Brett Maverick Phillips has a great name, but it isn't a household name, even among Astros prospect watchers. That is, it wasn't until 2014, when the young outfielder obliterated Midwest League pitching, earning a promotion to the High-A California League. Once there, where he was almost three full years younger than the league-average age, he didn't slow down. In fact, if anything, he sped up.
In 128 plate appearances with the Lancaster Jethawks, Phillips mashed four home runs, stole five bases, and put together a .339/.421/.561 slash line, with a 10.9% walk rate and a 15.6% strikeout rate. That's Jesse Winker territory.
Winker, a first-round pick by the Reds in 2012 and MLB.com's #40 prospect in baseball, was also a 20-year-old outfielder in the California League. In 249 plate appearances in the California League in 2014, he slashed .317/.426/.580 with a 16.1% walk rate and a 18.6% strikeout rate. Similar numbers to Phillips, albeit over a longer sample.
As the calendar ticks over to 2015, we here at Crawfish Boxes are - once again - ranking the Astros minor league prospects. And from early returns on the ranking, it looks like Phillips is going to be a no-doubt top ten prospect. That's not unique to us - in October, FanGraphs' Kiley McDaniel ranked Phillips #8 in the Astros' deep system, behind Michael Foltynewicz and ahead of Domingo Santana - a 22-year-old outfielder who has already touched the majors and who had a 125 wRC+ in Triple-A this season. Similarly, Baseball America ranked Phillips the sixth-best prospect on the Astros farm.
What makes evaluating Phillips so tricky to me isn't whether or not he's a good player - his 2014 season is a testament to that - but rather that last year, he missed the top thirty entirely. To launch him into the top ten a season after he was not in the top thirty is a meteoric shift, and not one that I take lightly.
It's altogether possible that I under-evaluated Phillips after the 2013 season. If true, I wasn't the only one. Not only did Phillips fall outside of our top thirty, he fell out of the top prospects on every list. John Sickels had him listed in the "Other" category, which puts him at a C+ prospect, tops.
Phillips had a breakout 2014 no matter how you look at it. He won Astros Minor League Player of the Year. Right now, MLB.com lists Phillips as the Astros' #14 prospect. He's still considered a center field candidate, though many believe he'll end up in the corners. Obviously, that affects a great deal -- Astros center field prospects aren't a solid bunch. Phillips doesn't have the contact concerns of Teoscar Hernandez; he's a better hitter than Andrew Aplin; Delino DeShields was taken in the Rule 5 draft.
I turned to two systems to get their input on Phillips. The first is Chris St. Johns' Javier system. As our own clack has pointed out, Javier likes Phillips more than any position player in the system, Carlos Correa and George Springer included. It gives him 72.5 VORP over his career, compared to 52 for Springer and just 47.6 for Correa.
The other projection I turned to was Chris Mitchell's brand-new KATOH projections. KATOH (named after one of my favorite prospects, the Yankees' Gosuke Katoh, a high school teammate of Alex Jackson) is more cautiously optimistic about Phillips, giving him a 73% chance of hitting the majors, a 29% chance of accumulating more than 4 WAR, and a 10% chance of accumulating more than 16 WAR (compare that to Springer, who has a 35% chance of accomplishing the latter feat.)
For now, it's probably wise to discard Phillips' new-found power. Getting too hot on a guy after one year - particularly when any of that year was spent in Lancaster - is probably a mistake. Names like Mitch Einertson and Jon Gaston come easily to mind. Even in Quad Cities, there have been flash-in-the-pan power spikes like Frederick Parejo and Anthony Garcia (not that the book is closed on Garcia -- after an almost-wasted 2013, he rebounded in 2014 while repeating at High-A Palm Beach.)
The good news is that, even just using his speed and plate discipline as a guideline, there's a lot to like about Phillips' 2014. In fact, it reminds me of another player from the not-so-recent past.
Level Age G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ A 19 78 341 11 49 50 17 8.5% 16.1% .201 .346 .310 .373 .512 .401 151 A+ 19 49 213 5 21 31 10 12.2% 14.1% .160 .275 .254 .352 .414 .347 116
Level Age G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ A 20 103 443 13 68 58 18 8.1% 17.2% .219 .341 .302 .362 .521 .394 148 A+ 20 27 128 4 19 10 5 10.9% 15.6% .220 .384 .339 .421 .560 .425 156
Player A was Colby Rasmus, whose 2006 season in Quad Cities looks eerily like Player B's (Phillips) 2014 season in Quad Cities. Rasmus showed better plate discipline after his mid-season promotion, but Phillips continued to mash at the plate (albeit with a .384 BABIP).
So is Phillips Rasmus or Parejo? Maybe somewhere in between, but it certainly looks like he's a lot more the former than the latter, given that his power was supported by a high walk rate, low strikeout rate, and good batting average.
To land in the top ten Astros prospects, Phillips would need to be a solid B/B- prospect. In 2013, our writers graded him the #46 prospect in the system with a score of 2.89. Our readers (as usual) were more prescient, but even they just graded him a 3.78 - a C/C+ prospect.
After that 2006 season, Rasmus - a year younger than Phillips is now - received a B+ grade from John Sickels. So slapping a B on Phillips - dinging him a bit for age and a slightly-lower pedigree - doesn't seem entirely unreasonable, except when you consider that it would be coming off of a year in which he was considered a C prospect.
What do you think, TCB? Was Phillips' 2014 season enough to convince you that Maverick should have a B grade slapped on him, or is that too large a jump after one year of full-season competition?