Entering the 2020 season most fans of the Pittsburgh Pirates were not talking about Phillip Evans. However, he quickly made an impact.
The Pittsburgh Pirates may have found a diamond in the rough in 2020 in Phillip Evans. Evans (28-years-old) was originally drafted by the New York Mets in the 15th round of the 2011 MLB June Amateur Draft from La Costa Canyon High School in Carlsbad, California. At 5’10” 210 lbs, Evans was a high school shortstop but was projected to play second base at San Diego State had he elected to take the college route instead of signing his contract with the Mets.
Evans decided to sign as the 462nd overall selection in the 2011 draft and he spent the first five years of professional baseball playing Single-A ball with various teams within the Mets organization. Through those five years, Evans spent the majority of his time at shortstop before expanding to both second and third base. Becoming somewhat of a utility player benefitted Evans as he made his way from the Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican Winter League to the New York Mets roster in 2017.
He played in only 16 MLB games in his 2017-18 seasons but during those two shortened seasons, Evans played first, second and third base along with shortstop and both left and right fields. This type of versatility is most likely what caught the Pittsburgh Pirates attention with Evans, as the team leaned on Josh Harrison as a utility player throughout his career in Pittsburgh. Throughout his time in the Majors, however, Evans primarily stuck at third base, where he spent most of his time as a Pirate.
Evans started eight of his 11 games at third base, while also playing one game in both left and right field. His injury came in his lone start at first base, however, as Evans left the field on a stretcher after a collision with right fielder Gregory Polanco. The Pirates’ utility man was placed on the 45-day injured list with a concussion and was forced to undergo jaw surgery, ultimately ending his 2020 season.
During his 11 games, Evans burst his way onto the MLB scene. Evans was off to a very hot start prior to the collision, slashing .359/.444/.487 with a home run and nine RBI through his first 45 plate appearances. Evans won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2023 and is under contract until 2026 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, but the problem that the team will face will be where to put him.
Simply put, Evans will not be the Pirates’ 2021 third baseman. Ke’Bryan Hayes burst his way onto the scene in his 24 games last season. Hayes slashed .376/.442/.682, therefore the team was very pleased with the offensive output. What was surprising about Hayes’s season was his power. Hayes hit five home runs, good for fourth on the team in that category and his glove was terrific which was to be expected upon his arrival. If there is one lock in terms of the 2021 Pirates’ lineup card, it will be Hayes at third base.
Erik Gonzalez and Kevin Newman spent time at shortstop last season and neither did anything to lock themselves into a 2021 starting position. Gonzalez got off to a surprisingly strong start but finished the season with a batting average of .227.
Fans had high expectations for Newman after posting a .308/.353/.446 slash line over his 130 games in 2019 but were certainly let down by Newman’s performance in 2020. Newman really never got things going at all in 2020 and finished with a .224/.281/.276 slash line with only one home run and ten RBI. Newman also got work at second base last season as the 19-41 Pirates certainly had room for experimentation in the unprecedented 2020 season.
Depending on what the Pittsburgh Pirates decide to do with Adam Frazier this offseason, Newman could open the 2021 season playing some second base. Frazier got off to a very slow start in 2020 but much to his pedigree got things going as the season progressed. Frazier also spent time in left field due to the log-jam in the infield, injury issues, and also the offensive struggles of Bryan Reynolds.
Phillip Evans has played first base sparingly throughout his time in professional baseball but his overall stature and the fact that the Pittsburgh Pirates have both Josh Bell and Colin Moran to man first base makes his chances of playing first base minimal. There has not been a final decision made in terms of whether or not the DH will be implemented again in the 2021 season but it is very likely that it will be as the MLB’s original DH proposal in 2020 included the 2021 season as well.
The 2020 season was an unprecedented season, to say the least, and it is fair to say that you cannot project a player’s future based on their 2020 performance. The newly assembled Pirates’ front office and fans alike do not have a large sample-size with Evans, however, there is certainly reason to look forward to his return after the hot start he got off to in the 2020 season. There is a log-jam in the Pirate infield, both on the roster now and moving forward within the organization’s prospect list so the competition throughout the offseason will certainly be one to follow closely.