A few weeks ago I wrote about how some of the Cincinnati Reds top pitching prospects had been struggling. In the time since a few of them have been trending in the right direction. But since the last time we talked about that, things seem to have gotten worse for Connor Phillips. Sunday saw Phillips take the mound for Triple-A Louisville and he gave up nine runs on 11 hits and two walks in just 3.1 innings.

Among those 11 hits were three home runs. He’s now given up 12 of them on the season. Last season he threw 40.1 innings with Louisville and allowed one.

He’s thrown 50.0 innings this year for the Bats and nearly every single thing has gone backwards. He’s given up 64 hits, walked 46 batters, hit five more, and he’s struck out just 45. Phillips ERA is now up to 9.00 through 12 starts. Before Sunday’s start he had walked at least five batters in five consecutive starts.

It hasn’t just been that his control has been poor, but he’s been very hittable. Diving into the data, Phillips has been a different pitcher this season when it comes to his pitch usage. His fastball usage is down 9% from 62% to 53%. He’s throwing his curveball 4% less often, too. The change up usage is also down – but he’s rarely thrown it in either of the last two years. His slider usage, though, is up from 21% to 36%.

Phillips is throwing significantly more sliders this season but the results are significantly worse when he does. Guys are swinging at the pitch less often this year. And when they do swing they are swinging and missing a lot less frequently, too. In 2023 his whiff rate on his slider (swings and misses/swings) was 20%. This season it’s half that. His whiff rate on his fastball is down half a percentage, and it’s up on both his change up and his curveball. Opposing hitters are just taking advantage of the slider far more in 2024 than they’ve been able to do so in the past.

There’s a lot more going on with just the increased slider usage. While control and consistency with it has always been one of the issues on the scouting report for Phillips, he’s gone from below-average control to bottom of the barrel control this season.

With the struggles he’s had this year and the seeming lack of any improvements it may be time to consider something else. Sending him back to Double-A where he could perhaps find better performance may help. The organization took a struggling Christian Roa and moved him from the rotation to the bullpen a little more than a month ago. Roa is older and more experienced, but they seemed to feel that move made sense. Many scouts have felt that there was a chance – some even felt it was a good chance – that Phillips would wind up in the bullpen due to his control issues.

He’s still just 23-years-old, but the control hasn’t really improved at any point in his career outside of the two-and-a-half months in Double-A last year when he and the rest of the league’s pitchers were able to use a pre-tacked baseball as MLB wanted to experiment with such a thing but not at the expense of big league games.

It’s unclear what the answer is to help get Phillips back on track. But what is clear is that right now he’s struggling nearly every time he takes the mound and in more than one way. Something is going to have to change.

62 Responses

  1. Klugo

    How much of it really matters down there? Isnt that the perfect place to hone a skill or work on improving other areas without much consequence? Isnt that what MiLB is for? Or maybe he’s hurt.

    Reply
    • Chad A Donnell

      My first thought too. He has something physically wrong with him It could also be woman problems. Either way there is a lack of focus.

      Reply
    • MBS

      I’m on the nagging injury line of thinking too. Probably hasn’t disclosed it to the coaching staff. He looked better on the Reds last year, so it seems like the more plausible answer.

      Reply
  2. Michael Wilson

    He threw 94 pitches in three innings. That wasn’t working on his pitches, that was laboring.

    Reply
  3. AllTheHype

    Some tops prospects work out, some don’t. It’s a tough game, with no sure tickets to MLB.

    One the flip side though, sometimes you get surprise development at the MLB level from guys that were never a top ten prospect. TJ Friedl is one. Could Carson Spiers be another?

    Reply
    • Adam

      I hardly think this is a finality for him, Allthehype.

      I think putting him onto the Developmental List and get back to Arizona would help. Like everything in life, confidence is the biggest driver for success. This dude is a monster, I think this is corrected and he is back at it.

