Brett Phillips may be best known to Brewers fans as the Minor Leaguer who's encountered two opossums during games.
Yes, you read that correctly. Phillips, the organization's seventh-ranked prospect, has somehow had run-ins with opossums in consecutive years, including last April with Double-A Biloxi. His 2016 encounter may be the highlight of what he termed a "down year."
In his defense, he's also known for being pretty good at baseball, probably moreso than wildlife encounters. The 22-year-old outfielder has hit at least 16 homers and knocked in at least 62 runs in each of his three full Minor League seasons. Last year -- critter-chasing aside -- was a step back, however. He struck out 154 times in 124 games and saw his batting average drop from .309 in 2015 to .229. The 2012 sixth-round pick out of Seminole High School in Florida said his problems centered around being too aggressive at balls out of the strike zone. He tried to do too much and, like many young players finding their footing in the Minors, found out that less is sometimes more.
The Brewers haven't given up on Phillips, adding himm the 40-man roster in November after Phillips' second stint in the Arizona Fall League. He heads to Spring Training in Arizona with a newfound optimism, and we caught up with him last week -- sidestepping any memories of rogue ballpark wildlife.
MiLB.com: What have you been up to this offseason?
Brett Phillips: I've just been in the weight room, getting as strong as I can be. I've incorporated hot yoga, which is definitely very good for injury prevention, staying flexible. And your regular baseball activities -- hitting and throwing. Other than baseball, I did some traveling. Went to Costa Rica with the girlfriend; that was a good time. Went to D.C. for the Rookie Career Development Program, which was a great time. Very informative. But it's been a short-lived offseason since I went to the Arizona Fall League.
MiLB.com: Hot yoga sounds terrible. It's not unbearably hot?
Phillips: The first couple times, it's tough, you're getting adjusted to the heat. It's 97 degrees. But depending on how many people are in the room, it makes it more humid. You get used to it, and you breathe through it.
MiLB.com: Probably about the same kind of heat you enjoyed in Biloxi last year.
Phillips: The same temperature, yeah (laughs). I was already prepped for it.
MiLB.com: How would you evaluate last year at Biloxi? Were you satisfied overall with how things went?
Phillips: No. We're our own biggest critics. It was a down year. I expect more from myself, and it was a good experience, to experience failure. But I'm just putting it behind me and learning from those experiences and looking forward to this year.
MiLB.com: What made 2016 so difficult at the plate? Your power numbers remained on track from 2014 and 2015, but your average was a career-low, and that coincided with a spike in strikeouts.
Phillips: I attribute it to my approach at the plate. It was as simple as that: swinging at pitches I shouldn't have been swinging at. I had a bad approach at the plate, and it showed in my numbers. Basically, nothing was wrong with my swing -- it was the same swing -- but it was just a bad approach. It's something I took into consideration this offseason and, hopefully, it translates into a better year with a better approach.
MiLB.com: What do you think you need to work on the most this season? Is it just being more selective and patient at the plate?
Phillips: For hitting, it's just a matter of being more patient and selective, swinging at pitches I know I can do damage on instead of swinging out of the strike zone and doing too much. Tryng to get two hits in one at-bat, which is impossible. It's a matter of slowing things down and getting better overall.
MiLB.com: You're on the Brewers' 40-man roster. How exciting was that when you got the news?
Phillips: Man, this was the biggest accomplishment of my career. I couldn't have been more excited or thankful. I'm super blessed knowing the Brewers still feel after the year I had that I can help them win ballgames and, hopefully, when the time comes, when they need me, I'll be ready to go and help the Brewers win some games.
MiLB.com: You were traded from one rebuilding organization -- Houston, where you were 2014 Minor League Player of the Year -- to another. What's the feeling like now inside the Milwaukee system as the team looks to climb back into contention?
