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Oh Yeah, That Guy: Phil Evans

You might not remember Phil Evans, but he had an excellent week back in 2016.

St. Louis Cardinals v New York Mets
Phil Evans
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

August 30 to September 5 (2016): 12-30, 2 2B, 0 3B, 1 HR, 1 RBI, 2 BB, 4 K, HBP, 0/1 SB

Born in Whittier, California on September 10, 1992, Phil Evans knew baseball was his calling from an early age. Generally playing center field or shortstop, positions he enjoyed playing because they are “position[s] of leadership,” Evans played baseball all over the country on little league and travel ball teams, eventually enrolling at La Costa Canyon High School, a high school in Carlsbad, California with a strong baseball program. A varsity player since his freshman year, Evans’ physicality and elite level of play quickly put him on scouts’ radars. In his senior year, the shortstop hit .392/.512/.731 with 7 home runs and 5 stolen bases. The high level of performance, combined with solid defensive instincts, made him one of the better prep shortstops in the state that year.

Evans was drafted by the Mets in the 15th round of the 2011 MLB Draft, the 462nd player selected overall. With a commitment to San Diego State, Evans had to choose between going pro or playing under Aztecs head coach Tony Gwynn. In the end, San Diego could simply not compete with the Mets’ deep pockets. The Mets offered Evans a $650,000 signing bonus, the highest they had ever offered a outside of the first few rounds of the draft. By comparison, $650,000 is roughly the equivalent to what a team would offer players selected in the supplemental first round, or second round; Joe Musgrove, drafted 46th overall in the first supplemental round, was given a $500,000 signing bonus by the Toronto Blue Jays; Blake Snell, drafted 52nd overall in the first supplemental round, was given a $684,000 signing bonus by the Tampa Bay Rays; Adrian Houser, drafted 69th overall in the second round, was given a $530,100 signing bonus by the Houston Astros; Nick Ahmad, drafted 85th overall in the second round, was given a $417,600 signing bonus by the Atlanta Braves. “I’m definitely reliever,” said Evans after signing. “It has been a long road from Little League to travel ball to high school and now to sign a professional contract. I’m grateful to the Mets for giving me the opportunity to play pro ball.”

Evans signed relatively late, roughly a week or so before the signing deadline, and as such, he did not play much in 2011. The 18-year-old appeared in 9 games between the GCL Mets, Kingsport Mets, and Brooklyn Cyclones, going 10-37 with four doubles. Amazin’ Avenue ranked Evans the Mets’ 22nd top prospect on our 2012 Top 50 Mets Prospects list. He remained in Brooklyn for the 2012 season and held his own as one of the younger players in the New York-Penn League, hitting .252/.328/.337 in 73 games, good for a 101 wRC+. Amazin’ Avenue’s own Jeffery Paternostro saw Evans play and came back impressed, and the shortstop’s stock went up slightly, as Amazin’ Avenue ranked him the Mets’ 19th best prospect for the 2013 season.

Assigned to the Savannah Sand Gnats in 2013, Evans scuffled in his first year in full-season ball. Appearing in 106 games, he hit .203/.268/.263, and while the numbers were not good by any definition of the word, the scouting reports were still solid and he had dealt with lower back stiffness for some portion of the season. His stock, understandably, fell, as he went unranked on Amazin’ Avenue’s 2014 Top 25 Prospects list, but entering his age 21 season it was still way too early to give up on him. Promoted to St. Lucie, Evans rebounded slightly that year, hitting .247/.314/.319 in 111 games, good for an 84 wRC+. He remained in St. Lucie for the 2015 season and limited to just 77 games due to injuries, performed more or less at the same level, batting .234/.300/.313, good for an 88 wRC+.