      Reply
    • jmb

      Yes, that’s true! You never know who will develop into a solid big league player. Lots of teams, including the Reds, passed up on Trout. Friedl has been a GREAT surprise! Spiers may end up having the success that we were all surprised to see Ashcroft having here and there in the past. Phillips is trade bait at this point. The White Sox have time to tinker with him.

      Reply
    • jon

      This is why you trade them when the team needed help last yr. He was at his highest ceiling last year.

      Reply
  4. LDS

    Maybe he needs to return to AA for a stint and tune up his game. Flailing away in AAA and being hammered is likely not improving his confidence a bit. Send him down to the level at which he can dominate and then bring him back up progressively. Hopefully, Chattanooga fills that bill but if not send him down further. He’s pitched enough this year that “working through it” is seeming less and less likely.

    Reply
  5. Grand Salami

    Not the cornerstone of a trade for Luis at this point. They’ll demand Lowder instead which is probably a non-starter.

    Reply
    • Rob

      Would you want Phillips at this point? Not me. Shame too because I believe Krall said this was the key piece in last years non trade (Scherzer) at the deadline. Max went on to have a fabulous last 2 months for the Rangers. The Mets are probably happier too.

      While I am sure Phillips has little market value at this point, I wouldn’t fret the Reds treasure chest. There are still guys like Arroyo, Collier, Williamson, etc. who would be very enviable pieces for a potential trade partner. 2-3 of these guys should get you a very strong RH bat. We should be able to offer as much as any potential competition.

      Reply
  6. Optimist

    OTOH I see the Lookoouts named Lowder their player of the week for his 2 most recent starts, so perhaps he’s coming around.

    Phillips is a concern if he continues this all season – he’s “still just 23” so he gets several months to fight thru this, though a month in AA may be useful.

    Richardson, Roa and Santillan are still older, respectively in order, than Phillips, and only Santillan seems to have made a transition into a possibly useful MLB staffer – either long relief or middle innings.

    For this season the holes in MiLB are really in the hitting side of the rosters.

    Reply
  7. Mark Moore

    The word “prospect” says it all. Look up the dictionary definitions and they will include things such as potential, apparent, and indication. As noted by AllTheHype, sometimes they work out, sometimes they don’t. It usually takes time, so that’s one constant.

    Reply
  8. Jim Walker

    Could a person saying they won’t trade away their crown jewel prospects for immediate help at the MLB level might just turn out to be doublespeak covering up the fact their crown jewel prospects due to injury or poor performance don’t interest other teams????

    Reply
    • Harry Stoner

      I sometimes feel this way when folks are saying:
      “Trade Candelario! India! Fraley! Farmer! Sims! Benson!”

      Who is going to trade for these folks?

      And what would the Reds get in return.

      They could amass a stockpile of Rookie Davises, I suppose.

      A few Rendas or Jagielos.

      Or a Ramirez who they could release six months later.

      Reply
      • Jim Walker

        @Harry>> The irony here is that Stu Fairchild who we’ve had our differences about would probably bring better return and/ or require less prospect capital for greater return than the guys you named because he has turned into a reliable niche performer. A solid contender who has to play in a lot of big OF who has plenty of offense but no defense 1st OF would be glad to have him.

      • Oldtimer

        Rick Monday was the first player drafted in the first ever MLB player draft in 1965.

        Who was second? Les Rohr. He pitched all of six MLB games. Ever. NYM took him.

        Tom Seaver drafted in 10th round that year. Nolan Ryan drafted in 12th round that year.

        But Les Rohr was drafted second overall.

        Late in first round of 1971 MLB draft, Reds took Louisiana AS prospect Mike Miley.

        Early in second round, two other SS prospects were drafted back-to-back.

        Mike Schmidt taken 7th in second round. George Brett drafted 8th. Reds could have had either but picked Miley.

    • Oldtimer

      Rick Monday was the first player drafted in the first ever MLB player draft in 1965.

