craig Hansen, Chris Bootcheck, Tyler Yates, and Juan Mateo gave up one run on fives hits, with two walks and three punchouts. The last four guys have yet to yield a springtime run; the competition for the bullpen is getting kinda interesting.

The 7-3 Pirates will host the Astros on Sunday in a 1:05 p.m. contest at McKechnie Field. Ross Ohlendorf is expected to start for Pittsburgh in the contest against Houston's Brandon Backe. Jesse Chavez, Matt Capps, Denny Bautista and Donnie Veal are also on tap to work against Houston.

* Brandon Moss bent his thumb making a diving effort at a catch today, and here's what Jen Langish of has to report:
"Moss sprained the ligament in his right thumb in the second inning of Saturday's game against the Twins while trying to make a diving catch in right-center field. The ball skipped off the ground and pushed his thumb sideways, as Moss described it.

He was to have X-rays, and likely an MRI, done when the Pirates returned to Bradenton, Fla. It will be after those tests come back that the Bucs will have a better gauge on the seriousness of the injury.

A worst-case scenario would be tissue damage or a torn ligament, which sometimes requires surgery depending on the severity of the tear."
John Perrotto of the Pirate Report is already wondering what moves the Bucs will make if Moss has a torn ligament and is out for any appreciable amount of time.

* Cory of the Pirate Revolution reports that high school pick Jarek Cunningham has injured his knee again - he fell some in the draft because it was was hurt last year - and may miss some serious time, according to Danny Moskos' blog. He was already being moved to second base; a major blow-out could turn him into a corner player.


WilliamJPellas said...

Moss's injury surely means that Craig Monroe has it made. Let's hope we're getting a career-average Monroe, which means .250-ish batting average with a few well-placed home runs, and good results against lefties.

Steven Pearce is on the outside looking in with this organization, seems to me. However, if he tears it up at Indy, I'd have to believe he'll get one more look with us, particularly late in the year if/when Adam LaRoche is dealt---though the Pirates could also opt to let Adam play out the string, then cash in on the draft picks we'd get for him.

Ron Ieraci said...

Ah, probably Will, tho there's still a month to go. If Moss does get cut, that means that Monroe, Salazar, and maybe Phillips are looking to fill two positions instead of one, and one may even get to platoon with Hinske in right.

We can forget Pearce. The suits keep yanking him around - play first, no, the OF, no, first - and at 26, there's no love for him in the organization. I dunno, maybe he's part of the plan when Adam LaRoche walks next year.

Ditto with McCutchen and Tabata - no way they start the clock on them early in a year that the goal is 82 wins, not the playoffs.