FORT MYERS, Fla. – Back in late September, rising class of 2024 corner-infielder and right-handed pitcher Jax Phillips accomplished something that really doesn’t happen all that often, if at all.
Playing with the East Cobb Astros 16u at an event called the Underclass/2023’s PG Southeast Fall Frenzy held in the north Atlanta suburbs, Phillips had the distinction of being named both the Most Valuable Pitcher and the Most Valuable Player, a unique daily double to say the least. And it was kind of strange exactly how it came to be.
“They gave me the MV pitcher and then they gave another kid the MV hitter,” Phillips told PG early Wednesday morning. “And then later on they sent me an email and told me, hey, you were also the MV hitter; it was really kind of funny.”
Baseball can be a funny game and Jax Phillips is doing a lot of smiling these days. The double MVP honors really tells the story of a true two-way performer who has risen to the No. 79 overall position in Perfect Game’s class of 2024 prospect rankings and No. 12 among national third baseman (Nos. 9/1 in the state of Georgia).
He calls the far north Atlanta suburb of Milton home and he can proudly claim to be a member of the East Cobb Astros, one of the country’s premier travel ball teams. He’s been in Southwest Florida the last couple of days competing at the PG National Underclass Showcase-Main Event for a second straight year as a 16-year-old who has already committed to the Georgia Bulldogs.
It’s the last week of December 2021 and January 2022 is just days away. It’s the baseball offseason in every sense of the word except when it’s not, and it isn’t the offseason any longer at the Underclass-Main Event.
“This offseason I’ve been working hard and this is a big event, so I’m coming to show what I can do,” Phillips said speaking form the jetBlue Player Development Complex, adding that he came in ready to improve upon the workout numbers he’d posted at earlier showcase events. “My goal was to either stay the same or jump a little bit and I was happy with that.
It was a situation where Phillips was able to show off his arm strength without throwing from a mound. Five event records were set during Tuesday’s workout session and Phillips had one of them when he threw 91 mph across the infield and to home from first base.
Showing his versatility, he also threw 89 mph across the infield from shortstop (t-7 best effort) and 91 mph from the outfield (t-8).
“It’s definitely stressful,” Phillips said of the showcase environment. “But once the first day is over it’s more fun because we get to do these games and that’s the fun part.”
Phillips is a part of a team here that is comprised of other East Cobb Astros from the class of 2024 and the familiarity they share with one another is evident from the outset.
As a 16-year-old high school sophomore with two full summer and fall Perfect Game seasons in front of him, it’s remarkable that Phillips has already been rostered at 50 PG events dating back to PG Series Classic undertakings in 2016-17 (his dad Chris Phillips, said that Jax has, in fact, been in attendance at each of those 50 events).
A lot of that has to do with being a part of the East Cobb Astros program, of course, where participation is encouraged. East Cobb Baseball founder and 16u head coach Guerry Baldwin always brings dozens of players to the National Underclass Showcase-Main Event and has again this year.
“Each year, (Jax) kind of goes out and competes against himself. He just tries to do a little bit better than the last time and kind of gauge where he’s at,” Chris Phillips told PG Wednesday morning. “And I think it’s a fun trip to be with his team. A lot of the kids from his summer team come down together and they work so hard during the offseason that they kind of want to see where they’re at before (the) high school (season).”
The offseason has been a busy one for Phillips, a baseball-only kid who likes channeling all his energy towards the one sport. He’s done a lot of training and workouts while also trying to hit every day and throw as often as seems manageable. There has been a lot of long-toss but not very many bullpens, just every now and then in an effort to stay sharp.
Offseason training can present a balancing act of sorts for a viable two-way guy and Phillips has learned how to make it work. There has to be some give and take along the way.
“It’s a lot more,” he said. “If I were just a PO I’d be long-tossing a lot more and not really worrying about the hitting side as much. It’s definitely a challenge doing both and being really advanced at both of them.”
Jax Phillips attends a small private school called Veritas strictly for academic reasons and then plays his high school baseball for the East Cobb Baseball Academy; he earned all-tournament recognition for the ECB Academy at the PG High School Showdown-Academies tournament in Hoover, Ala., last March.
