I’m good at compiling notes and making lists and churning out content in the days immediately preceding the draft. I think I can retrieve and process information from a variety of sources with the best of them. When it comes time to actually sitting down to write, I can string together a few sentences (occasionally typo-free!). I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me. Or at least these are the things that I tell myself in the mirror each day to affirm my value to the world as a draft site writer guy. There are days when the responsibilities of real life back me into a corner where I desperately need a reason to keep doing what I do here, and those reasons typically suffice.
One thing I’m terrible with, as if you haven’t yet noticed, is the inspiration/creativity/good writer-ing (definitely a real word, look it up) part. I have lots of fun information (109,000+ words on college prospects, 11,000+ on prep players) that I want to share with fellow draft obsessives, but rarely can I think of a clever way of presenting said info. I like lists and team profiles and conference profiles and all that good stuff, but the site would get boring if that’s all I ever did. Or at least that’s how I think people reading would feel. Long story short, on those rare and beautiful occasions that inspiration strikes, I’m really going to make and effort to just turn off the doubting part of my brain and just go with it. I woke up this morning thinking a little bit about Phillip Ervin — is that normal? — so, doggone it, that’s who I’m going to write about today.
I like Phillip Ervin a lot. Is it crazy to suggest that he’s a little teeny tiny bit like the college version of everybody’s favorite high school hitter, Clint Frazier? Both are praised for, in order, their 1) electric bat speed, 2) well-rounded overall skill sets, 3) above-average arm strength (pre-injury for Frazier), 4) picture perfect pro-ready swings, 5) above-average speed on the base paths, and 6) advanced pitch recognition skills. The main concern for both is that they are maxed-out physically. Additionally, both can hack it in center (Ervin more than Frazier), but profile best defensively in right field (again, assuming Frazier’s bum arm bounces back in time). This is all far too simplistic a comparison and I’m clearly not taking into account the crucially important differences in their hair, but you can kind of see how the two share some things if you keep an open mind, right?
More reputable organizations have come up with very interesting comps in their own right. Baseball America quoted a scout who relayed a Ron Gant comp for Ervin. Interesting. Perfect Game’s Frankie Piliere (always a favorite of the site, but he’s been better than ever this year) went with a pretty and thought-provoking Ian Kinsler comp. Interesting x2. I like both comps for a variety of reasons (swing/body/athleticism), but my own close viewing of Ervin (keep in mind, I’m not a scout) brought to mind a former favorite of mine, Reggie Sanders. A friend who has seen Ervin more than me — and a guy who, unlike me and my reliance on a shaky images from when I was a kid (not all my fault: I was 5 when Sanders debuted in the bigs), has clear memories these players from watching them up close and in person — offered up his own righthanded Mark Kotsay comp. Let’s go to the career numbers (using B-R 162 game average) for some context:
Gant: .256/.336/.468 with 28 HR and 21 SB
Kinsler: .273/.351/.462 with 25 HR and 27 SB
Sanders: .267/.343/.487 with 28 HR and 28 SB
Kotsay: .278/.334/.409 with 11 HR and 9 SB
A few thoughts…
1) The Kotsay comp jumps out as being particularly light in terms of both power and speed projections. This jibed with what my guy said about Ervin, a player he believes is a great college hitter but likely an average at best big league bat. He did concede that totals more like Kotsay’s best year (17 HR and 11 SB) were more in line with the kind of upside Ervin possesses. Worth noting that our conversation discounted Kotsay’s strong on-base skills and defense: we were strictly talking power, speed, and overall batting lines during our talk. Also worth noting that average at best big league bat is nothing to get down about, especially in this year’s draft, and especially if you believe Ervin can stick in center as a pro.
2. Damn, Reggie Sanders was a good player. I normally don’t have a great feel for “underrated” or “overrated,” but his is a name you don’t hear enough these days. Then again, I guess it would be weird if people were just walking around talking about Reggie Sanders, but still. Very good player.
3. Outside of the Kotsay outlier, you can see some basic trends with these comps. We’re talking 20/20 potential (see above) with almost perfectly above-average BB% (see below).
