From Redan to the Reds
Brandon Phillips comes alive for Cincinnati
By GUY CURTRIGHT
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 07/07/06
Brandon Phillips isn't looking at not making the All-Star Game as a disappointment. He's thinking of it as an opportunity.
"I'm going to go see my brother P.J. play minor league ball in Utah," the Cincinnati Reds second baseman from Redan High School said. "But he doesn't know yet. It's going to be surprise."
A surprise is what Phillips has been this season. In fact, he is one of baseball biggest surprises.
Once considered among the game's top prospects, he hit the end of the line this spring with the Cleveland Indians. Designated for assignment, he could have been grabbed by any team.
No team in the American League wanted Phillips. The Reds did. Especially since they had to give the Indians just a Class A pitcher.
New Reds general manager Wayne Krivsky pulled off a steal by getting pitcher Bronson Arroyo from Boston, but acquiring Phillips for almost nothing was a bigger heist.
The 25-year-old took over as the Reds' starting second baseman in mid-April and has been turning heads every since. He is hitting .317 to rank among the Top 10 in the National League, has fielded nearly flawlessly and set a Reds record by being successful on his first 16 steal attempts.
"It didn't work out for him in Cleveland for whatever reason and that's our good fortune," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He's been great for us."
"I'm just happy to be on a team that wants me," said Phillips, who is playing as a major leaguer in his hometown for the first time as the Reds meet the Braves in a four-game series. "This is fun."
It had been frustrating, rather than fun, for Phillips the past few years.
Rushed to the majors, Phillips hit just .208 as the Indians' regular second baseman in 2003. The past two seasons, he bounced between Cleveland and Class AAA Buffalo, his stock dropping.
When Cleveland sent Bartolo Colon to Montreal in 2002, Phillips had been the key prospect for the Indians. But as center fielder Grady Sizemore and left-hander Cliff Lee bloomed, the Atlanta native wilted.
Out of minor-league options, Phillips was cast off by Cleveland for almost nothing despite batting over .300 during spring training.
"Everything happens for a reason," said Phillips, a second-round draft choice of Montreal in 1999. "All that stuff is in the past. It just made me stronger."
"Two or three years ago, he was one of the best prospects in baseball," Narron said. "Now he's showing just how good he is.
"He's been one of the best second basemen in the majors this season. He's hit, he can run and he's been great in the field. Someday he's going to win a Gold Glove."
Phillips' biggest problem the past few days has been finding enough tickets for his family - one of the most athletic in Metro Atlanta - and friends.
"We're just trying to help him out on all his requests," Reds star center fielder Ken Griffey Jr. said. "It's the first time he's had to find 50 or more tickets for a game. That can be kind of strenuous."
Phillips would have had even more requests if all in siblings were in town. Younger brother P.J., drafted in the second round by the Los Angeles Angels, is playing for Orem in the rookie Pioneer League. His sister, Porsha, signed a basketball scholarship with LSU and has already started classes.
But father James and mother Lue were at Turner Field to lead the cheers.
"We've heard a little about his family," Griffey, from a very famous family himself, said, breaking into a smile.
No wonder Phillips is so happy in Cincinnati. He says that the first major league game he saw was between the Reds and Braves at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Shortstop Barry Larkin quickly caught his eye. "He became my idle," Phillips said.
Now Reds fans can grow up idolizing Phillips.
"He has a lot of energy and plays with a lot of excitement," Griffey said. "He's having fun and everyone can pick up on that."
Nearly unwanted this spring, Phillips has plenty of reasons to smile, even if he was snubbed for the All-Star Game.
"I'm not worrying about that," Phillips said. "Everything has been going too well to be disappointed about anything."