      Who was second? Les Rohr. He pitched all of six MLB games. Ever. NYM took him.

      Tom Seaver drafted in 10th round that year. Nolan Ryan drafted in 12th round that year.

      But Les Rohr was drafted second overall.

      Late in first round of 1971 MLB draft, Reds took Louisiana AS prospect Mike Miley.

      Early in second round, two other SS prospects were drafted back-to-back.

      Mike Schmidt taken 7th in second round. George Brett drafted 8th. Reds could have had either but picked Miley,

      Reply
  9. west larry

    This is like a extended hell week for Conner. What can we do to help hum? Send him to High A ball? Set up an appointment with a shrink? Do a vey extensive medical exam? I am at a loss for words, I hope that you find your way out of this. Conner,

    Reply
    • Harry Stoner

      An extensive medical exam might be a logical place to start.

      When pitchers’ performance go drastically in the ditch, it makes a lot of sense to be proactive.

      But this is the Reds…..

      Reply
    • Rod Andrews

      He may have hit a wall that he can’t, or never will get past. As mentioned, not all top prospects turn out to be major leaguers. The only option the team has is to work with him until he either works out his problems, or his problems work him out of a job. He very well may get this worked out quickly and all will be forgotten.

      Reply
  10. redfanorbust

    These guys are under a microscope since college. If he is injured he would say so or it would be obvious. Sounds to me like his mechanics are way off some how, and also it should be obvious by now. You would think they would take him out of the lineup and give him non game situations to work on them.

    Reply
    • Optimist

      There may be something to “his mechanics are way off”, and it also may be his mechanics are just a tiny bit off. Surely, something has happened, and given how long it’s gone on, an injury seems less likely, so look at the pitch variety and the mechanics.

      The higher the level, the finer the adjustments required, and yes, you would think they’d get into that investigation.

      Reply
  11. Doc

    Thought I was going to see Phillips pitch in Louisville in a couple of months. Not so sure now but if Lowder continues his roll (see minor league site for update article) maybe I get to see him instead.

    Reply
  12. Mauired

    It’s clear he’s not a future MLB starter. I don’t know why they continue to waste time. He showed very good stuff with the Reds last year. Put him into the bullpen and try to salvage the situation. Maybe he can still amount to a good setup man.

    Reply
    • Jonathan

      @mauired…last I checked Kevin Gausman didn’t turn it around until he was 28; Rijo was 23 when he became an ACE (almost out of nowhere), Aaron Harang became an Ace in his age 27 season, Roy Halladay was 24/25….progression isn’t always linear. Give the guy some time.

      Reply
    • BK

      Starting offers a greater volume of pitching opportunity than does relief pitching. Even if relieving is where he ends up, staying on a starting pitching schedule gives him more innings to hone his craft. Right now, his stuff is simply not MLB-caliber. Last year, it was, but consistency was more of the issue. Philipps has the talent to warrant the Reds continuing their investment in him with a AAA or AA rotation spot.

      Reply
    • Mauired

      Delusional at this point to think Connor Phillips is somehow going to magically throw more strikes and be good enough to be an MLB starter.

      Did Kevin Gausman or the others mentioned walk 5 batters per start?

      Reply
      • The Duke

        As a 23 year old in AA, Randy Johnson walked 8.2 per 9 IP

        Plenty of other examples, that’s just a fun one. Yes, guys do learn how to control the ball better.

      • Jonathan

        @Mauired…its amazing what baseball-reference can pull up 🙂

        Kevin Gausman – walked 4.1/9 as a 25 year old in 2016 @ AAA, AA, and A+

        Roy Holladay walked 5.6/9 as a 23 year old in MLB and 4.8/9 as a 22
        year old in MLB and 4.5/9 as a 21 year old in AAA

        Aaron Harang walked 5.2/9 as a 24 year old in MLB

        Jake Arrieta walked between 4.5-6.5/9 in the MLB between his age 24-27 seasons. then he turned into Cy Young Jake

        I think we often forget these guys are early 20’s and are always learning. from a podcast or two i’ve listened to on Phillips he seems to always want to be better and learn.

