By MIKAEL DeSANTO
Aaron Phillips (St. Bonaventure University) of the Olean Oilers has added another accomplishment to his successful season, as he has been nameD the New York Collegiate Baseball League Pitcher of the Year for the 2016 season.
“There’s a lot of good pitchers in this league, as a hitter I can tell you that,” Phillips said. “It definitely feels good to know that I was voted to be the best out of the bunch this year, but I know there’s a few guys, even on our own staff, that put a lot of hard work into their craft and are just as deserving as I am.”
Phillips, originally from Cheektowaga, New York, a suburb of Buffalo, improved upon his past success on the mound this year. Last season, Phillips started eight games and threw 54.1 innings, finishing with a 4-1 record and a 1.92 earned run average. In 2016, he started eight games, pitching 48 innings, and finishing with a 6-1 record and a 1.31 ERA. His regular season performance earned him the start in game one of the playoffs against the Hornell Dodgers.
In that playoff game, he pitched five innings, surrendering two runs (neither earned) on four hits and two walks, while striking out one.
Phillips, who attended Cleveland Hill High School, attributed the improvement to learning more about the confidence it takes to pitch.
“I knew I had the stuff, but I needed to learn how to pitch,” Phillips said. “I think I’m starting, right now, to learn how to do that.”
When asked when he meant by that, Phillips said it was about knowing he could do what he wanted to do at any time.
“Being able to throw my off-speed in any count,” he said. “Being able to get ahead of hitters, being able to put away hitters on my pitch instead of them dictating how the at bat goes. I feel like I can dictate that now with four different pitches (fastball, curveball, slider, changeup) from the stretch or the windup, no matter what the situation is.”
Bobby Bell, Phillips’ head coach with the Oilers, said of all the things that Phillips has done, pitching may be his most successful.
“I think on the mound is where Aaron’s ceiling is best,” Bell said. “He has so much potential still, you can see that he’s still so raw, it’s just very natural for him to be out there, but when his stuff is on he’s a very tough pitcher to face and I’m sure he devastates a lot of hitters.”
Bell said Phillips was a very important and intricate part of the teams run to this years league title.
“He shows up and he pushes guys as much as he has pushed himself, to make sure everybody gets better,” Bell said. “He does a really good job of keeping everyone kind of confident, but at the same time in that cool, relaxed mode that you like guys to be in.”
Phillips said his goals on the mound for the upcoming school year focus mainly around improving his control.
“Definitely limit my walks, that’s been a problem for me my first two years there (St. Bonaventure University),” Phillips said. “I haven’t had bad numbers as a pitcher, I’ve kept us in a lot of games, but to be a dominant pitcher you have to limit the free bases that you’re giving up. If the other team beats you that’s fine, but helping them is never going to turn out well for you.”
Phillips has given up 44 walks in 101 innings pitched over his first two years at St. Bonaventure University.
He said he hopes to accomplish his goals by staying in a good frame of mind and physically up to par.
“For me, I’m just trying to keep my body healthy and keep the same approach,” Phillips said. “Make sure I don’t change anything.”
Bell said Phillips future as a pitcher is bright and he will continue to get better through what he does off the mound.
“Right now I think there is no limit, he puts his work in, whether it is in the gym, in his bullpens or in practice,” Bell said. “He’s always looking to get better every time he comes off the mound, he is working with our catchers, he can talk to them and find out what is his best pitch that day, will talk to them about what he is feeling, he comes in and we talk every inning about what’s working, what’s not working and what adjustments we think he needs to make, but the sky is the limit for him on the mound I think.”
Phillips received 11 first-place votes. Teammate Austin Bizzle (Alabama St.) took six first-place nods. Fellow Oiler Billy Griffin (Washington College) also received a first-place vote as did Jimmy Skiff (Syracuse Jr. Chiefs/Purdue-Calumet), Wes Brown (Genesee/William Carey) and Sean Pisik (Syracuse Salt Cats/LeMoyne).
2016 Pitcher of the Year (first-place votes in parentheses)
Aaron Phillips (11) 160
Austin Bizzle (6) 97
Jimmy Skiff (1) 53
Billy Griffin (1) 59
David Lyskawa (Olean/Niagara County CC) 47
Matthew Sandoval (Syracuse Jr. Chiefs/Purdue-Calumet) 46
Steve Witkowski (Cortland/UMass-Boston) 41
Others receiving votes: Wes Brown, Sean Pisik, Richard Edwards (Rome/Edward Waters), Connor Ryan (Hornell/Mercyhurst), Carlos Tejeda (Wellsville/Bloomfield), Nate Verst (Cortland/Kentucky Wesleyan), Adam Rigney (Olean/Nichols), Luke Chevalier (Rochester/Northern St. University) and Alex Veraksa (Lackawanna College).