FutureBacks Q&A: Phil Avlas

Phil Avlas calls a good game...and a good interview. In an exclusive chat (and FREE PREVIEW OF PREMIUM CONTENT) with FutureBacks.com Avlas talks about how minor league playoffs can translate into Major League success, Matt Chico's rise, fall, and re-rise, and how a top prospect turns a mid-season 'demotion' into long term success.

FutureBacks:  Did the Diamondbacks give you a reason for bumping you back down to Lancaster, or was it just, pack up and go?

Phil Avlas:  Pretty much the situation was I hurt my ankle in Tennessee and they thought I really couldn't perform, well, not that I couldn't perform, but they thought that with the DH and everything in Lancaster I'd be able to play more in Lancaster.  As it turned out I didn't DH that much, and I was able to get back on my feet pretty quickly so the DH wasn't even necessary. 

FutureBacks:  You battled some injuries this year, how healthy are you now?

Phil Avlas:  I'm back to normal, we taped the ankle every game, just to get it out of the way, but when everything was said and done, for me it was all about not worrying about the little things and what they're thinking about you, and instead just going out and performing.

FutureBacks:  You've had a torrid last stretch, and you continued it in the playoffs, was the slow start a matter of coming back after the injury, getting comfortable, etc?

Phil Avlas:  When you play everyday it makes it a lot easier.  I got comfortable and I wasn't worrying about the ankle, or whether or not I was going to be able to get playing time, and when I came back down here I started playing to my full potential.  In Tennessee I was just not having that much fun, I was sitting for a month, I wasn't getting playing time, wasn't getting at bats, and finishing the year in Lancaster, and getting to play everyday again, I just remembered what was fun about the game.

FutureBacks:  You've had a chance to catch Matt Chico early in the year when he was struggling at Tennessee, and later when he tore things up in Lancaster, what do you think the change has been?

Phil Avlas:  I think he always had the potential to pitch at that level, what happened was that a lot of times he would have just one bad inning and it would kill him.  When I saw him down in Lancaster the biggest differences were that he was pitching inside a lot more and he was a lot more consistent in the zone.  In Tennessee he was leaving his change up in the strike zone.  You just can't do that, and when I saw him here he was keeping that pitch down, which is where it is going to be effective.  Should they have moved him down, I don't know, that's not my decision, but I know he was really on a tear down here, no one could touch his stuff, and he'll get another opportunity to prove himself at Double-A.

FutureBacks:  You've seen both levels, and we hear that Hi-A to Double-A is the toughest single level jump you'll make until you go Triple-A to the Majors, do you agree?

Phil Avlas:  Definately, Double-A really is one step from the bigs, I saw so many players from so many organizations who eventually got moved to bigs this year.  The Southern League is a competetive league, it's a lot more mental up there, there are more things to worry about.  You just can't afford to make mistakes, and the less mistakes you make the more success you'll have.  What I found out is that it's all about how you prepare yourself, and that mental side of the game is big at that level, the tools are the same, it's about where your head is at.

FutureBacks:  Compare last year's Playoff team in Lancaster to this years?

Phil Avlas:  Last year we had more speed and more power, this year's team wasn't really similar in those regards.  But this team played together well, we gelled, so it's hard to compare the two squads except for the speed and the power.  We were good enough to go all the way this year, but we beat ourselves.  I can honestly say that I don't think Lake Elsinore did enough to beat us in any of those games, but we just couldn't get things going, didn't get the big hits in the clutch. 

FutureBacks:  Do minor league playoffs really prepare you for a Major League pennant race?

Phil Avlas:  Yeah, I think they do.  I've been in the playoffs my last three years, and it's exciting going in there.  You have to play smarter, move runners along, make less mistakes.  I think the way it prepares you is that in a pennant race at any level you have to be able to play small ball.  I fell like I've been getting my feet wet each year in the playoffs, and I feel like the biggest difference is going to be the size of the crowds.  Honestly, that stuff doesn't affect me.  It doesn't matter how many people are watching me, I still have a job to do, and I'm learning how to do that in a playoff atmosphere, I'm pretty sure you can take those same things into the Majors.

FutureBacks:  What happened to you on the fourth of September, when you hit three dingers, did you eat an extra bowl of Wheaties, and are you still eating them?

Phil Avlas:  I just got pitches and didn't miss them.  I got thrown a lot of mistakes that day.  Some days you get your pitch and you foul it off and you're saying to yourself, "I could have it that."  That day it felt felt really good, I'd hit two in a game last year, twice last year actually, but I'll be honest, hitting three was unreal.  You always think about hit, hitting three or even four in a game, but when I hit home plate after the last one, my face was kind of numb.  Neb Brown was waiting for me at home plate and he said, "You can smile now," and I finally broke into a big smile. 

When I hit the last one I was like, "Oh man, it's another one," and I couldn't believe it.  It was really special for me because my mom and some of my relatives were there, and my high school coach was there too, so it was just a really special day.

FutureBacks:  How does a player, especially a smart player like yourself, handle what some would call a 'demotion?'

Phil Avlas:  I kind of knew my situation, and knew the situation that was brought to me.  Miguel Montero was doing so well at Lancaster, and I was hurt, so it made sense for them to do what they did.  After I got the call I just felt like if I hung my head it isn't going to do me any good.  If I just get angry about it I would end up wasting a whole year.  I kept my head up and got my at bats.  I knew that if I got my 200 or 300 at bats, that was what was going to help me.  It ended up being great, because I got to play for another championship, which was a lot more than I expected to get.  Of course I would have loved to stay in Double-A and perform well there, but it didn't happen that way, and if you just hang your head it only makes it worse, so I just tried to keep a positive attitude and went out and performed.

FutureBacks:  Going into the offseason, what is the focus for you?

Phil Avlas:  This has really been a long year for me, and honestly right now I'm not thinking about the offseason that much.  I've been invited to the Instructional League, and so I'll do that first.  I think that's going to be good for me, because now that I'm healthy it will be another chance to show what I've got to offer.  After that I think it'll be a lot like last year, getting stronger, working out, getting prepared for the next level.  I've been in Double-A now, I've learned from the experience, and hopefully I'll get back there and stay healthy and be able to showcase myself and what I can do.  That's the goal, moving up, and it doesn't change because of one season that didn't go the way I'd like it to go.

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