Gant: 10.5 BB% and 19.3 K% with .212 ISO and .351 wOBA
Kinsler: 9.8 BB% and 12.1 K% with .189 ISO and .355 wOBA
Sanders: 9.6 BB% and 22.9 K% with .220 ISO and .357 wOBA
Gant and Sanders are close enough — not super close, mind you, but close enough — but Kinsler stands out as being a little more prone to contact while having less raw power. That sounds more like Ervin from a scouting standpoint, at least to me. Each player’s ultimate production matched up quite nicely, but those are interesting differences to keep in mind. Getting too deep into amateur stats is often a mistake — I feel like I do it as much as just about anybody, and I’d like to think I tow the line between stats/scouting reports carefully — so take Ervin’s 2013 walk and strikeout numbers (so far) with a grain of salt: 16.6 BB% and 12.2 K%. Far from a perfect match, but the strikeout numbers match better with Kinsler than the others. Not for nothing, but Kinsler’s draft season’s numbers (9.9 BB% and 11.6 K%) align pretty damn well with what he’s done as a big leaguer. Weird and probably meaningless and in no way predictive for Ervin’s career, but there it is.
Anyway, I like the Kinsler comp by Perfect Game so much that I did a little digging on similar players/prospect from recent history. In what was far from an exhaustive search of all comparable talents, one player’s scouting and statistical profile jumped off the page to me. This comp is pretty far out there, so don’t say I didn’t warn you when you find yourself shaking your head while reading. Before we get to that, a quick tangent…
I’m sure smart guys have already done studies on stuff like this, but the correlation between minor league stats and big league stats is fascinating to me. There are so many external factors (age, league, park factors, etc.) to take into account that it isn’t reasonable to expect any breakthrough finding (e.g. statistic X is the best indicator of success or X% remains constant throughout a player’s minor league progression), but it still amazes me when players have numbers in the minors that wind up matching up perfectly with their major league production. Long story short: Alex Ochoa hit .289/.354/.414 (.768 OPS) in the minors. In the bigs, he hit .279/.344/.422 (.766 OPS). That’s a little freaky, right? Any age, any environment, any level of competition = same rate of production.
The tangent may be over, but the Alex Ochoa talk is just beginning. That would be a great tag line for the site if I ever hit it big. I oh so subtly dropped Ochoa into that tangent only to now reveal that it is none other than former Oriole and Met top prospect Alex Ochoa who reminds me of what I think Phillip Ervin may become. First, the scouting report via a June 14, 1995 article in the Baltimore Sun written by Kent Baker. Why they used a rating scale from 1 to 5, I’ll never know. Here’s how they graded his five tools:
Hitting: 5. An excellent gap-to-gap hitter. Has a solid line-drive stroke but also can turn on inside pitches and pull them. Is strong at taking pitches away from him to right-center.
Power: 4 1/2 . Not a pure slugger but has the strength to clear the fences. Projects to 15- to 20-home run production in the majors.
Speed: 4 1/2 . Has stolen 34 and 31 bases in two of his minor-league seasons. Knows when to advance from station to station.
Defense: 5. Has worked hard in this area and even took ground balls at third base when asked. A high school shortstop, he always has been good with grounders to the outfield and has improved in retreating on balls over his head.
Arm: 5 plus. The last generation raved about the great arms of Roberto Clemente and Rocky Colavito. Ochoa is in that class. Now that he has discovered when to use it and when not to and his accuracy has become pinpoint, there are no flaws.
Excellent gap-to-gap hitter. Solid line-drive stroke. Hmm, that sounds familiar. I actually have “hitter more than slugger” in my notes on Ervin. On Ochoa, it says “not a pure slugger but has the strength to clear the fences.” Projects to 15- to 20-home run production. Plus to plus-plus right field arm. Not a natural outfielder, but has improved. My notes on Ervin: “will take some questionable routes and fight some routine fly balls, but enough speed/instincts/coachability to stick in CF. Will be good RF otherwise with plenty of arm to handle the spot.” Hmm, indeed.
