Cincinnati Reds: Phillip Ervin Giving A Glimpse Into His Potential

Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds outfielder Phillip Ervin during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 7, 2015; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds outfielder Phillip Ervin during the Arizona Fall League Fall Stars game at Salt River Fields. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports /

The talk of the town heading into Cincinnati Reds spring training has been the young, fresh faces. Many eyes are on those competing for roster spots, particularly in left field and the bullpen. Others are focusing on the team’s top prospects like Jesse Winker, Robert Stephenson or Cody Reed.

Phillip Ervin is quickly putting his name into the list of youngsters to pay attention to this month.

The 2013 first-round draft pick may not be competing for a roster spot and is no longer regarded as one of the team’s top-five prospects, but he has been scorching hot through the first week of March. Through five games, Ervin has gone 9-for-16 (.563) with one double, two home runs, five runs batted in, one steal and four runs scored. For his impressive play through the first week of spring, he has drawn praise from manager Bryan Price, who said Ervin “looks like a big leaguer” and showed up to camp in better shape than he did last year.

Although he 23-year-old will likely start the season in Double-A Pensacola, he’s still making the most of his playing time and showing everyone the type of player he can ultimately become.

Standing at 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, Ervin first showed that power-speed combo at Samford University, which prompted the Reds to take him with the 27th overall pick three summers ago. His debut in professional ball left the organization and fans excited about his future, as he hit .331/.425/.564 with 21 extra-base hits (nine homers) and 35 runs batted in through 200 plate appearances between Rookie League Billings and Low-A Dayton, while adding 14 stolen bases in 15 attempts.

The future looked bright for Ervin and he was ranked the Reds’ third-best prospect by Baseball America heading into the 2014 season. But his development hit a speed bump in his first full season, partly due to having wrist surgery in the offseason. While he still managed 48 extra-base hits and 30 steals, his slash line took a dramatic dive to .237/.305/.376. Suddenly, he was nowhere to be found on any top-prospect list and many seemed to forget about him altogether.

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Looking to bounce back in 2015, he got off to a hot start in High-A Daytona by hitting seven home runs and hitting .346 in April, but he struggled to keep his average up the rest of the season, hitting only .241 for the year. Despite this, he managed to raise his on-base percentage to .346 by exhibiting better plate discipline and raising his walk rate to 12.2 percent, while lowering his strikeout rate to 18.1 percent from his 19.6 clip in 2014. He still brought his power and speed to the table as well, hitting 14 home runs (while playing most of his games in the typically pitcher-friendly Florida State League) and swiping 34 bases on the year.

So how exactly does he project at the big-league level?

Even if he doesn’t develop into anything more than a .240 or .250 hitter, he has plenty of worth in his speed, power and improving on-base skills. His progress with the glove in the outfield (where he plays all three positions) has been noted and, although he may end up in a corner outfield spot instead of his current position in center, he should be solid defensively in the long run.

Because of Ervin’s streakiness at the plate and lingering questions about his defensive abilities in center field among some scouts, Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper is one of a handful of evaluators who are not particularly high on the 23-year-old. Cooper feels Ervin is more of a “tweener” — projecting as more of a Chris Heisey, fourth outfielder than a starter.

Others, like MLB Pipeline, believe that if he can be more consistent at the plate and hit for a higher average, there is plenty of potential for him to be more than a bench player:

"“There is some concern that Ervin has a bit of a tweener profile, one who is destined for a career as a productive fourth outfielder. That might be his floor, but the tools are still there to develop into a big league regular.”"

Ervin’s early spring performance is encouraging, to be sure. However, he showed last season that a hot start doesn’t equate to a big season. He undeniably has the tools to be a good player, but he’s going to have to find better consistency to excel in the majors. For an organization that hasn’t developed any outfielders who have turned into solid, big-league players since Jay Bruce nearly a decade ago, the Reds are hoping Ervin can do just that.