Phillips: It's very similar seeing the two organizations. When I was with Houston, when I'd just got traded, we were in the same position now. We were the No. 1 organization in baseball and you see players starting to blossom into big leaguers and you're seeing Houston, maybe not last year but the year before, they were a playoff team. It's a process. The talent, you just have to let it unfold and hopefully it translates into the big leagues. But they're very similar.
MiLB.com: This past October was, I think, your second season in the Arizona Fall League. How did it go?
Phillips: It was my second. It was good. I always enjoy the AFL, the talent is amazing, getting to play against the best guys in the Minor Leagues. I didn't play that well, but it was good to go out there and work on some things like the approach. It was to get more at-bats under my belt. I'm thankful the Brewers sent me.
MiLB.com: Some people think 2017 is the year you'll reach the Majors. How do you deal with those expectations, coming off a year at Double-A?
Phillips: I just gotta go about my business on a daily basis and work hard and have fun and worry about the things I can control and playing for myself and the guys next to me. Everyone who has expectations of me, I don't worry about that. I just worry about myself and what I can control.
MiLB.com: You faced off with Robin Yount at Brewers Fanfest recently. How fun was that and do you have any comment on your laugh, which MLB.com (not me) described as "a donkey trapped under water"?
Phillips: (laughs) That was a fun experience, especially getting to shake a legend's hand. He's a Hall of Famer and a great dude. It was hilarious. The laugh, it's just the laugh, I've had it my whole life. It's out of control. I've accepted and lived with it. Along the way, it seems to make other people laugh and it makes them happy, but I think it's embarrassing.
MiLB.com: You're ranked as the Brewers' No. 7 prospect entering the season. Do you feel any pressure to live up to the hype or buzz around you as Spring Training begins?
Phillips: No, because I moved down in the rankings -- I was in the top 100 and this year I'm not, which is fine. I don't need a list to let me know how good I am. It's awesome that MLB thinks so highly about me, but I have to prove them right. There's no pressure. In fact, there might be less pressure this year. I'm just going out and having fun and basically trying to win some ballgames wherever I am.
MiLB.com: Have the Brewers told you where you'll be? Maybe Triple-A Colorado Springs?
Phillips: I talked to some guys who played there before, they say it's a good hitter's ballpark, which is great, but I still have to hit the ball. And that's what I'm gonna be worried about -- having a good approach and not doing too much. I'm not gonna try to hit home runs because I've already been in that bind before and you saw how it translated last year. This year, I'll just go and stay within myself and have fun.
MiLB.com: We've been following your quest to get free tacos on Twitter. Let's settle this here: would you rather have free, unlimited Taco Bell or Moe's?
Phillips: I'm gonna have to go with Moe's for life. I'm taking the healthier choice.
MiLB.com: Wow. And have you heard anything from Moe's yet on the free pass?
Phillips: I haven't heard anything yet. I'm gonna be real disappointed if Moe's doesn't email me. They've told me twice they would, but I've yet to hear anything. I think I'm getting big leagued by them.
MiLB.com: Maybe this Q&A will put some pressure on Moe's for you. But where does that leave Chipotle and Qdoba?
Phillips: I like Chipotle, too, but I'm a big queso guy; the queso is the dealbreaker when it comes to Moe's and Chipotle.
MiLB.com: Yeah, absolutely. I'm always telling people this. The queso is the difference.
Phillips: Qdoba is good, but they don't compete with Moe's, I think. When I say Moe's, everyone calls me crazy because they like Chipotle. But I can eat queso for days.
MiLB.com: Seriously. And they have three quesos to choose from.
MiLB.com: All right, it's your Major League debut. What song are you walking to the plate to?
Phillips: That's a secret. I have a good one, but it's a secret.
MiLB.com: Wow. Suspense. OK, last question: if you weren't playing baseball, what would you be doing? Or what would be your other dream job?
Phillips: I kinda have a passion for law enforcement. Whether it's FBI or something, I know I'd have to start out as a cop, but I have a passion for law enforcement. But I dunno, we'll see. I don't like to think about it. But that's what I could see myself doing.