Nick Evans’s life on the fringe
Often in Spring Training, I’ll work several days ahead on stories so that I have content prepared in the event that news doesn’t break. Sometimes, those stories never see the light of day.
A prime example is the following piece on Nick Evans, which I wrote almost two weeks ago but never had a chance to submit to my editors. You can thank Oliver Perez for that. Regardless, it’s as relevant now as it was then, detailing the precarious status of the likable Evans, whose days with the Mets may be numbered. Give it a read:
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The locker neighbors to either side of Nick Evans have departed, banished over to Minor League camp — but Evans remains, as is his custom this time of year. Like last spring and the spring before that, he holds out hope for a big league bench spot that may or may not exist. But the stakes for Evans have changed.
Bouncing between the Majors and Minors during each of the last three seasons has left Evans without Minor League options, meaning the Mets cannot send him back down to the farm without first exposing him to other teams. Considering the power Evans has displayed throughout his Minor League career, that process would quite likely lead to another team claiming him.
“Obviously you want to know what’s going on, but at the same time I don’t want to concern myself with it,” Evans said. “I know it sounds stupid, but I just try to play.”
Perhaps not stupid so much as prudent. When the Mets signed first Willie Harris, then Scott Hairston this past offseason, they sparked a chain reaction that may ultimately lead to Evans’ exit as a Met. Hairston, on a guaranteed Major League contract, boasts a similar skill set to Evans — namely, right-handed power — plus the ability to play center field. Having both men on the team would be a practice in baseball redundancy.
That’s why Evans has bounced from left field to first base to third base this spring, in a team-designed program to increase his versatility. After Evans played exclusively first base in the Minors last season, then-manager Jerry Manuel surprised him upon his late-season promotion, slotting him regularly into the lineup in left field, where he struggled. Though current manager Terry Collins, then the Minor League field coordinator, later apologized to Evans for not expecting the shift, Evans blamed no one but himself. He wants to be proficient wherever the Mets put him.
“That’s probably the most important thing for me is being versatile,” Evans said. “The more opportunities you have to get in the lineup, obviously the better.”
“But the one big thing with him,” said former Triple-A manager Ken Oberkfell, “is his bat. He can hit. And that’s important.”
He can hit for power, to be certain, slamming 24 homers over three levels last season and slugging .557 at Triple-A, despite battling a wrist issue for much of the summer. Over the equivalent of four full Minor League seasons dating back to 2004, Evans has slugged 99 homers with an .820 OPS, numbers that have translated well to sporadic at-bats in the big leagues. Friendly and polite, he has gained something of a cult following among the team’s fan base.
It helps, of course, that Evans finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs in Saturday’s game, raising his spring average to .288 in a team-leading 52 at-bats. But at this point, even that hardly matters. The Mets already know what Evans can and can’t do.
“He’s just a blue-collar player,” Oberkfell said. “He just comes to play every day and plays.”
The Mets once saw him as an everyday player, moving Evans from his natural position at third base so that David Wright would not block his path to the Majors. Now 24, he is perhaps destined for a career as a pinch-hitter or platoon outfielder. As a Met, at least, he is unlikely to earn an opportunity for much more.
Making the Opening Day roster, however, is not necessarily out of the question. If Carlos Beltran is not healthy enough to make the Opening Day roster — more probability than possibility at this point — the Mets could platoon Hairston and Harris in right field in his place. That would open up one roster spot, which could belong to Evans.
The Mets also could hand the everyday right field job to Lucas Duda, whom the team is more committed to giving consistent at-bats. But if the Mets feel Beltran will only be sidelined for a short while, Evans could benefit.
Could, should, maybe, perhaps — such are the buzzwords that have dominated Evans’ career to date, and that’s not likely to change. Even if he does make the Opening Day roster, the Mets might have to expose him to other teams at some point during the season, giving him a fresh opportunity but also plucking him from the only organization he has ever known.
Could, should, maybe, perhaps.
“That’s just the way it goes sometimes,” Evans said. “You start thinking about that and you’re not going to play the way you want to play. You just try to do the best you can with what you’re given.”
—–Follow along on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo.