Cincinnati Reds: Phillip Ervin’s opportunity is knocking

CINCINNATI, OHIO - JULY 02: Phillip Ervin #6 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a triple in the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on July 02, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OHIO - JULY 02: Phillip Ervin #6 of the Cincinnati Reds hits a triple in the second inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Great American Ball Park on July 02, 2019 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

When the Cincinnati Reds traded Yasiel Puig, it left a huge hole in the outfield. Will Phillip Ervin be able to take advantage of a huge opportunity?

In the 100 games that Yasiel Puig took the field as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, his presence was both captivating and fascinating. It was also bewildering and at times, frustrating. With Puig now a member of the Cleveland Indians, can Phillip Ervin seize the opportunity afforded him?

Yasiel Puig was easily the one of the most animated and unique player Reds fans had seen in a long time. Despite not sticking around in Cincinnati for long, his impact was surely felt, with the fans, in the clubhouse, and on the field.

But, as is often the case in the game of baseball, the Reds and Puig have gone in separate directions. The 28-year old outfielder was dealt to the Cleveland Indians late Tuesday night, as part of a three-team trade that allows the Reds to acquire star right-handed pitcher Trevor Bauer.

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For the Reds, this now creates a hole in right field, the position that Puig occupied for almost every game of the 2019 season, as well as a need to fill the production that Puig is leaving in his departure. Many teams would have been left reeling because of a trade like this, but the Reds may not only have a viable backup to Puig already on the roster, but he may already be better.

A former first-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2013 out of Samford University, Ervin cracked the Major Leagues for the first time in 2017, but has seen limited opportunities to prove himself consistently at this level. Prior to 2019, Ervin had collected just 311 plate appearances, hitting for a .736 OPS and 10 home runs.

However, since being recalled from Triple-A Louisville on June 15th for the fourth time this season, Ervin has broken out with the bat, slashing .353/.421/.588, totaling a 1.009 OPS. Much of this success can be attributed to Ervin’s scorching hot bat against left-handers in 2019, as he is slugging 1.033 in 35 plate appearances against southpaws this season.

As a result of this, Ervin has been worth 1.3 WAR on the season, in just 95 total plate appearances (a mark that already surpasses the 0.8 WAR that Puig totaled in 404 plate appearances). Based off pure value, Ervin has undoubtedly earned the right to more consistent playing time, and with an opening in the outfield, he appears the most likely candidate to see that increase in playing time.

With that being said, there are several concerns about Ervin, mainly his ability to handle same-sided pitching. For his career, Ervin has hit just .244/.317/.382, good for just a .700 OPS. Granted, those numbers have come in a small-sample size of just 269 plate appearances, but it remains troubling, nonetheless. Ervin will need to eradicate those platoon splits to see his playing time continue to increase moving forward.

As far as defense is concerned, Ervin has gotten most of his opportunities in 2019 in left field, where he has formed a platoon with Jesse Winker. Many now expect Ervin to slide over to right field, where he will be given the opportunity to prove to the organization that he belongs on the next Reds playoff team. Ervin has above-average speed, but depending on how his arm can play in right field, left field may ultimately be his primary position moving forward.

Anytime a popular player such as Puig is traded from the team, it can feel as if a gaping hole has opened up, and nobody is going to fill it. Well, perhaps from an entertainment standpoint there is some truth to that, but on the field, the dealing of Puig has given players such as Ervin, Josh VanMeter and perhaps even Aristides Aquino the opportunity to succeed in an increased role.

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Puig was a fan favorite from the instant he was traded to Cincinnati, until the moment that he was dealt. Perhaps, given the chance to succeed with the organization that thought highly enough of him to make him a first-round draft choice, Phillip Ervin can draw that same popularity from the Cincinnati Reds organization and its entire fanbase.