AP Up the Middle, Saints Sign Best Defensive Shortstop In Franchise History, Anthony PhillipsST. PAUL, MN January 4, 2017
It’s going to be extremely difficult for teams to get the ball past the left side of the Saints infield in 2017. Having already re-signed Nate Hanson, who set the American Association record for best fielding percentage at third base in 2016, the Saints signed their 2015 shortstop, who set the single-season franchise record for fielding percentage at shortstop, Anthony Phillips.
The 27-year-old Phillips used his record breaking 2015 campaign to get his contract purchased by the Angels organization on January 25, 2016. Last season at Double-A Arkansas he hit .259 with one home run and 37 RBI in 114 games. In 347 at bats he smacked 11 doubles, three triples, had a .332 on base percentage and .317 slugging percentage. During the second half of the season he hit .282 in 59 games. He played six different positions with Arkansas: second, short, third and all three outfield positions, but played 100 games at his primary position of shortstop. He once again shined at one of the most difficult positions on the diamond committing just 10 errors in 440 total chances, for a .977 fielding percentage, a full 10 points higher than his stellar career fielding percentage at short. He led the Texas league in fielding percentage among shortstops, most assists (299), total chances (440) and games played (100).
Prior to the 2016 season Phillips played for his home country of South Africa in the World Baseball Classic Qualifier in February. Despite South Africa losing in the final game to host Australia, Phillips hit .462, going 6-13, with seven runs scored in four games. While Anthony played second in the tournament, his brother Jonathan, played third.
With the Saints in 2015 Phillips flashed the leather while helping the Saints to a franchise record 74 victories. He committed just 11 errors in 454 chances, a .976 fielding percentage, topping Kansas City’s Vladimir Frias’ .973 as the only two shortstops with a .970 fielding percentage or better in 2015. Phillips led the American Association in total chances and assists (307). He finished just shy of the league’s shortstop fielding percentage record held by Ryan Khoury in 2014, who also had a .976 fielding percentage. Phillips’ actual percentage was .97577, while Khoury was at .97609, but the league rounds the number to three decimal places and both will be in the record books with a .976 fielding percentage. Only nine times has a shortstop had a .970 fielding percentage or better since 2009, three of them are Saints (Steve Mays, .970, in 2010 and Joey Becker, .971, in 2014).
Offensively, Phillips hit a solid .269 with two home runs and 35 RBI in 91 games. In 323 at bats he scored 45 runs, smacked 11 doubles, three triples, a .316 on base percentage and .341 slugging percentage. Phillips also finished tied for third in the league in sacrifice hits with 11. He hit the lone grand slam that season for the Saints on July 18 at Sioux Falls. He also put together a 10-game hitting streak from July 15-24. On July 4 Phillips and Dan Kaczrowski became the first duo to hit back-to-back home runs at CHS Field.
Phillips was acquired by the Saints on May 1, 2015 right before spring training, from the New Jersey Jackals for a player to be named later. He is an interesting story signing as a free agent when he was just 16-years-old out of South Africa by the Seattle Mariners. Phillips was scouted by former Major Leaguer Pat Kelly and Phillip Biersteker during the 2006 World Baseball Junior Championship.
Phillips spent 2007-2013 with the Mariners organization and one of his best seasons came in 2013 at High-A High Desert where he hit .259 with a career high nine homers and 43 RBI.
On December 22, 2013 the Philadelphia Phillies signed Phillips as a free agent. In 2014 he played at three different levels in the Phillies organization: Single-A Lakewood, High-A Clearwater and Double-A Reading. Between the three stops he hit .230 with two home runs and 24 RBI.
Phillips has been the league leader in fielding percentage on four different occasions: 2016 with Arkansas, 2015 with the Saints, in 2012 he led the Midwest League with a .976 fielding percentage and in 2010 he led the Northwest League with a .979 fielding percentage.
In 2008 and 2009 Phillips represented his country of South Africa in Olympic qualifying and the World Baseball Classic, respectively. His father, Phillip, was the oldest man ever on an Olympic Baseball roster when he played for South Africa at the age of 44 in the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Phillips becomes the fourth player signed by the Saints this off-season. He joins third baseman Nate Hanson and pitchers John Straka and Eric Veglahn.
The 2017 Saints season begins on Thursday, May 18 at CHS Field against the Gary SouthShore Railcats at 7:05 p.m.