Las Vegas, Nevada —— Go to a Las Vegas 51s game early in 2017 and nobody will blame you if all your attention rests on Amed Rosario and Dominic Smith. Those two are the New York Mets‘ top prospects for a reason—they’re damn good at what they do—and each has a very good shot at becoming a bona fide big league star in the coming seasons. But get past them, and maybe also beyond Gavin Cecchini and Brandon Nimmo if they’re around, and see if you don’t find yourself fixated on super sub Phillip Evans‘ consistent versatility and quiet knack for finding himself in the middle of everything good that goes on at Cashman Field.
Evans won’t wow you with size (he’s just 5’9″, 200 lbs.), nor is he a burner on the bases or an over-the-fence slugger at the plate, and he hasn’t been blessed with a rifle of a throwing arm, but everything he does is fundamental, smooth, sound, and intense. To say he “plays the game the right way,” then, ought to encapsulate exactly everything he’s about. A shortstop coming up from a southern California high school, his days in the six hole are likely long gone at this level of professional baseball, but the New York Mets prospect works well at both second and third base, and he’s even been playing outfield in 2017 in a bid for improved versatility. He’ll fit well in the big leagues as a super sub in that exact role: a little second base here, some left field there, with the glove and hands to play really any defensive position in short spurts.
His bat hasn’t quite come through yet this year; the season’s first 65 games have Phillip Evans slashing .227/.297/.322/.619 with four home runs and eight doubles in 233 at-bats. Compare that to his monster 2016 in Double-A Binghamton, where he won the Eastern League batting crown thanks to a .335/.374/.485/.859 season with 30 doubles and eight home runs in 361 at-bats, and he’s obviously been making adjustments at the highest level of the minor leagues. But little things are coming across already: he’s already doubled his walk rate this year compared to his monster summer in Binghamton, a sign that he’s not only been more discerning at the plate, but that he’s better understanding the strike zone.
You can see it in his swing mechanics, too; more than most minor leaguers I’ve seen this season, Phillip Evans is incredibly well-balanced at the plate, retaining his leverage through his swing while still being able to adjust to off-speed pitches and find the barrel.
Here, watch the New York Mets prospect hit in ten at-bats over two games from last week on the road up in Reno:
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Where does Phillip Evans go from here?
Expect Phillip Evans’ career to be decidedly less rosy and star-struck than that of counterparts Amed Rosario or Dominic Smith, but that doesn’t mean the super sub won’t find himself contributing for years to come in the big leagues. He has little raw power of which to speak, but his contact skills, measured approach at the plate, and increasing ability to draw a walk will all help him as a pinch-hitter/double-switch/off-the-bench type of ballplayer. Furthermore, his soft hands, accurate arm, and reliable footwork on defense ought to allow him to fit in across the infield as needed. It’s not the most glamorous role to get a few at-bats a week and come off the bench in an irregular fashion, but Evans’ future is predicated on being able to handle that role, and I think he has the physical base and on-field energy to thrive in that role.
Maybe the timing has just been particularly good for me, but having seen him seven or eight times already this summer, I’ve only ever walked away more and more impressed after every viewing of Phillip Evans. He resurrected his career in 2016 thanks to the batting title in Binghamton, and even though the outcomes haven’t come together yet in Las Vegas, the process is there along with the consistency and reliability you’d expect out of a utility infielder. His eventual ascension to the big leagues won’t draw near as much attention as Rosario or Smith, but if the New York Mets handle Phillip Evans properly, they’ll get quite a bit of value out of his less-than-glamorous role, too.