SURPRISE, Ariz. — It’s 9 a.m. on the dot, and Brett Phillips trots out onto the back fields of the Angels’ facility in Tempe. Alone on an uncharacteristically cold March morning, with Cascada’s “Everytime We Touch” blaring in the background, the Seminole, Fla., native stretches with a purposeful intensity, getting a head start in preparation for Thursday’s Cactus League game against the Royals.
For Phillips, who signed with Los Angeles in January after stints with Tampa Bay and Baltimore in 2022, it’s all part of the process of getting acclimated to another clubhouse. This time, his arrival with the Angels comes with some eager, nervous energy.
“It was a little intimidating coming into a clubhouse with the roster of superstars we have, highlighted by Mike [Trout] and [Shohei] Ohtani, but then you’ve got [Anthony] Rendon and other dudes who have been around a while,” Phillips said. “I had no reason to be intimidated, because these guys are really good dudes. Really humble guys, who at the end of the day just want to win and be good teammates.”
This upcoming season marks Phillips’ seventh in the Majors. His strengths are highlighted by defensive excellence, high bursts of energy, and a singular defining moment in the 2020 World Series with the Rays.
The past two seasons, Phillips has amassed 21 outs above average while patrolling center and right field (seventh-most among outfielders last season with 11). In 2022, the 28-year-old ranked in the 98th percentile in outfielder jump and 97th percentile in arm strength, filling out the mold for a complete defensive outfielder. In Thursday’s game, he made a nice leaping grab in front of the warning track in center, ranging back on a deep fly ball from third baseman Matt Duffy.
Phillips’ main focus rests in improving on the offensive side. With a career slash line of .188/.273/.348 — and his hard-hit percentage dropping while his strikeout percentage rose in 2022 — he recognizes that strides need to be made at the plate.
“I went through a full swing revamp this offseason, so this is all kind of new to me,” Phillips said. “But, it feels really good. I’m confident and feeling very encouraged with where I’m at, especially this early in Spring Training. I know we’ve got some time to iron out all the flaws with timing and mechanical stuff, but I feel like I’m in a good direction to be as successful as I can for this team.”
Phillips — who worked a walk, stole a base and scored a run Thursday — is expected to act as the fourth outfielder for the Angels. He arrives amid a talented crowd of veterans, including infielder Brandon Drury (28 home runs and an OPS+ of 122 last year), right fielder Hunter Renfroe (29 home runs, 126 OPS+), and infielder Gio Urshela (.285 average, 121 OPS+), each of whom figures to provide a spark in more ways than one.
“He can play all three outfield spots and is a very good baserunner that can steal bases for you,” said manager Phil Nevin after an 8-4 Cactus League loss to the Royals. “He’s put a lot of work in with his swing this offseason, I want him to get a lot of at-bats because a swing change takes some time. But I thought he had some good passes today.”
Second start keeps Davidson on right path
Tucker Davidson, who’s angling for the sixth spot in the Angels’ rotation, faced some trouble early against Kansas City, giving up three hits and two runs to the first three batters. He quickly settled in, retiring the next six batters over two innings, striking out three and walking none to finish off an encouraging second outing.
“I thought the control was good. Good work today,” Nevin said. “There were tough defensive plays that could have gone either way but didn’t get made, [they] had some add-on runs. But I thought he threw the ball pretty well, velocity is building back up. Overall body of work was good.”
The lefty, 26, understands that it’s still early in the build-up process, working to remind himself that it isn’t time to go out and throw seven innings yet.
“I think just finding a lot of little details is the biggest thing in these early outings,” Davidson said. “I want to get runners on, have the [pitch timer] on you, you want all those things because you want to be battle tested.”