By Scott Eddy, Director of Athletics Communications
The past two seasons have offered many takeaways for Aaron Phillips to use in his rise through the minor leagues.
After all, as a member of the San Francisco Giants organization he has gotten the opportunity to hear advice from the likes of Giants greats Barry Bonds, Will Clark and Javy Lopez as well as work alongside current stars such as Madison Bumgarner.
Perhaps chief among those lessons, though, were a few simple words from another legend of the organization: Dusty Baker.
After watching Phillips pitch for the Augusta (S.C.) Greenjackets, the low 'A' affiliate of the Giants, Baker pulled the tall right-hander aside for some words of wisdom the St. Bonaventure product took the heart.
"He told me however I pitched, just keep my head down and keep doing what I'm doing," Phillips remembers. "One day isn't going to change how you're viewed. It's how you show up every single day and when it's your day to work, go out and dominate. Being able to sit down with him was an awesome experience."
Dominate is what Phillips often did during his second year as a professional.
In 19 appearances including 18 starts, he struck out 120 batters in 101.2 innings while walking only 16. South Atlantic League opponents hit .240 against him and he finished the year with a 1.08 WHIP. For the season, he compiled a 3.72 ERA – a number that shrinks to 2.97 if you eliminate a pair of rocky June starts where he was hampered by a minor injury that resulted in a disabled list stint.
"I had a little shoulder tweak in June, my numbers were going down. I didn't feel right," he said. "After rehabbing for two or three weeks and get back to full strength, I was able to throw 100 percent in the bullpen. I was able to work on things and that translates over to the games."
The 2017 Atlantic 10 Pitcher of the Year, Phillips entered his junior season on the radar for many MLB scouts. By the time that season was done, it was only a question of where he would be drafted and by which team. He finished the 2017 campaign by tying the Bona season wins record with a 9-2 mark along with 90 strikeouts in 100.2 innings and a 3.04 ERA for the Bonnies as he was voted the conference's top pitcher.
Phillips finished his time with the program ranking second in program history for career ERA (3.17) and 12th in strikeouts (156).
It was the Giants who called Phillips in the ninth round of the draft, making him the highest pick in Bonaventure baseball history. He limited opposing hitters to a .190 batting average against in short-season ball that summer, an experience that gave him confidence in his ability to pitch at the next level – but not for the reasons one might expect.
"It's not always something good that gives you confidence," he said. "After you give up a home run and realize that the guy before you gave up a home run and the guy after you will too and you're just playing baseball, that's when you settle in. Going through the ups and downs with other guys and knowing the organization understands that; that's what gave me confidence."
Phillips was a great story during his time at St. Bonaventure. An All-State Third Team selection at Cleveland Hill High School, he came to the Bonnies as a raw prospect but rewarded the Bona coaching staff with great development each season with the program.
As a freshman, he made seven starts with a 3.65 ERA, then blossomed into a conference starter as a sophomore with a 3.02 ERA in 10 starts and for a time was one of the tallest second basemen in the nation at 6-foot-5. By his junior season, he was one of the top pitchers in the region and was a power threat at the plate as well, earning finalist honors for the John Olerud National Two-Way Player of the Year for his work at first base. Along with being named the A-10 Pitcher of the Year, he was an ABCA/Rawlings Third Team All-American selection as well and also a summer ball All-American after helping the Olean Oilers to back-to-back New York Collegiate Baseball League titles.
"Bonaventure maximized what I could do athletically. It gave me a lot of confidence that I didn't necessarily have when I first stepped foot on campus," he said. "Here I was able to pitch and hit, be out there every day. I had the ability and freedom from coach and support of my teammates. Taking what I got here and putting that toward the team aspect in pro ball has helped for sure."
Back on campus for the fall semester, Phillips is focused on finishing up his degree requirements while looking ahead to next season. He's working in the weight room now and will start a throwing regimen in December.
After playing this past season with Augusta, a trip back to the West Coast would be in line with a potential promotion to High-A San Jose (Ca.). The Giants are one of the few teams with affiliates on both coasts – their Double-A affiliate is in Richmond, Va., while their Triple-A squad is in Sacramento.
The "adventure" of pro ball as he calls it leaves little room to plan for future assignments, though, meaning Phillips remains focused on controlling what he can this off-season.
"Staying healthy is the biggest thing. If you can stay healthy and put up numbers consistently, that's how you move up," he says. "Hopefully I'll move up next year, but I have to have a good spring."
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