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Your Random D-Back: Nick Evans

Diamondback for life.

MLB: JUN 04 Diamondbacks at Rockies Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon SMI/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

All we were saying...

“I have to share my frustrations over why the Dbacks won’t give a guy like Nick Evans a chance.” - Sonicuda in a 2014 article on Nick Evans on the AZSnakePit

We write 2014 and from the beginning the Diamondbacks are looking to crawl through an abysmal season. By the end of April the team has a .321 W-L % and although the team plays something similar to .500 ball during the months of May, June and July, the season ends with a couple of losing streaks and a disappointing 64-98 season. Lots of frustrations and during those frustration lots of questions.

One of those questions during the beginning of the 2014 season is why doesn’t Nick Evans play? I wasn’t around here back then, but from what I could see #FreeNickEvans became as popular as the #FreeSherfy one we had not so long ago. It looks like every couple of years we think we know better than the people in the organisation, only to be proven wrong not that much later.

Who?

Nick Evans might have been a bit more popular than probably your “average” Reno masher, because Evans is an Arizona native. Born in Glendale, the 18 year old Evans is drafted by the Mets as a 5th round pick out of St. Mary’s High School in the 2004 amateur draft.

More than anything, the Mets are intrigued by the raw power potential:

“Drafted out of Phoenix, Arizona, Evans is a bit of a risky pick. Evans has said all along he would attend Texas Tech University if he did not like his draft status. He has the body type (6’2”, 180 lbs) to add on power projection as he fills out. An aggressive hitter, the ball jumps off his bat. Very athletic.” - comment on Nick Evans in a review of the Mets 2004 draft picks on 247sports

Evans shows glimpses of that potential in his first two seasons in the Rookie leagues. But on the different Class A levels he shows why he was a risky pick: he hardly walks, not always taps into his power, and has troubles hitting right-handed pitching. Prior to 2008 he doesn’t surface on the prospect rankings, but before he gets a surprisingly early call up to the big leagues, Baseball America considers him a Mets Top 30 talent.

Early 2008 the Mets struggle in the month of May and are struck by injuries. They can use all the offensive help they can find in their minor league system. Nick Evans is one of those players, and so makes his debut on May 24, 2008 in a game in Denver against the Colorado Rockies.

Evans was pulled out of Double A the day before. The batter thought he was taken out because he misplayed a ball in left field that would result in an inside-the-park homerun. In Colorado, he didn’t know anyone on the major league roster, nor did they know him, not even the plagued manager Willie Randolph. But you can’t wish for a better debut: Evans hits 3 doubles in 4 at bats in front of his family and friends who are flown in from Phoenix.

After that debut Evans isn’t able to adapt to MLB pitching and at the beginning of June he is optioned back to AA. In July he is called up again to the big leagues and makes regular appearances until the end of the season, splitting time between AA and MLB, a weird combination. At the end of the 2008 season he is awarded the Sterling Player of the Year award for the best minor league player in the Mets’ organisation, a title he has to share with Daniel Murphy. His star has risen, but there are also serious questions on his skills.

“The big problem with Evans, offensively, is that fact that he hit just .135/.150/.189 against right-handed pitching, which is downright awful. He killed southpaws, though, with a line of .319/.380/.514. Evans is going to have a hard time playing everyday if he cannot improve that – and it’s something that haunted him in the minors too, although not as dramatically.” - FanGraphs on Nick Evans in a 2008 article

In the next 3 seasons Evans is never able to shake off those question marks. From time to time he dips into his power like in 2010, but at other times it has disappeared, like in 2009 and 2011. He isn’t able to draw the walks either, especially at the major league level, while he strikes out too much. Nick becomes one of those players who is as easily on the radar as off the radar, which might be one of the reasons why he earns the strange nickname amongst Mets’ fans of “Who”. After the 2011 season and out of options the Mets decide to release Nick “Who” Evans, but it looks like it isn’t completely without a tear:

“[...] none of us had any idea we’d be sitting here today eulogizing the greatest mediocre baseball player to wear a Mets uniform since, I don’t know, Jay Payton? Few players have stumbled through the Mets’ farm system, mashing lefties and breaking hearts the way Evans has. It’s hard to say what drew us to him in the first place. [...] But mostly it’s the fun we had pleading the case for a decent ballplayer to whom we happened to develop an irrational, emotional attachment.” - 2011 goodbye article to Nick Evans on Amazin Avenue

In 2012, his age 26 season, Evans hooks up with the Pittsburgh Pirates on a minor league deal and starts the season in Triple A. He is off to an unimpressive start, but things soon end on a very sour note.

“I dove for a bunt in foul territory and landed on my hand and shattered all the bones in my hand and messed up my wrist,” - Nick Evans in a 2014 article on Arizona Sports

He needs a full season of recovery but is ready for the 2013 season. He signs a contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but is released after Spring Training. That is when the Diamondbacks decide to bring Nick Evans home.

Home, sweet home

Nick Evans sits at home in Glendale after being released by the Dodgers not knowing what to expect. But then the Diamondbacks come calling all of a sudden and Evans is prepared to take the chance no matter what. He is offered a contract to play at Double A, in Mobile.

“I was so excited,” he said. “I just wanted to get at-bats. My goal was to play well enough to get to Triple-A,” he said. - Nick Evans in a 2014 article on mlb.com

The raw power is no longer there and although the strikeout rate is concerning, he draws enough walks to earn another minor league contract to start the 2014 season in Reno, at 28 years of age. Reno would field a very competitive team that season, ending 1st overall in AAA but ending up short in the Championship series. In that team, Evans thrives.

“I thought the team we had was just a lot of fun to be around. We had such a good team that, when everybody in the lineup is doing well, it makes it a lot easier to kind of just go with the flow of the team and kind of just fit right in. The team made it a lot easier,” he said, before adding about his .335 (57-for-170) average and 35 runs scored. “I started swinging the bat well and I just tried to keep it the same everyday and just tried to stay consistent with it.” - Nick Evans in a 2014 article on Arizona Sports

With the Diamondbacks struggling at the highest level, Mark Trumbo injured, Alfredo Marte not hitting and Nick Evans smashing pitchers to pulp in Reno, the call for Evans to get at bats in left field becomes louder and louder and by the end of May the lifelong Diamondbacks fan finally gets the call.

“I was pretty surprised to be honest with you. I mean obviously happy though. It was pretty special for me,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any kid that grew up in Arizona as a Diamondbacks fan that wasn’t their dream to play for this team, so to say it’s a dream come true would be kind of an understatement for me.” [...] Evans was 12 when the Diamondbacks arrived in the Valley and he attended the very first game on March 31, 1998. “I was a big fan growing up,” he said.” - Nick Evans in a 2014 article on Arizona Sports

Unfortunately for Evans, in his first stint for the Diamondbacks he doesn’t get much more than some pinch hit appearances and is used as a late defensive replacement. Evans’ problems can be summarised as “Goldschmidt” and “Peralta”, where the latter makes his debut in the MLB just a few days after Nick Evans. His role doesn’t really surprise him though.

“I’m here to be a right-handed bat off the bench,” he said, echoing the manager. - Nick Evans in a 2014 article on mlb.com

Evans gets just 11 at bats in 8 games from May 28 to June 11 and is then designated for assignment. Evans clears waivers, returns to Reno and is called back up again at the end of June. This time he starts just one game, but is remarkably successful as a pinch hitter. Although at the end of July he is granted a release to latch on in the NPB with the Rakuten Golden Eagles, his final batting line is impressive for the Diamondbacks: .273/.304/.636, a .941 OPS. But the peripherals are terrible: his BABIP is an unsustainable .400, his walk rate is a meager 4.35% and the strikeout percentage is incredibly high at 43.48%. It is the season why he popped out to me in this article, being this the highest strikeout percentage for all position players who had more than 22 at bats.

As said, after his time as a D-Back he has a stint in the NPB, although he spent most his time in what would be the Triple A of the team.

In 2015 Evans returns to Reno and plays the entire year in Triple A without getting a new chance in the MLB. After leaving Reno he is a Padre for a couple of months, but released before the beginning of the news season to start a successful journey in the KBO with the Doosan Bears, being one of the team’s top hitters over two seasons with a combined .912 OPS.

At the end of the 2018 season it looks like he decides to shape up for another baseball season, but is soon put on the reserved list of his team in the Mexican Winter League, probably after deciding to call it quits. And maybe because he got a job offer back home.

He returns to the Diamondbacks, as he is appointed coach in Visalia in 2019, hitting coach at the Arizona Complex in 2021 and is now the hitting coach in Reno.

And although you might not remember him, it is obvious that Nick Evans is a D-Back for life and it is always a good thing if you have those people in an organisation.