The whole East Cobb Baseball experience has been extremely beneficial for Phillips, and both he and his dad agree on that front. Milton is a far northern Atlanta suburb but sits right in the same neighborhood as Marietta, where ECB is headquartered and the PG Top Chops East Cobb Complex is located.
Phillips said it’s a real boon having those fields so close to his house that he scoot over there every day and get some work in. He hits on the field every week, works with Baldwin exclusively on his pitching and work with so many of the Astros coaches who he’s come to trust and respect.
“Guerry himself has probably been the biggest influence on his baseball career; Guerry pitches with him every weekend and has never taken a dime for three years,” Chris said. “Guerry has taken a vested interest in him and really taught him how to be a pitcher. He taught him how to throw, when to throw, what to throw, where to throw.
“Just being around a very competitive environment where all the kids at East Cobb are good baseball players, I think it teaches them to compete.”
Those experiences with East Cobb have given Phillips the opportunity to perform on some pretty big stages and he’s been named to 26 PG all-tournament teams in his career with two years remaining to add to that total; he’s been a six-time WWBA champion and six-time PG Youth champion.
Whether he’s pitching or hitting, Phillips has learned to not change his approach to the game at all. He wants to be aggressive and never give the opposing batter or the opposing pitcher the sense that they’re in control of the situation.
“At the plate, I want to attack fastballs early and not get behind in counts,” he explained. “On the mound, I want to attack with all my pitches and not just throw fastballs and think I can away with it.”
Chris Phillips believes that sort of approach is crucial to success: “Baseball is a game of just constant improvement,” he said. “It’s kind of like ‘Whac-a-Mole’ where you get real good at something and then it looks like you’ve got a weakness over here, so I think it’s good for him to just constantly gauge and assess where he’s at on a big stage.”
Chris Phillips said the decision on which way Jax should turn will ultimately be made by someone else. Jax Phillips certainly looks that part of dominate pitcher at 6-foot-4, 185-pounds, a tall, lean and lanky kid with a big arm who really hasn’t started to fill out his frame yet.
The test, Chris said, will come when Jax is facing 90 mph pitching on a regular basis and is still able to make consistent contact. If he struggles against that kind of velo and an occasional hard slider it will be time to lean more toward pitching.
“I’ve told him that right now you’ve done a really, really good job on both sides of the ball so do that for as long as you can,” Jax’s dad continued. “Let somebody that knows a heck of a lot more about baseball tell you. Because if you’re out there throwing 97 (mph) I can tell you right now somebody’s going to tell you to put your bat down. But if you’re hitting bombs they’re going to say, you know what? Hold onto that thing for a little bit. Let’s let smarter people than us figure that out.”
Phillips made his commitment to Georgia two years ago as an eighth-grader and there’s been no looking back. He said he was getting quite a few offers at the time but when he started talking to the Georgia coaching staff he immediately felt like he was at home. Academics are important to Jax – he carries a 4.0 GPA – and he feels like Georgia could meet his needs on that front, as well. Chris Phillips said it was a bit of no-brainer to accept the offer.
“I told him that he could only commit to dream schools (that young) because if a school comes and offers you now, are you going to tell them no and tell them yes two years from now?” Chris said. “So it has to be a dream school; it can’t just be anybody.”
College and the possibilities of the MLB Amateur Draft are still more than two years away for Jax Phillips and a lot of questions will answered and decisions made over those next two years. Chris Phillips has had a big impact on his son’s baseball career to date but has now taken a step back from coaching Jax and leaving that to Baldwin and his staff with the East Cobb Astros.
“When he was young I felt like it was our game and I was kind of nudging him along,” Chris said. “And now it’s his game and he knows that this is not for the faint of heart. If you want to compete at the levels that your goals are set for you’ve got to work really hard.”
Jax Phillips will continue to test himself against the best in an effort to be the best that he can be, even when that means going up against top prospects a year or two older than he is. It’s his plan to be with the Astros at the PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., next October, an experience that will provide a test unlike any other.
The chances are very slim that he’ll ever again win the MV Player and MV Pitcher awards at the same PG tournament, but that’s OK. There’s just too much else to be looking forward to.
“I love where I’m at,” he said. “I keep working hard and I keep getting better and I don’t want to be content. … My dad had a big impact on me at a young age and Guerry (Baldwin) has definitely had a big impact on me.”