The New Balance Baseball Future Stars Series powered by Program 15 Sports has long had a policy of not ranking players.
Other places might, certainly.
In short, there are no rankings needed to know that Cole Phillips has a very, very bright future ahead of him. It’s something that became more and more evident as he progressed through the Future Stars Series system, which is a process that, in part, he feels has played a big role in his success.
“They’ve been amazing,” he said. “I started coming to Future Stars events in my sophomore year, so it’s been about two to three years now, and it seems like every event I go to, it’s run better and better, and the competition is always top level. I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s run with (a focus on) the teaching aspects of the game. We come here to compete, but also to learn, and Future Stars does a great job of surrounding us with ex-professional players and people that have been around the game a long time. Every time I come to an event, I take something away from it to help add to my game. And they’re also run like actual games; the pitchers are pitching 2-3 innings, you’re facing nine-batter lineups and they’re getting 3-4 at-bats. It’s run like a real game. I think that separates Future Stars from other organizations. Especially to end it out at Citi Field, that was a pretty unreal experience, so that was great.”
Phillips got the start in one of the night games in Queens, and only allowed two of the ten batters he faced, striking out four along the way in a nearly spotless outing. Regardless of what his decision ends up being when the MLB Draft rolls around — and we’ll get to that in a minute for the Arkansas commit — getting to pitch on the big stage in front of a significant turnout of big-league scouts and executives was an experience that can only help him regardless of which path he ends up choosing.
“Playing in a big league stadium is one thing, but playing in New York, which is kind of the biggest stage in sports, that was pretty unreal,” he said. “Playing under the lights with the music blaring and with the great competition, it was pretty special. I think it helped a tremendous amount, getting to face all the best competition and facing what are hopefully the guys I get to face for the next ten years of my life or potentially even longer. Getting to compete on those big stages and high levels, it’s already getting my game ready for whether it’s at college or professional baseball, just being used to facing really good competition.”
Phillips is one of Arkansas’ most coveted commits of the upcoming class, but is also considered one of the top prep arms available for the upcoming 2022 MLB Draft, selected as one of Baseball America’s Top 50 high school players eligible to be taken.
That decision looms ahead, and looms large. It’s also one that’s still months away, and while it’s unquestionably a good “problem” to have, it’s far from having been solved just yet.
“We’re really, really early before anything like that starts coming into play,” Phillips said. “Honestly, right now, it’s something fun to think about, but the focus is more on training to be the best version of myself and going out there during my high school season. What’s down the road is what’s down the road. I don’t really know what the future has in store for me, but all possibilities are really exciting ones.”
If it’s college?
Phillips will slide right into the rotation in a extremely prestigious Razorbacks program that’s coming off an SEC Championship and winning their regional in the College World Series.
“That’s one of the reasons why I chose Arkansas, was because of their fanbase and how electric the community is over there and how established the program is,” he said. “If I can go in there and be one of the top dudes that goes and competes for a World Series with Arkansas, I think it’s going to be an unreal experience. I think that team is going to have a chance to do that every year I’m there. That’s an awesome possibility, and I’m super thankful they’re giving me an opportunity for me to go pitch there.”
If it’s pro ball?
Phillips has followed the big league team closely wherever he’s lived — first the Rockies when he was in Colorado, and now the Astros living closer to Houston — but focuses more on individual pitchers that he studies the most, Shane Bieber and Shane Baz, citing the ability to tunnel his pitches well for the former and low-effort, high-results delivery on the latter that’s similar to his own. The thought of getting to join his idols as a fellow big leaguer one day and possibly being able to accelerate that process a few months from now is also a very, very intriguing thought.
“It’s exciting, because looking back, when I was younger, I would have never known I was going to be in this kind of conversation or in this spot today,” he said. “To have that potentially be an option is really exciting. If that, one day, does come true and I’m able to pitch against those kind of players, that’s a dream come true. I want to make the most of it and be the best in the league one day.”
Phillips calls getting to this point “unexpected,” always considered more of a two-way guy who was more focused on playing the outfield before slowly making the transition to becoming a pitcher full-time during his sophomore season in high school. He’s made what he says are big jumps over the past two years to sit in the low-to-mid 90’s — he’s popped 96 on the gun multiple times — with his fastball this past summer, numbers he expects to increase as he’s only just begun his ramping up phase for the upcoming year. He uses what he calls a “simple and smooth” approach to generate that velocity, choosing a free and easy delivery where he doesn’t feel like he’s throwing as hard as he can, relying on leg drive, a strong core and quick shoulder/hip separation to generate quick movement on the bump.
He also knows that velocity isn’t everything, certainly not anymore, and has put a big focus on the development of his secondary offerings of late.
“I’m really happy with where I’m at with those,” he said. “My slider has always been a really good pitch for me, and hopefully I can continue to develop that pitch and make it an elite-level slider one day. Then, changeup-wise, I’m really happy with where that pitch is number-wise and analytically, and hopefully I can continue to build my confidence with that pitch and make it an elite third-level pitch as well. Secondary-wise, I feel like I can place the ball anywhere I want, and have good numbers to back it up, so I’m happy with it.”
All of this development comes with trying to balance a normal life as a high school student and simply being a kid, which is something Phillips has called a “complete grind,” especially as the biggest summer of his life draws closer.
“You do have to find a balance, you can’t just be strictly baseball, because you do have to do other things that you enjoy,” he said. “But, it’s also kind of seeing where your priorities are at. For me, baseball is what I want to do in life and hopefully is what is going to make me successful, so I want to devote the majority of my time to doing that. And, it is hard sometimes, because sometimes I’ll have to turn down hanging out with my friends or going to do something fun if I haven’t gotten my work in, because I feel like if I skip a day, I’m letting the competition get ahead of me, and I can’t risk that. But, I find plenty of ways to have fun with hobbies like hunting and fishing, and I do hang out with friends in my free time. That’s super important. But you have to find ways to get ways to get your work in. As hard as you may be working, there’s somebody out there that’s working just as hard, if not harder.”
Those type of intangibles are what you likely don’t see in those aforementioned rankings, which are something that Phillips tries not to pay attention to, but sometimes finds unavoidable in today’s age of social media.
“I hardly give it any attention,” he said. “There will be one publication that has me ranked fairly high, and then there will be another one that doesn’t have me ranked at all, so I don’t pay any attention to it. I think it’s pretty funny to look at. Not that I care about it, but seeing where they have people put, and when I’m not put very high, it’s just more motivation for me from the standpoint of I pitch like I’m the best. It’s not a cocky thing, it’s a confidence thing. I know that I work hard to back that up. At the end of the day, I don’t care where people think I am, because I know where I’m headed and where I’m going to be one day. So, I don’t pay any attention.”
Nor should he. One way or another, after this summer, those rankings won’t matter. And truthfully, they never did anyway.
“There’s three things I’m looking forward to right now,” Phillips said. “I have a super exciting high school season coming up; my team is really, really good and I’m friends with everyone on the team and we have a lot of D1 commitments, a chance to really go far in a state run. After that, I have two great options potentially. Either way, it’s super exciting just to think that I could be going to Arkansas or maybe even potentially have a chance of getting drafted. Either one of those is pretty unreal as a kid. God blessed me to put me in this position, and I’ve made the most of it.”
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