Yesterday, my colleague Colin Anderle proposed a platoon in center field for the Milwaukee Brewers between Keon Broxton and Brett Phillips. In theory, a platoon between the right-handed Broxton and left-handed Phillips would be reasonable if the two were equal in terms of talent and potential.
Phillips, who was more valuable than Broxton in a quarter of the plate appearances this season, is younger, a stronger outfielder, a better hitter than his counterpart. Brett Phillips deserves to be the everyday centerfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers starting Opening Day 2018.
Phillips was drafted in the sixth round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft by the Houston Astros. He was a part of the package that sent Carlos Gomez to the Astros at the 2015 trade deadline.
The prospect started out the 2017 season with the Brewers Class-AAA affiliate in Colorado Springs and had what was likely the best professional season of his career. He finished seventh in slugging percentage in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) at .567, while his 10.4 percent walk rate placed him twentieth in the league. Phillips’s excellent slugging percentage and solid walk rate made him the fifth-best hitter in the league according to OPS at .944.
Phillips supplements his offensive game with excellent baserunning. He has stolen 73 bases over six full minor league seasons since his debut in 2012. According to Baseball Prospectus, he has been worth 12.6 baserunning runs (BRR) since 2014 as a minor leaguer. In his short debut in the majors this year, Phillips stole five bases. Over that same small sample size in the majors, he was worth 0.3 BRR. Statcast’s Sprint Speed is on board as well, rating Phillips as the second fastest player on the Brewers roster last year at 28.2 ft./sec.
What sets Phillips apart is his defense. Despite playing in just 39 games, Phillips ranked 15th in fielding runs above average (FRAA) at 4.4 runs and also had four outfield assists. MLB Pipeline’s Bernie Pleskoff says “He plays outstanding defense, with quick and correct reads of the ball off the bat, good range and speed to chase down balls hit to all directions.”
Phillips’s age leaves plenty of room for him to grow. Although he has been in professional baseball since 2012, he is still just 23 years old. He doesn’t turn 24 until the end of May. In contrast, Broxton will be 28 in May. Top prospect Lewis Brinson, who has consistently been seen as a higher-ceiling prospect than Phillips, will also turn 24 (in June 2017).
Phillips’s high strikeout rate is the only gaping hole in his game. His strikeout rate jumped from 29.9 percent in AAA this year to 34.7 percent in his short stint in the majors. If he can manage to get his strikeout rate back below 30 percent, his power numbers will more than make up for his lack of contact.
Compared to Brinson and Broxton, a lot less hype surrounds Brett Phillips. It isn’t clear why, given the all-round game he has displayed throughout his minor-league career and now in his major-league debut. As Anderle pointed out, Phillips was worth 1.1 wins above replacement player (WARP) in 98 plate appearances. Broxton was worth just 1.0 WARP in 463 PAs. Brinson was worth -0.2 WARP in 55 plate appearances.
The Brewers have decisions to make. Left and right field seem to be penciled in with Ryan Braun (seemingly) not going anywhere and Domingo Santana’s breakout 2017 season. The team has two centerfield prospects knocking at the door in Phillips and Brinson to go along with Broxton, everyone’s favorite breakout pick before the 2017 season. If no moves are made, the team would be wise to hand the job over to Brett Phillips, who has more than proven he can perform at a high level in the three most important aspects of the game.
Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports Images.