The Pittsburgh Pirates have another breakout utility man on their hands in Phillip Evans, just like Josh Harrison did in 2014
In 2014 the Pittsburgh Pirates saw one of their utility men take advantage of an injury and claim a regular role for the team for the next handful of seasons. That was Josh Harrison. The Pirates may have another one of those situations on their hands again now in 2021 with utility man Phillip Evans.
Harrison entered the 2014 season as a light-hitting, speedy utility man. His first 575 plate appearances stretched across three seasons saw him hit for a .283 wOBA, 78 wRC+ and having just a 1.0 fWAR. He did provide the team with 13 stolen bases in 17 attempts and the only positions he didn’t play were first base, catcher, and center field.
But a hot start to the season earned Josh Harrison regular playing time at many different positions. Eventually, with Pedro Alvarez struggling offensively and defensively at the hot corner, Harrison locked down the third base job for most of the season. The utility man ended up hitting .314/.347/.490 with 39 doubles, .365 wOBA and 137 wRC+. After accounting for his plus defense and base running, Harrison ended the season with a great 4.8 fWAR.
Fast forward to 2021. The Pittsburgh Pirates picked up long-time New York Met and Chicago Cub farmhand Phillip Evans during the 2019-2020 offseason. Evans, before signing with the Pirates, appeared in just 34 MLB games with the Mets. He spent the entire 2019 season with the Chicago Cubs’ Triple-A team, but the Pirates saw something in him.
So far Evans has been nothing short of an absolute steal. In 80 plate appearances with the Bucs, Evans is hitting .380/.450/.606 with a .454 wOBA and 189 wRC+. Evans has gotten pretty regular playing time in 2021. Ke’Bryan Hayes’s injury in the second game of the season has gotten the utility man regular time at third base but has also gotten time in left field and right field. With Hayes out Evans has hit his way into forcing the Pirates to find a role for him when Hayes returns.
While Evans isn’t a Harrison defensively, both in terms of ability and versatility, I do think he’ll end up being the better hitter. Of the five seasons Harrison stepped to the plate at least 350 times in a season for the Bucs, he only had a wRC+ above 100, or league average, twice and wOBA above .320 twice as well. Those marks came in 2014 and 2017.
Overall, Evans has more power. Throughout his time at Triple-A, he has an isolated slugging percentage of .178. Harrison was essentially a no-strikeout slap hitter, and while Evans doesn’t strike out much either, he walked at an 8.5% rate in his minor league career and 9.3% of the time at Triple-A.
In the end Evans is becoming the Pittsburgh Pirates’ next Harrison from 2014. Both started each of their breakout seasons as little known utility men but ended up becoming very solid assets for Bucs, potentially for a handful of more seasons. Evans is still a year out from arbitration. With so much control remaining, he could be a key part of the next winning core for the Pittsburgh Pirates.