      • 2020ball

        “its amazing what baseball-reference can pull up ?”

        Amen, I’d suggest many on here to try it sometimes. Most of what I see is conjecture based on the eye test and preconceived biases based on that commenters opinions. Its crazy what checking your arguments can teach you if youre willing to put in the time before you select “submit”.

      • AllTheHype

        @Jonathon,

        For any pitcher’s deficiency, a person can find several examples of players overcoming such deficiency. Just because there are exceptions to every rule does not mean the appropriate course is status quo. I remember for Joe Boyle, people here kept citing Randy Johnson as the reason he should keep starting and not transition to a reliever. At what point do you pull the plug on the Randy Johnson dream. Never? Because Randy overcame it?

        Connor Phillips cannot control nor command his repertoire of pitches. There’s sufficient time and evidence of this. Time to pull that plug and let him concentrate on two pitches and shorter stints and see if that changes things, in my opinion as well as Maui.

      • DW

        “I stand corrected.”

        Mauired –

        I appreciate the humility in you stating that. It is refreshing to see. I commend you for that.

        And, yes, sometimes it takes guys a while before “it clicks”. There is still time for Phillips. It wasn’t that long ago that he was looking pretty dang legitimate. Times of struggle are needed for growth. I’m glad the Reds finally have the pitching depth to let him work through his struggles at the minors level, rather than being forced up to the majors before he is ready.

      • redfanorbust

        I echo DW’s comment and commend you admitting you were wrong and you stood corrected. It is refreshing and shows maturity and is all too rare on social media. Have a good day.

  13. Laredo Slider

    Seems clear Phillips has some kind of injury, crazy not to address it. No wonder CES wants a second medical opinion outside the Reds organization.

    Reply
    • 2020ball

      Why everyone thinks he has some phantom injury that neither he nor the org has addressed is mind boggling to me

      Reply
  14. Old Big Ed

    Yesterday was his second game in the 6-game series in Nashville.

    I went to the first game, and he wasn’t all that bad; gave up 4 runs in 5+ innings, but two were unearned by some bad, bad defense. He was sitting at 96, so I don’t think there is anything wrong with his arm. He was throwing plenty of balls, mostly high, but it was not absurdly bad control.

    Lack of control is almost by definition the inability to repeat the delivery. It might be so subtle that the pitching coaches can’t detect what he’s doing differently from pitch to pitch, but there is no reason that one fastball is high and wide right of the intended target, and the next one is low and wide left, EXCEPT that the mechanics are not consistent.

    I wouldn’t give up on him as a starter, because as has been mentioned, a lot of pitchers don’t get it together until their mid-30s. Certainly some time off might help him. But it could just be that he needs to get much stronger in the legs, or learn to be more consistent with loading before the pitch. There is also a good chance that he never conquers it.

    Maybe they need to send him to another pitching coach for a while. Sometimes a player doesn’t hear one coach, then listens to another coach who says much the same thing in a different way.

    I’m sure Phillips is tired of stinking.

    Reply
    • Redsvol

      Agree with the part that it’s to,e to change pitching coaches. Just time to hear a different voice. The kid is throwing 98 mph still according to pitch data. That’s not a hurt arm.

      And yes they are young but those 40 man roster spots are precious and not everyone will get the chance to repeat a level.

      If he keeps throwing 30 pitches per inning because he can’t get the ball 8n the zone then he definitely will be injured. Double AA stint is my opinion. It is interesting that both Lyon Richardson and Phillips can’t throw strikes and can’t get thru 5 innings a start. At some point hard decisions have to occur.

      These guys are missing a golden opportunity as we will need starting depth before it’s over. Spiers is taking advantage of it.

