When the Cincinnati Reds made Phillip Ervin the 27th pick in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft, it came with high expectations from people throughout the professional organization.
One scouting report called Ervin the "surest bet" among college outfielders in the 2013 class to make the big leagues. It reported that Ervin possessed better overall tools than the Reds first rounder the year before-Jesse Winker.
All that talk is fine. Whatever. Ervin set even higher goals for himself from the first time he picked up a bat at four-years-old.
Nearly 20 years later, the little boy from the small town of less than 1,000 residents in Leroy, Ala., about 60 miles north of Mobile, Ala., is still living out his baseball dreams. In his fourth professional season, his combination of power and speed have helped him climb to the Double-A Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the Southern League.
The 24-year-old received the Southern League Player of the Week honor for his play from April 25 to May 2 when he led all of Minor League Baseball with an astronomical 1.200 slugging percentage and 1.779 OPS. Ervin exploded at the plate with a .467 average, 10 runs, five extra-base hits, 18 total bases, three home runs, four stolen bases in four consecutive games and a .579 on-base percentage.
In the Southern League All-Star game, Ervin earned the "Top Star" award with a pinch-hit grand slam in the fifth inning. He launched a 1-0 fastball from Tennessee Smokies pitcher Brad Markey over the left-center field wall at Trustmark Park in Pearl, Miss., in front of 4,172 fans, but more importantly in front of his mom, Carrie, dad, Samson, and girlfriend.
And, as if those highlight reels aren't enough, Ervin became the first Cincinnati farmhand to post back-to-back double digit home runs and steal 30-plus bases since Henry Rodriguez did it in his 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Rodriguez posted 14 homers and 33 stolen bases in 2010 and 13 homer and 30 stolen bases in 2011. In 2015, Ervin slugged 14 home runs - the most of any Reds minor leaguer - and stole 34 bases. This year, he has smacked 12 homers and stole 33 bases, so far.
Ervin also became the first minor leaguer to steal 30-plus bases in three straight seasons since Reds superstar and former Blue Wahoos player Billy Hamilton.
Ervin has stolen 30, 34 and 33 bases the past three years. Hamilton, who holds the Minor League single-season stolen base record with 155 stolen bases in 2012, had 48, 103, 155 and 75 steals in his four minor league seasons from 2010 to 2013.
"I wish I was as fast as him," said Ervin of Hamilton, who has been clocked at 21.2 mph.
What does Ervin get more satisfaction from - hitting a home run or stealing a base?
"I feel like the home run," Ervin said.
But all of those achievements aren't enough for the shy, soft-spoken Ervin, who pushes himself harder than most with his blue-collar work ethic. He lost 10 pounds before this season to become more nimble.
"It ain't exactly how I pictured it," said Ervin, a star athlete in football, basketball and baseball at Leroy High School and the first baseball player ever drafted out of Samford University. "It's been a learning experience. I wish I had hit a higher average all the way through. I'm playing hard. I'm doing the best that I can."
The 2013 Major League draft class is just beginning to reach the big leagues. So far, 13 of 39 first round draft picks have made their Major League debuts with the most notable by far the 2015 Rookie of the Year Kris Bryant.
The Reds other 2013 first rounder Michael Lorenzen, while not in the Bryant stratosphere, made his debut as a starting pitcher last season and this year was moved to the bullpen where he is 2-0 with a 2.53 ERA in 22 appearances and has struck out 32 batters in 32 innings pitched. He's held opponents to a .207 batting average.
Meanwhile, Ervin is waiting to make his mark. He ranks near the top of all the key offensive categories for Pensacola: 64 runs (1st), 95 hits (4th), 21 doubles (2nd), 3 triples (2nd), 12 home runs (2nd), 40 RBIs (3rd), 60 walks (1st), 33 steals (1st), .404 slugging percentage (2nd), and .706 OPS (1st).
Although Ervin is hitting .243, his on-base percentage of .362 ranks second on the team. And he's peaking late, batting .293/.427/.451 in 23 games in August - all season high marks.
In the latest series against the rival Mobile BayBears, Ervin crushed the game-winning home run high over the 400-foot sign in center field in the eighth inning of a 3-2 victory and then hit a walk-off single, blistering a ground ball down the third base line, for a 3-2 win that clinched the five-game series for Pensacola in the Bay-to-Bay rivalry.
Pensacola manager Pat Kelly likes what he sees in Ervin.
"It's a great combo," Kelly said of Ervin's power and speed. "He's got great tools. That's why he was a No. 1 draft choice."
Most important to Ervin, his supportive family has seen most of his games. His mom, Carrie, and dad, Samson, often make the trip to Pensacola, Montgomery and Birmingham to watch him on the field. He has an older brother in Montgomery, where the Biscuits play, who attended all of Ervin's games there.
"They always come and make a quick trip to see me play," Ervin said. "It's really good to be close to them. My mom has made a trip every year at least once to see me play."
Ervin wasn't drafted out of high school after injuring his knee playing football. Leroy won three football state championships, while he was there. He knew he wanted to play professional baseball anyway, so he passed on playing football at Samford.
Ervin grew up rooting for the Boston Red Sox and idolizing shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and pitcher Pedro Martinez.
"I've just wanted to be a good baseball player," Ervin said. "My dad signed me up as a youngster and I just had fun. We're all trying to make the big leagues. It's always been my dream."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.