We’re about a week into the 2020 MLB season, one that has already been full of surprises and changes. A 60-game schedule provides the potential for some eye-opening stat lines, as what would normally be just a good week or two at the plate now takes up a much larger portion of a player’s season. Expanded rosters (at least to start the season) give prospects and “Four-A” players an opportunity to prove themselves at the Major League level, a chance they may not have had in an ordinary season. One such player who is making the best of his newfound playing time is Phillip Evans.
The Pirates signed the 27-year-old Evans as a non-roster invitee in December, a move that went relatively unnoticed at the time. Evans spent the entire 2019 season in Triple-A with the Cubs, where he batted .283/.371/.470 with 17 homers and 30 doubles in 130 games. He also sported a 13.7% strikeout rate and a 10.6% walk rate. Evans’ only prior Major League experience was 34 games between the 2017 and 2018 seasons with the Mets, where he slashed .241/.328/.278, good for an OPS+ of 69. Primarily a third baseman, Evans has played everywhere in the infield, as well as a little bit in left field.
The Pirates are only 6 games into their season, and while the offense has struggled mightily, Evans has not. His slash, albeit a very strong .385/.500/.538, doesn’t tell the entire story:
Aside from the strikeout and whiff rates, everything else is generally in line with how Evans has produced in the minors. He has always profiled as a solid on-base guy with not very much power. Seventeen homers and a .493 slugging percentage represent his career-high minor league totals. So while he’s not going to maintain his 199 wRC+, his ability to consistently hit the ball hard and get on base can help him continue to be a capable Major League hitter.
Standing at 5’10” and 210 pounds, Evans also fits the bill as the type of under-the-radar, contact-first utility guy that the Pirates have developed well in recent years. For example, Adam Frazier was a 6th-round pick who has been a league-average hitter since his 2016 call-up. Last year was his first season playing only one position, and he was a Gold Glove finalist at second base. Josh Harrison was in Single-A when the Pirates acquired him from the Cubs in 2009, and he went on to be a two-time All-Star and finish 9th in NL MVP voting in 2014. Going back a little further, Freddy Sanchez was a three-time All-Star and hit .344 in 2006 to secure the NL batting title.
Evans will certainly continue to be penciled into the Pirates’ lineup if he can sustain his early-season success. He has gotten the majority of the playing time at third base thus far, with Colin Moran, the only other Pirate doing anything at the plate so far, splitting first base/DH duties with Josh Bell. So while he may not be a future All-Star, Pittsburgh just might be the place where Evans’ career takes off.
Featured Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette