By Hayley M. Slye and Tim Fitzgerald
Vallejo, Calif.– The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball Clubs named Admirals outfielder Tillman Pugh as the league’s Most Valuable Player award winner in 2017, while manager PJ Phillips was announced as the co-manager of the year.
In his third season in Vallejo, Pugh hit .322 and drove in a team-leading 58 runs en route to a 2017 Pacific Association Championship. Voted on by three members of each PAPBC team, Pugh’s selection was nearly unanimous.
“Tillman could have won the MVP for the man he is in the clubhouse as well, his preparation and leadership set the example for the team. It was no coincidence that the team’s fortunes improved as Tillman’s game warmed up,” said Admirals owner Kevin Reilly.
Pugh was one of the leaders on a Vallejo team that went from a 12-27 record in the first half to a 24-15 record in the second. The Oakland native’s 18 home runs were tied for second in the league, as were his 30 stolen bases. He also ranked in the top four in the league in average and RBIs.
Prior to his 2013 and 2014 seasons with the Admirals, Pugh spent time in the New York Mets and Chicago White Sox organizations after being drafted out of Sonoma State University in 2010. In 2015 and 2016, he played in the Frontier League and American Association.
Pugh joined the Admirals on July 11 of the inaugural 2013 season, and played both in the infield and outfield while switch hitting. In just 24 games he hit .291 and scored 22 runs. In 2014 he put up his first MVP-caliber campaign in the Pacific Association finishing third in the voting by hitting .303 with 43 steals, 11 home runs, and 77 runs scored in 75 games played.
And in every season as an Admiral, Pugh’s success at the plate — and in the outfield — helped fuel the Admirals team success as well, truly defining the “value” in MVP.
“The way things work in life, you have certain situations that occur and they happen for a reason,” Pugh told the Vallejo Times-Herald after winning the award. “You win some, you lose some, you stay relentless, you keep going and keep pushing forward. There were plenty of times in my career when I thought, ‘This might be it,’ but that fire inside of me told me to keep going and getting to this point. This is unbelievable.”
While Sonoma Stompers Manager Takashi Miyoshi set a league record for wins in a season, Vallejo Admirals skipper PJ Phillips led his team to their first-ever Pacific Association Championship. But the two managers tied for the league’s 2017 Manager of the Year award, selected by three members of each Pacific Association team.
“PJ has a knack for bringing out the best in his players,” said Admirals owner Kevin Reilly. “PJ may be a sensible, even wise, no-nonsense guy to work with, but don’t think it’s not exciting. He reworked the team to fit his style, which set up the turnaround.”
Phillips, the brother of longtime Major Leaguer Brandon Phillips, took his team from a 12-27 record in the first half to a 24-15 record in the second, securing a spot in the Pacific Association Championship game. Phillips’ squad lead the league in hits, home runs and doubles, but it was his revamping of the infield and pitching staff that changed the Admiral’s course.
Phillips joined the Admirals in June of 2014, hitting .300 with 32 RBI and 31 runs scored in 52 games played. In 2015 he .302 and set the league record for doubles in a season with 27. A month into the 2016 season Phillips was named player-manager of the Admirals.
This season was the first time Phillips put a team together during the offseason. He gave some of last year’s squad and referred players a shot in camp before remaking the team more in his mold, adding newcomers like Mahlik Jones, Quintin Rohrbaugh, Chris Fornaci, Alex Fishburg, Mike Blanke, Andin Diaz and Pacific Association veteran David Kiriakos.
While Admirals fans, players, and front office members felt their manager deserved the award to himself for the dramatic turnaround, Phillips took satisfaction in wining the most important hardware the Admirals could have in 2017.
“At the end of the day, we won the Championship, and that’s what matters most,” Phillips said. “I want to thank all of my players for this award. I couldn’t have done it without them, and the front office’s support.”
These awards culminate a season that saw the Admirals win their first championship, and to collect some major personal achievement awards was to be expected. Vallejo’s first ever professional championship trophy will be on display on the second floor of city hall in downtown Vallejo.