Now a look at the career numbers:
Ochoa: 8.5 BB% and 12.1 K% with .143 ISO and .336 wOBA
Fewer walks than Kinsler, but in the same neighborhood overall. The power also doesn’t really compare, but that’s likely true when stacking up Ervin with Kinsler as well. If you’re buying the Kinsler comp from PG, then there ought to be some validity to the Ochoa one as well, right? More numbers:
Ochoa (162 game average): .279/.344/.422 with 9 HR and 11 SB
Off the top, it’s a little bit of a mystery to me why Ochoa didn’t get more of a chance to hang around in the bigs. I vaguely remember him getting some decent money to go to Japan, but it shouldn’t have come to that. After settling in with the Brewers in 1999 (once some of his prospect sheen had worn off, a blessing in disguise for some players), the man did nothing but produce: 2.2 WAR in 1999, 2.4 WAR in 2000, 0.6 WAR in 2001 (this was probably his big chance, as he got by far the most PA of his career), and then 1.1 WAR in 2002. WAR isn’t the be-all, end-all, but the consistent positive scores do paint a pretty good picture of an average or better big league player in Ochoa, especially when you consider the tools that made him a top prospect were still a part of his game.
More relevant to our conversation is the realization that these numbers are a lot closer to Kotsay than Kinsler, Sanders, and Gant. Consider the above line a potential “worst case scenario” for Ervin’s big league career. Note the scare quotes: Ervin, and, any amateur prospect for that matter, have a real worst case scenario much closer to AA flameout than productive big league player with 807 games played in the big leagues under his belt. I hope that the high likelihood of any prospect crashing and burning can continue to be one of those known but not often said aspects of our draft discussion. Risk (i.e. how likely a prospect is to achieve meaningful professional success) is always a consideration when discussing a young player, so know that we’re operating under the assumption that these guys will do enough to keep advancing in pro ball.
If Kinsler is Ervin’s best case scenario ceiling, then Ochoa is his most realistic big league floor. Either way, I think we’re looking at a starting caliber outfielder who will give you value in a variety (speed and arm are both above-average; hit, power, and glove all at least average depending on the day) of ways. Selfishly, I can’t help but to translate his stock into the context of what I’m hoping to see the Phillies do at pick 16. I think there will be more enticing upside plays still on the board — Austin Wilson the first name to come to mind — and with a rare early-ish pick, upside is the way to go. That said, depending on how the board falls, I wouldn’t complain one bit if Ervin was the choice at 16. Middle of the first is likely his draft ceiling, and deservedly so.
- Stanford OF Austin Wilson
- OF Austin Meadows
- OF Clint Frazier
- OF Ryan Boldt
- OF Trey Ball
- OF Justin Williams
These were among the easiest players to lock in as first round picks next June. I thought Wilson looked particularly great this summer on the Cape. The only thing that could potentially knock Wilson down a bit on draft day — well, not the only thing, but rather among the most likely — is the very same thing that caused him to tumble in 2010: bonus demands and signability. Meadows and Frazier are both outstanding prospects that really don’t need much extra pontification. There will be plenty of discussion over the next six months fixated on the Meadows v Frazier debate at the top of the draft, and I look forward to really delving into each player’s pros and cons. Boldt is just a step behind the big two for me at this point, and he gives off a distinct David Dahl vibe every time I see him.
Ball is a first round pick either as an outfielder or lefthanded pitcher, so he makes for an easy inclusion on this list. I originally had Williams heading up the Definite Maybes category, but the combination of raw power, keen batting eye, easy swing, and, perhaps most importantly, his relative newness to the game makes him a great bet to land in the draft’s first round. The logic is fairly simple: Williams already possesses first round tools and impressive baseball skills, all without the benefit of the same formal instruction and experience of many of his peers. It takes a little extra extrapolation than I’d like, but I don’t think it is crazy to believe Williams’ growth over the next few months will exceed that of any other top player in this class. He reminds me of a little bit of a bigger, stronger, more powerful Zach Collier, who went 34th overall in 2008.
