When it comes to the prized position player prospects in the Cincinnati Reds farm system, 21-year-old Jesse Winker stands above the rest — and for good reason. The Double-A Pensacola outfielder has slashed .292/.398/.481 in over 1,100 plate appearances in the minors. Most talent evaluators believe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a cinch Winker will be a solid starter in the bigs; some peg Winker as a future All-Star.
But thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s another young outfielder making his way through the Reds system. He wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t turn 23 until mid-July and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mike Trout-ing his way through the typically pitcher-friendly Florida State League at High-A Daytona.
His name is Phillip Ervin.
After a lost 2014 season at Low-A Dayton — at least offensively — Ervin took a free fall down the top prospect charts. Prior to last year, Ervin was ranked third in the Reds system by Baseball Prospectus and Baseball America. Before this season, Ervin had dropped to ninth in Baseball ProspectusÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ rankings and fallen out of Baseball AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s top 10.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think he certainly learned how competitive Single-A baseball was going to be and sure came into the season determined to regain his place as a prospect in the Reds organization. Entering the 2014 season, he was a top-10 prospect in most anyoneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s eyes within the organization, and some wouldÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve had him as a top-five prospect,Ã¢â‚¬Â Tom Nichols, Director of Media Relations and Broadcasting for the Dayton Dragons, said of Ervin earlier this week. Ã¢â‚¬Å“After a disappointing year, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure he was determined to come back this season and regain his place as a prospect within the organization.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Most Redleg Nation readers as well as most informed Reds fans are familiar with Ervin, who was selected by Cincinnati with the 27th overall pick of the 2013 draft out of Samford University, a small private school in Homewood, Alabama.
Ervin was thrust into pro ball almost immediately after he was drafted — and promptly raked. In 200 plate appearances during the 2013 season — 149 with the Billings Mustangs (Rookie ball) and 51 with the Dayton Dragons (Low-A) — Ervin slashed .331/.425/.564. He was also 14-of-15 in stolen base attempts.
Jeff Graupe, the Reds director of player development,Ã‚Â was rightly impressed.
“A lot of times, a young hitter comes in and — especially a first-rounder — wants to prove he belongs and show you everything he can do on every swing,” Graupe said to MLB.com in January 2014. “Phillip has such a calm demeanor and an ability to slow the game down for a first-year player.”
However, Ervin regressed in 2014. After the 2013 season, Ervin underwent wrist surgery and wasnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t able to resume baseball activities until March. He spent the entire season at Dayton, slashing .237/.305/.376, including a .207/.279/.283 mark last April. Like most young hitters, the book on Ervin was to beat him with breaking pitches.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“In terms of bat speed, you wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t find anyone better than Ervin. He can hit any fastball. ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a tool you canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t teach,Ã¢â‚¬Â Nichols said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Learning to recognize the breaking ball, and especially a slider out of the zone, is the next step in his development. When he is consistently able to do that, he should advance his game significantly.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Although his offensive numbers improved a bit as the year went on, Ervin recently admitted that 2014 was his first time enduring stretches of failure in baseball. He he didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t deal with that disappointment appropriately, and resulting effect mushroomed after his slow start to 2014.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I feel like, last year, I didn’t handle (the struggles) too well,Ã¢â‚¬Â Ervin saidÃ‚Â the Daytona Beach News-Journal. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was really my first time struggling in baseball, and it kind of got to me. That was one thing I wanted to focus on this year. If I did get off to a bad start, not letting it get to me.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I’m having a great time right now.Ã¢â‚¬Â
On the bright side, Ervin continued to steal bases at a high rate last year, swiping 30 bags in 35 tries. Defensively, Ervin made over half of his starts in center field and exhibited significant refinement in route-taking and overall confidence. Ervin has committed just five errors in 347 chances duringÃ‚Â his career.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“When the year began, he was mostly a corner outfielder. He really didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t show that he was ready to be an everyday center fielder,Ã¢â‚¬Â Nichols said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“But as the season progressed, his defense in center field — when he got chances to play — really improved. By the end of the season, he was a guy you could look at and say, Ã¢â‚¬ËœHe could play center field at any level.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢Ã¢â‚¬Â
Through 20 games in 2015, the 5-10, 205-pound Ervin is slashing .351/.430/.676. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s near or atop the FSL leaderboard in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, RBI, total bases, walks, stolen bases, batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, isolated power (ISO), weighted on-base average (wOBA) and weighted runs created plus (wRC+). Also, Ervin’s walk rate is up from 2014Ã‚Â andÃ‚Â his strikeout rate is down.
Maybe that special edgeÃ‚Â Ervin played with at SamfordÃ‚Â after not being offered by SEC programsÃ‚Â out of high school has returned. Maybe he needed to experience some failure. Maybe his wrist injury totally sapped him of his power last season.
Whatever the case may be, donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t forget aboutÃ‚Â Phillip Ervin…or the possibility that Ervin and Winker could share the same Reds outfield in the near future.