The Reds’ Phillip Ervin bats against the Cubs on Saturday, April 22, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. It was his first big-league at-bat. David Jablonski/Staff

Cincinnati Reds: Ervin faces uphill climb to make Opening Day roster

Not only did the Reds trade for two established outfielders (Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp) this winter but they are moving a top prospect (Nick Senzel) to the outfield. The competition has been intense and critical for Ervin to stay in the Major Leagues.

It’s early, but Ervin has been impressive this spring. Through Sunday’s games, he leads the team with three home runs and tied for the team lead with six hits. Ervin is hitting .429. He’s has played in right field, left field and also served as a designated hitter.

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“Ervin looks great. It’s early but he looks locked in. He’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Reds manager David Bell said.

The Reds are going to carry a 13-man pitching staff most of the time, leaving a four-man bench. Ervin is caught in a numbers crunch. Puig, Kemp, Jesse Winker and Scott Schebler figure to be the top four outfielders. Senzel, who is learning center field and hitting .462, and relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen, will see some time there this spring. It is clear that Ervin will have to impress to stay in Cincinnati. Even that might not be enough.

Ervin was the Reds’ first pick in the 2013 draft out of Samford University in Alabama.The 28-year old was very good in the short season in rookie ball. He hit .326 with eight home runs in 34 games at Billings, earning a promotion to Dayton, where he hit .349 in 12 games.

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It was a different story in 2014, his first full year. Ervin hit .237 in 132 games for the Dragons. He suffered a sprained left wrist late in the season, but was promoted to Daytona in 2015 He hit .242 with 12 home runs, then ended the season at Double-A Pensacola. Ervin struggled with consistency at Pensacola but started to find his stroke in Triple-A Louisville in 2016, improving to .256 with 13 home runs in 123 games.

The Reds needed him to cover injuries in 2017. Ervin, who was fourth in the International League with 23 stolen bases, was with the team in four separate stints. He was called up permanently in late August when Winker went on the disabled list.

Ervin made the Opening Day roster last season. He played all three outfield positions and started 42 games after Adam Duvall was traded on July 30, finishing the season with a .252 average and seven home runs in 79 games.

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Showing he can handle Major League pitching last season and his early success this spring are both positives. But he has an option left so the Reds won’t risk losing him by sending him to Louisville.

“It is a challenge. We’re always influenced by what we see,” Bell said. “Guys see the whole picture, they see the good challenges we have to try to make out a roster with a lot of good players. I think it’s healthy. It can bring out the best in guys. We’re already seeing that. When you can create that motivation, I think that’s a good thing. No matter what, they’re going to be ready for the season. Guys are playing really well, really early. They just keep playing and control what they can control.”

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