At this point, Evans had lost the majority of his luster. Losing a decent amount of time because of injuries and performing poorly when he was on the field in three consecutives seasons, expectations were extremely low. The infielder began the 2016 season with St. Lucie for the third consecutive year, a stall in development that generally does not bode well for a player’s future. He got something of a break only a few days into the season when Binghamton Mets infielder Jeff McNeil sustained an injury that kept him sidelined for the rest of the season, prompting the Mets to promote Evans to Double-A to fill in for him. Evans stumbled out of the gate, going 1-for-14 to close out the month of April, but he settled in during the month of May, hitting .333/.333/.451 in 17 games. Miraculously, Evans kept hitting, showing a fire that hadn’t in years. He hit .321/.365/.397 in 21 games in June; .286/.350/.495 in 23 games in July; .398/.430/.593 in 26 games in August; .409/.458/.500 in 5 games in September. On the very last day of the 2016 season, Evans trailed Portland Sea Dogs outfielder Aneury Tavarez by five-hundredths of a point, .330 to .335. The Binghamton infielder proceeded to go 4-for-6 in his final game thanks to extra innings, boosting his batting average to .335, while Tavarez did not play and saw his average remain the same. Forced to break down the numbers even further to prevent a tie, Evans ended the season with a .33518 batting average, while Tavarez finished in second with a .33506 mark. All in all, Evans hit .335/.374/.485 in 96 games, good for a 140 wRC+. While a high BABIP- .384 to be exact- did help, premium hitters are generally able to post high BABIPs, as they are able to hit the ball where the fielder’s ain’t, to paraphrase Wee Willie Keeler.

Evans reclaimed some of his former prospect prestige, being ranked the Mets 17th top prospect by Amazin’ Avenue prior to the start of the 2017 season, and performed well when the season began. Promoted to the Las Vegas 51s, Evans appeared in 127 games as the team’s primary third baseman and hit a roughly league-average .279/.341/.418. Following the season, the 24-year-old returned home to San Diego and was ready to enjoy some relaxation time, but his plans were cut short when he received an evening call from New York while he was on his way to dinner. His contract had been purchased by the Mets and he was being called up to the majors. Roughly 24 hours later, he was suited up in the dugout and made his MLB debut pinch hitting for Seth Lugo against the Cincinnati Reds. While he ground into a double play, he recorded his first MLB hit, a double off of Homer Bailey, the next day, and was generally impressive, going 10-33 with two doubles over the course of his September cup of coffee.

A free agent, Evans signed a minor league contract with the Mets that November and made the 2018 opening day roster. He would appear in just three games before being sent back to Las Vegas, as the Mets needed the roster spot to activate Michael Conforto from the disabled list. The infielder would bounce up and down a few more times between the Las Vegas 51s and the Mets as needed. All in all, he hit .143/.217/.143 in 15 games with the Mets and .256/.327/.493 in 62 games with the 51s, missing some time due to injuries, a fractured left tibia that ended his season in early August.

A free agent, Evans signed a minor league contract with the Chicago Cubs in December. He spent the entire 2019 season with their Triple-A team, the Iowa Cubs, and hit .283/.371/.470, slugging a career high 17 home runs. That following winter, he signed a minor league contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit well in spring training and was a candidate to make the major league team, but COVID-19 threw a wrench into those- and everybody’s- plans. When the season finally began in late July, Evans did indeed make the opening day roster. Appearing in 11 games for the Bucs, the 27-year-old came out of the box swinging, hitting .359/.444/.487 and leading the team in virtually every offensive category. On August 8th, in a game against the Detroit Tigers, Evans’ had his season end prematurely when he collided with outfielder Gregory Polanco. Playing first base, he ranged deep into foul territory in right to catch a Miguel Cabrera fly ball in foul territory. Polanco was giving chase as well and had the better angle for the catch. The two collided moments after Polanco made the putout, his elbow smashing into Evans’ face. While Polanco quickly got up, having just lost his footing and tumbled from the collision, Evans remained face down on the ground, knocked groggy from the blow to his face. Paramedics removed him from the field on a stretcher, and he was taken to a local hospital for evaluation. Diagnosed with a concussion and broken jaw, Evans is expected to make a full recovery.