When preparing for a draft, there are always those players we target as late round picks or worthy of a minimum bid in the hopes they pan out into something valuable. Sometimes, we base this on skills analysis, something we read or heard, some extent of past performance, or just a gut feeling. These guys aren’t counted on to be a base of a fantasy team but someone who could maybe take a next step and wind up outperforming their auction bid or draft position. In many ways, we’re trying to catch lightning in a bottle with these picks.
Nathan Eovaldi is one player I had my eye on at the end of the 2013 season and wanted to target as an end-game addition this season. He was drafted in the 11th round of the 2008 draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He went on to spend four years in Low-A, High-A and Double-A before getting called up in 2011 for a 34 inning cup of coffee in which he performed decently but didn’t really impress. Eovaldi showed flashes in the Minors, where he struck out better than 8.5 hitters per nine innings, but those flashes were few and far between – more like a blind squirrel finding a nut.
In 2012, he was the cornerstone for the Miami Marlins in the trade that sent Hanley Ramirez to the Dodgers and Eovaldi to South Florida. In that split season with Los Angeles and Miami, he put up a 4.30 ERA and only struck out 5.88/9 – which is in the ballpark for what he did most of his career. But the Marlins obviously thought there was something there to want him as the main piece for sending Ramirez packing to the west coast.
So what did Miami see? For just about his whole career, he’s been able to dial up a four-seam fastball in the 94-96 MPH range on a consistent basis. He was even able to surpass 98 on occasion. The big right-hander (6’2” and over 200 pounds) also used a two-seam fastball that was a couple MPH slower than his four seamer. He possessed a smooth delivery that delivered both pitches with apparent ease. His secondary pitches were a mid 80’s slider, a high 70’s curveball and a low 80’s changeup. Part of the problem, however, was the slider was adequate for a power pitcher but the curveball and changeup weren’t up to par as quality offerings for a third pitch. Obviously, the Marlins thought they could help him develop that third pitch that the Dodgers hadn’t.
So as a power pitcher, why hasn’t the now 24-year-old become a strikeout pitcher? Besides lacking a plus third pitch to keep hitters off balance, the knock on his four-seam fastball has been that it’s too straight. Most major league hitters can put a straight fastball in play once they time it. Eovaldi currently features both fastballs together about 63% of the time; slider 26% and curveball/changeup combined about 11%. The implication is he relies on his power pitches too much.
Additionally, some scouts think he tips off his pitches with slight differences in either release point, arm angle, or both. The more alike things look on different pitches, the harder for a batter to recognize which pitch is actually coming and they are kept off balance. A changeup, especially, needs to look like a fastball as far as arm speed goes in order for it to be an effective major league pitch. He really doesn’t even show his changeup to right-handed hitters. Since his fastball is obviously his favorite pitch in terms of usage and he lacks both movement on it and a quality off speed pitch, hitters can sit dead red.
So what did I see to warrant interest on my part heading into the current season? On August 16 last year, Eovaldi allowed nine earned runs on 12 hits in only three innings at home against the San Francisco Giants. In his following seven starts (which happened to be his last seven starts of 2013), he allowed two or fewer runs in six of those contests and he earned the win in four of them. There was one game in which Miami was hosting the Washington Nationals where Eovaldi allowed five earned runs on nine hits in only three innings. The other six games combined, he put up a 1.61 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and improved 7.35 K/9 against the likes of the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Nationals, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers – three of which were playoff teams (Tigers, Braves and Dodgers).
While a 7.35 K/9 certainly isn’t elite, it was an improvement of 1.10 K/9 over the rest of his 12 games. To me, that was something worth noting as a step in the right direction to realizing the potential of his good raw stuff. That hasn’t materialized, however, as Eovaldi has regressed to a 4.37 ERA and 6.15 K/9 in 22 games to this point in 2014.Still only 24, Eovaldi is young enough to learn how to refine his craft. But, he needs to start making strides in that direction in order to realize the potential of his natural velocity.