      Reply
  15. Little Earl

    No. 25 prospect Zack Maxwell is also struggling since his promotion to AAA, with a 7.50 era.

    Reply
  16. Rednat

    Chances are the reds will turn him around. they have done very well with developing young pitchers of late. position players…. not so much

    Reply
    • 2020ball

      Do you not remember last year? I’d suggest looking at a list of the position players the Reds called up last year and getting back to us on that.

      Reply
      • Rednat

        In my opinion… the jury is still out on our young studs. Im starting to become a believer in Stephenson. Everbody else…. I’m reserving judgement

      • 2020ball

        EDLC, Friedl, McLain and India are clear wins. India is perhaps a tier below the rest. Fairchild is an excellent bench piece and a fine player to have come out of a farm system. Hurtubise looks like another guy who can help solidify the bench. Jury’s out on others I suppose but none of those players are performing below what any of the scouts predicted.

        A predictable response is gonna have something about these players weaknesses, even though countless other success stories from other teams likely feature comparable drawbacks. I guess I’m misunderstanding where your standards for this lie, they seem a bit unreasonable to me.

  17. DaveCT

    It’s all speculation but … One question i have is whether the automated strike zone at AAA is giving a more accurate read of his pitches, and whether that is impacting him negatively. First off, his pitches have a lot of movement. So, removing minor league umps (who are honing their craft as well) from the equation may not be as beneficial to him until he commands those pitches better. Hence many more walks. Also, that may be forcing him to come too far into the zone more often, creating fewer whiffs on pitches and being hit more. A guy like Carson Spiers, however, who throws all his pitches not just for strikes but where he wants them, may be the type of guy who benefits from an automated strike zone more than a Phillips.

    Reply
  18. Frankie Tomatoes

    This is disappointing to see. Hope the young man can get it figured out because he has a lot of potential if he can. It seems that it has been a very bad year for the farm system with only a few guys doing well.

    Reply
    • Redsvol

      This is an overlooked aspect of 2024 Frankie. This is a year where we will be making a charge for the playoffs. Any team doing so, want some reinforcements for the last 2 months.

      There are usually 2 ways to get these; 1) your prospects have developed to a point they are ready to help and 2) your prospects have developed to a point where other mlb clubs like them enough to accept as trade for a proven mlb player.

      Unfortunately, it’s looking like we will have neither to boost us at the trade deadline on July 31st. Meaning Krall will have to significantly overpay to get any mlb talent. Not getting Brent Rooker for cam collier and Conor Phillips this year.

      Reply
      • Rob

        Overpay is a Krall-ism. You pay what is market value including competition from other parties. And we have as much stash (prospects) as any team. The Padres gave a #6, #9, and #15 prospects for Luis Arreaz. Would have cost us Stewart, Allen, and Richardson or something similar.

        I agree you are not getting Rooker or Robert for Phillips and anybody. But make it Arroyo and Williamson and a #15 and you are in the ball park. (The As or White Sox aren’t looking for 2024 help!). Call it overpay if you want but I think it is closer to “necessary price”. And I personally don’t care one bit if Arroyo goes on to become an all star. I am betting on the guy I am trading for being as good as I think. That is Krall’s job …..identifying who is likely to help us in 2024 (and beyond.) Don’t worry about the export. Get the necessary import.

  19. Votto4life

    I absolutely love as soon as someone mentions the rule, three second later, someone posts with the exceptions. Exceptions are just that…the exceptions.

    This comment is just entirely in jest. I am not being critical of anyone. In fact, it makes enjoyable reading. I do the same thing at times.

    Reply
  20. Old-school

    Reds going with a bullpen game tomorrow and Suter gets the start. Nick Martinez has thrown 11 pitches since Wednesday of last week so hopefully Suter gives 2 and Martinez 4-5. Clearly, SP in Greene, Abbott and Lodolo getting a blow with the rest days. Krall needs to be looking at SP with trades. Ashcraft and WIlliamson arent the short or medium term answer and while Spiers gave a huge effort, you never have enough SP. There arent any answers in AAA and Lowder is at least 2 months away if not at all.

