When the Cincinnati Reds acquired Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp from the Los Angeles Dodgers in December, Phillip Ervin probably started wondering where he fit among the surplus of outfielders the team now employs. But that hasn’t phased him, and now he’s on a mission to prove he should be on the 25-man roster come Opening Day.
In Goodyear, Arizona, the 26-year-old Ervin has hit .333/.438/.741 with an OPS of 1.178. He has three home runs, two doubles, four RBI, six runs scored, four walks and five strikeouts. He’s gotten 27 at-bats, tied with three others for second-most at-bats this spring. While spring training stats are rendered meaningless for many players, they can be useful to determine whether a player on the bubble, such as Ervin, will make the team.
Many times a team wants versatility when it comes to making decisions about the last few roster spots. Ervin has the versatility. He can play all three outfield positions. While he’s played the corners more recently in his career, center field–a question mark for the Reds–is an option. In six seasons at the minor league level, Ervin has played 195 games in center. Most of those games were at the Single-A and Advanced Single-A levels, however.
In 2018, the Reds recalled Ervin twice to replace Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler, both of whom spent time on the injured list last season. It’s why he played 266.2 innings in left and 217.1 innings in right, compared to only 24.0 innings in center. While with the Reds, Ervin also wasn’t terrible at the plate. He hit .252/.324/.404 with a .728 OPS and a respectable 94 wRC+. In 247 plate appearances, he had seven home runs, 10 doubles, 27 R, and 20 walks. He stole 10 bases in 12 attempts, and that was low for him.
Teams tend to value speed, particularly for bench players. Reds fans may not think of Ervin when they think speed, but he’s actually quite fast. From 2014-2016, he stole 30+ bases in each season at three different levels of the minor leagues. In 2017 at Triple-A Louisville, he stole 23 bases in 29 attempts. While Ervin didn’t have much of a chance to steal bases at the big league level in 2018, he was one of the fastest players on the team in sprint speed at 28.0 feet per second (ft/s), according to Statcast. Only Billy Hamilton and Jose Peraza were faster. With Ervin’s speed, one might figure he might be in contention to back up Senzel in center. He hasn’t played one inning in center this spring though. The majority of his innings have come in right field, which as everyone knows, is where Puig will play.
With the combination of versatility and speed, Ervin can be an ideal bench player for the Reds this season. However, due to the number of outfielders on the current roster, he will likely start the season at Triple-A Louisville unless a trade or injury happens. Even if he keeps hitting, he has minor league options and the Reds control his contract through 2020. Don’t be surprised to see Ervin with the Reds at some point in 2019, but it’s unlikely to be on Opening Day.