The offensive star of the 2012 Cape Cod League season, Samford's Phillip Ervin has rare talent for a small school product and has opened the 2013 NCAA season on a tear. What does he bring to the table, and just how high in the draft can he go?
A solidly built, athletic outfielder, Phillip Ervin looks more like a defensive back than a center fielder, but his performance dictates otherwise. A two sport star in high school, Ervin chose baseball over football and became an instant hit at Samford, starting in center field as a freshman. He enjoyed moderate success in both his freshman and sophopmore seasons, hitting for high averages and flashing some power and speed. Building off of that success, Ervin put himself firmly in the first round discussion with his Cape Cod League performance last summer. Ervin slugged 11 home runs in 38 CCL games to pace the league, and posted a .323 batting average with a 17/29 BB/K ratio in 147 plate appearances and stole 10 bases for good measure.
Ervin's Cape numbers are a very good representation of what has allowed him to become such a sought after talent despite his status as a small school player. His breadth of tools is unmatched in this class- he has both above average to plus power and above average speed, he can play center field capably now and he has a solid chance of sticking there in the future, and even if he did have to move his above-average arm would play in right field. He generally shows good plate discipline and has drawn a fair amount of walks as a collegiate, but he can become overly aggressive at times.
Though his power/speed combo is definitely a big reason why Ervin has become a hot name, his best future tool might be his hit. He has very quick hands and shows great feel for the strike zone. Some have criticized his pitch recognition, but his swing, bat speed and generally patient approach are encouraging enough that I feel comfortable projecting him as a plus hitter. Ervin might be the closest thing to a five-tool guy in the college ranks this year, and he's fairly polished to boot. If there's a college hitter who can be put in the same class as Kris Bryant, I think it's Ervin.
I think that Ervin is a fairly high-floor player. While he shows the potential to be a great contact hitter, if his pitch recognition doesn't improve or he becomes too chase happy his other tools won't get a chance to show to nearly the degree that they could if he progresses as expected as a hitter. If he were to stagnate with the bat, he could end up similar to the modern version of Delmon Young, but with (hopefully) better conditioning.
Players from schools like Samford aren't generally considered potential superstars, but Ervin may break that mold. If you really want to dream, it's not crazy to suggest that he could turn into an Andrew McCutchen type player. The two have similar builds and generate more power than players their size are typically expected to with their maxed out frames and bat speed. Ervin doesn't have the burner speed that McCutchen boasted earlier in his career, but his potential as a hitter is in the same realm.
Another, more conservative comparison might be to the underrated Denard Span- Ervin looks to have more power than Span at this point, but the rest of their profiles look quite similar. Span is a better center fielder than Ervin is likely to be, but the bulldog can make up for that with some added pop.
Projected Draft Round
Unfortunately, it's highly unlikely that Ervin will be joining the Astros' organization in June. He was seen as a 1-1s round player preseason, and has come out of the gates scorching to the tune of a .429/.500/.952 slash line with 3 home runs in his first 24 plate appearances. He's highly unlikely to slide to the Astros at 2.1, and with continued success this season he could easily go in the top 10-15 picks, if not even higher.
Ervin drops his hands and drives an offspeed pitch into the gap in right center field for a triple.
Ervin digs a pitch out of the dirt and golfs it over the left field fence.
Two more shots of Ervin's swing from the back side.
At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Ervin doesn’t possess a typical power hitter’s frame, instead utilizing lightning-quick hands, good bat control and patience at the plate. "He’s a very disciplined hitter," said Harwich manager Steve Englert. "He has a great approach and is just playing relaxed."
Ervin's a good pure hitter with some pop, and he has plus speed to go along with it. That speed allows him to play a good center field. The only knocks against him might be that he’s not the biggest guy in the world and he doesn’t play for a huge college power in Samford. But if he performs like he did in the Cape this spring, he will generate plenty of interest.
He projects as a 20-20 guy with good defense in CF. Projecting him slowing down and adding a few more pounds, he could be a power hitting right fielder with average defense and an average bat with a handful of stolen bases. That's not quite as impressive, especially if there is a steep learning curve to getting to that point since he hasn't faced tough competition.