*This article was written by friend of the site Seth Wingerter who doesn’t have a WordPress account set up with us just yet. Follow him on Twitter @SethWingerter*
As always in baseball, there is a distinct line between what could have happened and what did happen. Brett Phillips could have been a 300+ PA player for the Royals in 2019 in an outfield with a lot of uncertainties, but instead the Royals look like they are moving away from that possibility. The contracts given to utility man Chris Owings and speedsters Billy Hamilton and Terrence Gore have put together an extremely crowded, low potential outfield that only hurts the chances of fans getting to see Phillips in action. That presents the question; where does Brett Phillips fit into the 2019 Royals organization?
Because of the volatility of the players the Royals currently have contracted, a lot can change for Phillips. Gordon is entering the final year of his contract and has shown to be injury prone, Gore and Hamilton could be trade bait similar to what Mike Moustakas, Jon Jay, and 2018 Terrence Gore were, and Jorge Soler is one big injury question mark. Because of the numerous scenarios in which events could play out, the possibilities are best broken down individually.
1.) Absolutely nothing changes.
The Royals keep Hamilton through the end of the season, as do they with Owings, Bonifacio, Gore and the rest of their outfield, leaving Brett Phillips to another year in AAA prior to September call-ups. While I don’t necessarily see this as very probable, the Royals are known to make some head scratching decisions regarding major league personnel (giving Escobar a billion PA’s, signing Chris Owings, and Terrence Gore to major league contracts) and are somewhat of a wild card here. Just as the organization prided itself on its elite bullpen during 2014-2015, it appears as if they are trying to build the foundation for elite speed as a differentiating factor between them and the rest of baseball. If this succeeds at all, it could bar the movement of players such as Hamilton and Gore, especially if the Royals see potential and decide to try to carry these players into future seasons. If such happens, Phillips would most likely be blocked out of the roster for essentially the entire season. While I don’t see this scenario as very likely, it is still feasible, and could have adverse effects on Phillips’ development.
2.) A few injuries/trades/DFAs.
This is by far the most likely scenario in my mind. As I look over the outfield, there is not a single player that I can confidently say will have more than 500 PA’s for the Royals this season. Alex Gordon has a somewhat significant injury history as he enters his age-36 season, Jorge Soler has a very deep injury history, and there is bound to be other injuries as well. On the trade front, Billy Hamilton’s sheer speed coupled with a not-absolutely-atrocious bat will always have callers, especially as teams are looking for a speedy fourth outfield to add dynamism to their postseason push. Brian Goodwin looks like a solid bat for the future, but Terrence Gore and Chris Owings are huge question marks.
Frankly, the Royals outfield is just too crowded to exist in the long term as a part of a functional baseball organization. Of the current outfield candidates, Goodwin, Soler, Hamilton, Gordon, Owings and Gore do not have options, and Bonifacio and Phillips only have one remaining. Excluding Owings because of his ability to shift to the infield, it is not feasible nor healthy to carry 5 low-potential outfielders with no options for more than a fraction of the season. The Royals will certainly have to move some of these players and given the contracts and nature of play from Gore and Hamilton, I could see Hamilton being moved in June or July and the Gore closer to the trade deadline. If Owings performs closer to last year (51 wRC+) as compared to 2017 (85 wRC+), he will be a prime candidate for a mid-summer DFA, clearing room for Phillips in July or so. Because of the current roster construction of 5 outfielders and a utility man, however, the Royals could opt for a true infielder at some point and call up Nicky Lopez instead of Phillips, but if there are multiple moves then there is good chance both come up.
3.) Phillips starts hot and forces the Royals’ hand.
This would pan out like the last scenario, but Phillips would instead force the Royals to make these moves earlier. This situation really is not too far-fetched given Phillips posted a .944 OPS in AAA in 2017, and if he can rekindle that bat then the Royals will essentially be forced to call him up, especially if Gore is struggling. It’s highly probable that Gore under performs, given that he has never had a professional baseball season in which he had an OPS over .680 in more than 200 PA’s. In his limited exposure in the field, he was a minus defender, and while 35 defensive innings is absolutely nothing, Phillips is almost unanimously agreed upon to be a superior defender. Further, the same can be said for Bonifacio, who is currently looking like the Royals fifth outfielder and could be optioned to AAA, if Phillips is putting up better offensive numbers. Because of Phillips status as a valued asset in the organization, he can easily still play his way into the conversation and force the Royals to put him on the major league team.
4.) Phillips wins the MVP.
April rolls around, Gordon and Soler are both somehow already hurt, and Phillips gets called up. He goes full 2018 Ryan O’Hearn and just starts slugging dingers out of nowhere, leading to a .969 OPS. He doesn’t stop there, as by July he has taken the lead in DRS for all positions. He leads the Royals to a division championship over the tail spinning Indians and still-developing White Sox and wins the MVP over Mike Trout. The world is at peace, and Alex Gordon announces a 2020 presidential run as he walks away from baseball.
(I’m not putting too much emotional investment into this outcome.)
I would have like to have seen the 25-year old Phillips get his start in the MLB, especially given he has a significantly higher ceiling than Owings, Hamilton and Gore. Alas, that is unfortunately not the case, as it appears that Philips will start the year in AAA and have to work his way out. Perhaps this can help to reignite the flame that drove him through his stellar 2017 campaign and become an everyday Royal. Either way, Phillips arm will always be absolutely electric, and would be a fantastic addition to the outfield of the Royals.