    I do wonder if the plan is band aid things 2 months and see if Lowder can help in August.

    Reply
    • Optimist

      We may see Brandon Leibrandt in a week or two. If he’s got anything left, he’s a slight step up from the Kennedys and Overtons of the roster. Lively would also be very useful about now.

      Reply
    • MBS

      “There arent any answers in AAA”

      Spiers was the AAA answer with his 2.51 ERA as a starter. He has looked even better so far on the Reds with a 2.33 ERA. I’m comfortable with him going every 5 days.

      I also don’t think Ashcraft will spend a lot of time in AAA. Plus, Martinez has proven very effective when a starter is used in front of him. The Williamson thing is a setback. The only thing is we have no idea of how long of a setback it is.

      If we only have X in player capital available to trade to improve the team, I’d want it to go to the offensive side of things. If we grab a sufficient bat, and Krall still has prospects that he feels he could/should deal, then I’d like a closer or a setup man.

      Reply
      • Optimist

        Yep – Could the staff collapse with injuries – sure – but they’re still 2 or 3 pitchers ahead of last year’s efforts, and the need is still in the lineup/power hitting OFer.

        Could the staff collapse with injuries?

    • Rob

      From what I read, starting pitching is currently fine. Everyone expects Ashcraft back in short order. He is #4/#5 starter quality at worse. Williamson certainly could have displaced him without the injury setback. This a major depth piece loss if it is longer term. Spiers becomes the next man up if something else happens. I think he can keep the ship afloat for 2-3 weeks. Ugh …after that. Krall wet his pants on the Phillips thing. He is close to zero value today and may soon be demoted. He was a primary trade piece last year…..and possibly this year in negotiations on Glasnow, Cease, and others. Don’t get me started on 2023 and being in first place. Good thing he brought in Montas and Martinez though.

      Reply
  21. Oldtimer

    June 11, 1968: On this date in Reds history, the Reds traded Ted Davidson, Bob Johnson, and Milt Pappas to the Braves for Tony Cloninger, Woody Woodward, and future Reds Hall of Fame relief pitcher Clay Carroll.

    This was a hastily arranged trade because (I think, but no proof) Reds were unhappy with Pappas after RFK was killed and he wanted to postpone games.

    Pappas went on to have a good (not great) rest of his career as SP. Davidson and Johnson never did much after the trade.

    Carroll had a very good 8 years as Reds reliever. ERA+ 129 with Reds.

    Woodward was P/T starting SS for 3 (+) years as Red. Cloninger was SP and long reliever for 3 (+) years as Red.

    Howsam won this trade.

    Reply
    • Laredo Slider

      Carroll, from Alabama, was an off-season cop(that was an era before the big salaries plus not much winter ball so guys had to take on a part-time job to support their families). He also was fearless, wasn’t afraid to knock guys down, was claimed he’d take out his teeth and give a snaggle-toothed smile after knocking down a guy. Great pitcher.

      Reply
      • Harry Stoner

        Sounds like he could take a shot or two of his own, too.

        Yikes. What a story.

  22. TR1

    I think we found Elly’s Home Run Derby pitcher if he threw strikes. All kidding aside he probably needs a reset. Wish him all the best as it’s been a rough year to say the least.

    Reply
  23. Jeremiah

    My concern with Phillips is I think that last start in a key game against maybe St. Louis in 2023 he like walked 5 guys or let the first 5 on base? I’m concerned it could have been A Rick Ankiel moment that has mentally effected him, as he already struggles with control anyway.

    He’s definitely got a great arm. He’s got time, but definitely not as tradeable for the time being if looking for prospects to trade.

    Reply

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