Definite Maybes (5)
- Fresno State OF Aaron Judge
- Samford OF Phillip Ervin
- OF Josh Hart
- OF Terry McClure
- OF Matthew McPhearson
I really, really want to put Judge in the lock category because I think he’s primed for a huge junior season, but couldn’t in good conscious make such a bold proclamation — because what I say here is soooo important, you see — due to his funky (the history of 6-7 outfielders in the pro ball isn’t all that extensive) scouting profile. I think Judge will be a first round pick because I value him as a first round caliber talent. I also realize that sometimes my personal tastes diverge quite a bit from big league scouting trends. That’s why he’s not a lock. I’m lightly a little bit light on Ervin a this point, but I think a lack of a carrying tool might knock him down a few teams’ boards. Hart, McClure, and McPhearson can all run with any player in this year’s class. Tracking which of the three rises up above the rest will be one of this spring’s most enjoyable draft subplots. All have plus speed (at minimum) and each knows how to utilize it to produce big results. I think both Hart and McPhearson look like future big league regulars in CF (as a fan of the team who just traded for Ben Revere, I’m really trying to talk myself into players with the speed/defense CF skill set), but it’s McClure’s added dimension of power upside that gives him the highest overall ceiling as of now.
The list of outfielders who just missed the cut is long and chock full of big-time names. So long and chock full of big-time names, in fact, that I think it makes sense to break it down a little bit further. The first five college guys who missed:
- LSU OF Jacoby Jones
- Vanderbilt OF Conrad Gregor
- Mississippi OF Hunter Renfroe
- Kansas State OF Jared King
- Cal State Fullerton OF Michael Lorenzen
I have Jones listed with the outfielders because of his strong showing in CF, a position where he has the potential to be an above-average defender in time. That’s the reason, for sure. It definitely isn’t because I forget to include him in any of the potential infield positions (2B, 3B, SS) where he might fit best. He looked pretty darn good at both CF and SS on the Cape, so I’m inclined to take a wait-and-see approach to his future defensive home. Same deal with his bat, a tool that he hasn’t shown to be big league quality through two years at LSU. Renfroe and Lorenzen are both toolsy outfielders with plus-plus arm strength and major pitch recognition issues. Gregor and King aren’t particularly toolsy outfielders, but each guy can really hit.
Five more college outfielders of note:
- Georgia Tech OF Brandon Thomas
- Virginia Tech OF Tyler Horan
- Florida State OF Marcus Davis
- Vanderbilt OF Tony Kemp
- Pepperdine OF Aaron Brown
We’re deep enough into this list to streamline our focus. Or I’m getting lazy and want to finish this up before the end of the year. Either way, let’s quickly chat about Marcus Davis. Watch Davis, a junior college transfer, very closely this spring at Florida State. He’s going to hit. He might even hit a lot. Alright, good chat.
Finally, we’ve reached the lightning round name only portion of our program. These are the players that may not necessarily be the best current prospects, but, for a variety of reasons known only to me (for now…), they rank among my very favorites. High school guys first, then more college names to know…
- OF Stephen Wrenn
- OF William Abreu
- OF Johnshwy Fargas
- OF Jason Martin
- OF Billy McKinney
- OF Billy Roth
- Wake Forest OF Kevin Jordan
- Miami OF Dale Carey
- Maryland OF Mike Montville
- South Florida OF James Ramsay
- Mississippi OF Tanner Mathis
- Arkansas OF Jacob Morris
- Vanderbilt OF Connor Harrell
- Texas OF Mark Payton
- Texas A&M OF Krey Bratsen
- UCLA OF Brenton Allen
- UCLA OF Eric Filia-Snyder
- Stanford OF Brian Ragira
- Washington State OF Jason Monda
- Arizona OF Johnny Field
- Michigan OF Michael O’Neill
- San Diego OF Louie Lechich
- James Madison OF Johnny Bladel
- Rhode Island OF Jeff Roy
- Florida Gulf Coast OF Sean Dwyer
- Liberty OF Ryan Cordell
- Jacksonville State OF Coty Blanchard
- Southern New Hampshire OF Jon Minucci
- Grossmont JC OF Billy Flamion
- Polk State JC OF Daniel Sweet
- Santa Fe CC OF Jamal Martin