Evan Phillips has gotten used to a simpler focus — one strictly in the now — in the past month. The Clayton High grad had to alter that this week waiting for his name to be called in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft.
“It was an incredible experience, having all of my family around me and waiting for that call,” Phillips said. “I didn’t know what to expect. It was nerve-wracking on Tuesday, but Wednesday was a little easier because I knew it was going to happen at some point that day.”
The UNC Wilmington pitcher’s longtime dream did happen on Wednesday afternoon when the Atlanta Braves called his name in the 17th round. He was the 510th overall pick.
Phillips is a 6-foot-2, 212-pound right-handed pitcher. He relies on three pitches: a fastball that typically ranges between 92-94 mph, a slider and a changeup (both in the 84-86 range).
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He hit 96 on the radar gun this season, a number that opened more eyes in the professional baseball ranks.
Phillips got a call from the Colorado Rockies in the eighth round on Tuesday. The Rockies offered a signing bonus below the typical value of the round and pick, saying they’d draft the Clayton High grad if he agreed to those terms. He turned down the offer.
Phillips said the Braves made the same call early Wednesday and he agreed to take a near slot bonus, noting that it was more money than the Rockies had offered on Tuesday.
According to Baseball America, signing bonuses for 17th round picks can be as high as $100,000.
“The prospect of the future really hit me the last four weeks,” Phillips said. “Fortunately I started really executing on the mound the past four weeks and drew some more eyes.”
After struggling early in the season to pitch even into the middle innings (He had seven starts of three innings pitched or less.), Phillips said he found his groove pitching against the College of Charleston on May 24. He went six or more innings in each of his final three starts for the Seahawks, allowing just two earned runs in those 19.1 innings of work with 17 strikeouts and only four walks.
“It was a little bit of everything,” Phillips said. “But the main thing was changing my mentality, thinking only pitch-to-pitch and focusing on executing that pitch to the best of my ability, rather than worrying about outcomes. That was the difference maker.”
His last collegiate start was against LSU in the NCAA Tournament on May 30 in Baton Rogue. He went six innings, giving up only a run to the College World Series qualifying team.
“My last two starts (against College of Charleston in the CAA Tournament and vs. LSU) were both great,” Phillips said. “But the experience at LSU was pretty unbelievable. Both because of the quality of opponent we were facing and the atmosphere there.”
Phillips finished the season with a 2-2 mark and a 4.56 ERA in 14 appearances and 13 starts for the Seahawks who won the CAA tournament title.
He says he will report to the Braves’ Rookie Advanced league team in Danville, Va. soon after finalizing the contract details. Then he will begin his trek through the Braves’’ farm system, one that could include a stop with their High-A club (the Carolina Mudcats) just a few miles up the road from his home.
“I’m just ready to compete for the Braves and start my professional career,” Phillips said. “If the Mudcats happens one day somewhere down the line, that would be an amazing experience. But I’m just focused on the very next step at this point.”
Phillips joins two other Clayton standout hurlers in pro baseball
Evan Phillips will become the third Clayton High pitcher from the past decade in professional baseball when he officially signs with the Braves. He joins Tampa Bay Rays’ standout Chris Archer and Pittsburgh Pirates’ farmhand Jason Creasy.
Archer is one of the best pitchers in the American League this season and Creasy is having an amazing year in his own right at Double-A. Creasy was 7-0 before taking a loss Wednesday night for the Altoona Drive. He sports a 2.97 ERA with 33 strikeouts in 12 starts.
Phillips and Creasy were teammates at Clayton for three seasons. Creasy graduated in 2011, Phillips a year later.
“I’m so thankful to have been around both of those guys and learn from them the last few years,” Phillips said of Archer and Creasy. “And the coaching I’ve gotten from Coach (Stacey) Houser (at Clayton) and the coaches at UNCW has been so important in my development. I owe them huge thanks for helping me get where I’m at now.”
D. Clay Best