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The Cyclones Report: Shortstop Phillip Evans

Prospect Crush: Activate!
Prospect Crush: Activate!

In some ways, I was more excited to get an extended look at Evans than I was at the more highly rated Brandon Nimmo. Nimmo has been written about to the point of exhaustion, while Evans has flown under the radar. But he was a player I rated very highly coming into this season, and nothing from this past weekend's games dissuaded me.

A 15th round overslot pick in 2011, Evans has added some bulk to his “5’10”” frame (if you say so, and he can generate surprising power for a guy his size. He put eight balls into play against Aberdeen on Friday and Saturday and six of them were rockets. That includes a no doubt two-run home run just to the left of the scoreboard on Friday, and a double halfway up the left field wall on Saturday. He can absolutely barrel a fastball, and is patient enough to lay off the junk until he gets one. His only really bad at-bat I saw came when the Aberdeen starter was able to throw off speed stuff for strikes in hitter’s counts. This was on Saturday and clearly the word was out not to throw Evans a fastball. Evans saw a 2-0 curve, a 3-1 change-up and then a 3-2 curve that dropped in for a called strike three. They caught Evans out in front of a 1-1 curve in the next at-bat, but he followed that up with a rocket at the shortstop on a 3-2 fastball and then crushed the aforementioned double. I don’t see him hitting more than 10 home runs at the big league level, but I could see him racking up some gaudy doubles numbers.

Evans has a good approach at the plate. He is willing to work deep into counts, though he is vulnerable to better offspeed stuff. On his outs that weren’t rockets, he generally was getting caught out in front of breaking balls. He also swung through a pair of decent change-ups on Saturday night, but at this level that isn’t surprising. He was generally able to lay off the breaking stuff out of the zone, but like most 19 year olds, will have to improve his pitch recognition as he faces better competition. Hudson Valley pitchers were able to get him to generate weaker contact with their offspeed stuff. Given his current approach at the plate I think this will come with experience. Evans is unlikely to compete for the batting title, but he should consistently hit .270-.280 with an above-average walk rate.

He is pretty thick now with the added bulk and was never really a burner to begin with. Speed is average, so I don’t see him as much of a base stealing threat. He did make a pretty bad decision to try to advance to third on a wild pitch that didn’t get far enough away from the catcher and he was out by about ten feet, those mistakes should abate with more experience.

Of course, the big question with Evans is if he will stick at shortstop or have to move to second base. It is an issue, so let me break down the good and the bad.

The Good: Evans moves well at shortstop, very decisive and fluid motions. He was aggressive coming in on balls, handled a pair of Baltimore chops smoothly and was comfortable around the bag. He bailed out Ynoa on Saturday as the pitcher threw well behind him trying to start a 1-6-3 double play. Evans did a good job to keep the ball in the infield, let alone get the force. Didn’t really see the range to his right tested, which is still the big question mark for me. In general, though, his average athleticism plays up when he's in the field. He made a great play going to his left on Saturday. He crossed in front of the second base bag, cut off Gamboa and made the turning throw Rey Ordonez-style to get the runner. He followed that up later in the evening by elevating to snag a live drive well over his head. The arm is accurate, even when he has to rush, as pretty much every throw was shoulder high to first base.

The Bad: However, the arm is fringy at shortstop. When he can, Evans likes to take a few extra running steps towards first base to cut down on the distance. That will work in the New York Penn League, but as the game gets faster, he’s going to have to be able to let loose with his arm. When he has to pump out a throw, he can do it, but it’s far from a howitzer. Evans did make an error Saturday on a grounder that took a weird bounce off the mound. He tried to make a barehanded play on it while falling forward, but probably should have just put the ball in his pocket. Otherwise his decision-making was good and he’s clearly captain of the Cyclones’ infield.

The Verdict: Most scouting sources seem to think he will have to move off shortstop. I think his instincts and polish might get him to the majors as a shortstop, but the arm will keep him below average there and likely force a move to second base. I do think he would be a very good second baseman.

Overall, I see Evans as a potential above average middle infielder at the major league level, though one who likely ends up at second base. He doesn’t have one tool in particular that stands out, but there’s not any glaring weaknesses in his game and he looks like he belongs on the field with players several years older than him in many cases. I could see him racking up a few .280/.350/.400 seasons in the middle infield while contributing above average defense at second base. The Mets paid second round money for Evans last year, and are already starting to see a return on the investment. His stock is up and I wouldn't be shocked to see him in the top ten of a lot of 2013 Mets prospect lists.