Top 30 Cincinnati Prospects: No. 11

First-rounder Phil Ervin earned much attention in 2013 with an outstanding performance in the Pioneer League. He was equally disappointing at Dayton last year, but there were some injury issues and he improved over the second half.

Phil Ervin came into the Cincinnati organization from their first pick in the 2013 draft. Soon after he signed at slot value and started out on fire at Billings and a dozen games at Dayton, finishing the short season with a slash line of .331 AVG/.425 OB/.564 SLG/9 HR in 46 games and 14/15 successful steal attempts. The outfielder out of Samford University profiled with a solid all-around game and might have even forged a case to fast track up the system for an early MLB debut. Then he ran into a roadblock: his second professional season.

He was probably a candidate for a midseason promotion when he returned to Dayton last year, but that never happened as he put up numbers of .237 AVG/.305 OB/.376 SLG with only seven homers in nearly triple the number of games he played the previous season. His contact rate has suffered since entering single A and his strikeout rate has increase to nearly 20% of his plate appearances. He’s still putting balls in play at around the same rate because his walk rate decreased by the same few ticks that his K-rate grew after the promotion.

There are still things to like about him and that’s good because the investment of the high draft pick will keep him a high-visibility prospect in the Cincinnati system. Though reduced at the higher level, the walk rate was still generous and provided for a nice .068’ AVG/OB differential. His bat might have slowed down a bit but his legs remained in high gear as he swiped 30 bags last season while getting caught only five times. The question now is where to start him in 2015. First impression would be more time in low-A, but at 22 years he would be old for the level. The batting average doesn’t look as bad after considering that he was sitting on a .213 AVG/.280 OB after the first two month of the season. Over the final three months all three averages in his slash line increased around .040’ over what it had been after the first two and that might be enough for Cincinnati to start him out at Daytona. If he returns to the Dragons again it will be with plans for a quick promotion.

Ervin stands 5’10”/205#, hits/throws right-handed and can play all three outfield positions. Around half of his professional action has been in centerfield where his range has been surprisingly low considering his speed. However, it has been good enough to keep him in the position and he also has enough arm strength to play right. He’s only been charged with four errors indicating that he’s been executing very consistently whenever he’s been able to put leather on the ball.

After debuting with the gaudy numbers in the Pioneer League Ervin crashed into some top 100 MLB prospect lists. He didn’t do much to defend his position on them last year and his inability to master the low-A level was very disappointing. There was a wrist injury at the end of the previous season that is perhaps overlooked because it did not keep him off the field, but it did require a surgery.

Still, it’s hard to ignore the reasons why Ervin managed the high ranking in the first place, including MVP recognition in the 2012 Cape Cod League. He profiles with 20/20 talent and a polished plate discipline at the MLB level. Even if he doesn’t stick in centerfield there’s bat speed for enough pop to play in one of the corners. There may be some uncertainty on what to do with Ervin in the immediate future, but long term he still figures prominently into future Cincinnati outfield plans.

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