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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.