Phillip Evans has done nothing but hit since joining the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2020. The question now is what will his role be when Ke’Bryan Hayes returns from the IL?
Utility man Phillip Evans spent time with the New York Mets and a Chicago Cub organization before coming to the Pittsburgh Pirates prior to the 2020 season. Evans has impressed from the very beginning starting in 2020 where he produced a .359/.444/.487 slash line through his first career 45 plate appearances in a Pirate uniform.
Unfortunately, his season was cut short after colliding with right fielder Gregory Polanco while trying to catch a foul ball in 2020. Evans suffered a broken jaw and a concussion and the team was without its top utility man for the remainder of the season.
Evans was playing first base when he suffered the season-ending injury in 2020 but his role has since changed thus far in 2021 as he has put his versatility on display. Colin Moran has taken over at first base permanently this year after the departure of Josh Bell and Evans has been filling in at third base while rookie Ke’Bryan Hayes recovers from a wrist injury. The rookie phenom will certainly take over at third base when he is 100% healthy so the question then becomes – what will the Pittsburgh Pirates do with Evans when Hayes returns?
Roster wise, infielder Wilmer Difo was called up when the roster spot became available but he has no minor league options remaining, meaning the club would have to designate him for assignment and he would be subjected to waivers. Anthony Alford began the season as the team’s Opening Day center fielder but has struggled mightily thus far. Alford has still not collected his first hit of the season through his first 18 plate appearances and has struck out 12 times. Outfielder Dustin Fowler hasn’t gotten off to the greatest start this year either, although he did have an RBI double in the second inning of the Pirates 7-1 victory over the Cubs Sunday afternoon. As of now, Fowler seems to be the best option in center.
In the bullpen, Richard Rodriguez, Sam Howard, Kyle Crick and David Bednar are the only relievers who have options remaining and it does not seem likely for any of them to lose a roster spot.
Evans has compiled a .393 batting average to go along with three home runs through his first 31 plate appearances this year, but what are the Bucs going to do with him when Hayes returns?
Right fielder Gregory Polanco has struggled to begin the 2021 season, batting .143 with 11 strike outs through his first 34 plate appearances. Evans has shown his capability of playing the corner outfield positions at times so there is a chance he may see some time in right field in a platoon situation with Polanco primarily getting at-bats against right-handed pitching. Polanco is hitless thus far against lefties through his first seven at-bats with three strikeouts.
Bryan Reynolds started 25 games in center field in 2019 and 15 in 2020, so while he does have some experience out there, center field is not the easiest position to play, especially at PNC Park with the dreaded notch out in left-center field. An outfield of Evans, Reynolds and Polanco would probably not be the best defensive option although it would keep Evans bat in the lineup.
It doesn’t appear that general manager Ben Cherington is in any rush in terms of moving second baseman Adam Frazier prior to the trade deadline. So while Evans may have the athleticism necessary to play second, it doesn’t look like that will happen anytime soon.
Evans had played a bit of shortstop at times throughout his minor league career but has never played the position at the Major League level. While the Pittsburgh Pirates have not gotten much production out of Kevin Newman and Erik Gonzalez thus far, the two will likely be the only options at the position for the time being.
Regardless of the position, manager Derek Shelton will want to keep Evans in the lineup whenever possible. The club may have to let the season play out a bit before deciding what the best option for Evans will be once Hayes returns. Until then, Evans will be in the lineup on a consistent basis.