The 2015 season was one that saw Phillip Ervin put a rough 2014 campaign behind him and take a step forward. With the Dayton Dragons in he hit .327/.305/.376 with 46 walks and 110 strikeouts in a season where he was coming off of a wrist injury.

In 2015 the outfielder went to Daytona to start his year and hit .242/.338/.375 with 18 doubles and 12 home runs in 109 games. On the surface, that doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, but when you consider that the league average OPS was just .650 and that Ervin was leading the league in home runs when he was promoted to Double-A, it puts the improvements in context a little bit better.

The Florida State League crushes power output like no other league in minor league baseball, it’s like playing in Petco every single day. Despite that, Ervin hit for more home run power than he had the year before by a significant margin. He then went to Double-A Pensacola at hit two more home runs in 17 games, finishing the year with an organizational best 14 home runs.

Perhaps the biggest improvements for the outfielder came in terms of his strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2014 Ervin noted after the season that he began pressing early on in the season when he got out to a slow start and that he was essentially trying to get everything back all at once. That likely led to his plate discipline falling apart some. In 2013, the year he was drafted, he had 25 walks and 34 strikeouts. In 2014 that rate was 46 walks and 110 strikeouts, a big step in the wrong direction. In 2015, split between Daytona and Pensacola he improved that to 66 walks and 98 strikeouts.  His walk rate jumped up 49% compared to the year before and he also cut his strikeout rate slightly.

Video

Scouting Report

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If you watch the video above, you can see two different times down to first base for Phillip Ervin. Both are above-average times. He is deceivingly fast. He doesn’t really look like he’s flying down the line, but he was routinely an above-average runner down the line, grading out as a 55-60 runner. That played out quite well on the bases as he stole 34 bases and was caught stealing just seven times (83%). While it’s not likely that he steals that many bases in the big leagues, 20-25 isn’t out of the question.

Ervin shows above-average power potential with good bat speed, though a scout that I spoke with did note that his bat had slowed down from the time he saw him in August and earlier in the season. While that’s not uncommon for many players, it’s worth noting, especially since the video above is from August. All of his 14 home runs were pulled to left field. No home runs went to center or right on the season, though with most of his season coming in the Florida State League, that isn’t entirely surprising. It is worth mentioning though as in three seasons since being drafted, every home run he’s ever hit was pulled. Here’s a quick look at his extra-base hit spray chart for his career:

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His hit tool is better than his average showed in 2015. Despite the power being mostly to the pull side, he does use the opposite field often enough. In 2015 he pulled the ball to left field 21% of the time. He went to center with the ball 16% of the time and to right field 15% of the time. Getting out of the Florida State League will help him improve his average as it’s a league where fly balls go to die and more of those will find some grass or find themselves over the wall moving forward, boosting his average. The improved plate discipline will also show up here as he’s not chasing nearly as many bad pitches as he was in 2014.  Ervin’s swing can still improve, but it’s better today than it was at any point in 2014. It can still get a little longer than you’d like every so often, and there is still a hitch in it at times as well, but he’s made progress with both.

Defensively is where we start to see some things that may really determine just how valuable a player that Ervin can be in the future. He spent just 31 games in center field during 2015, spending most of his time in left, where he played 95 games. While Ervin isn’t slow by any means, he’s not a total speedster either, which is usually what you see from true center fielders. The lack of that top notch speed is going to limit him to being a below-average defender in center. If his bat plays, you can deal with that kind of defense in center field, especially at Great American Ballpark where there is a lot less room to cover. In left field his speed and arm play quite well, but if he’s got to make the move to left it really dings his overall value as the defensive value is much lower and the offensive bar is quite a bit higher.

In the end, the bat should play at either position, but it will clearly play better in center than in left. While the defensive values will be quite different between the two spots, there might be enough there to remain in center field for a few years before the transition to left is necessary.

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