By: Rich Arleo
CBS Local Sports, in our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature, profiles one young player from each Major League Baseball team leading up to opening day.
Nathan Eovaldi, Starting Pitcher, New York Yankees
2014 season (Majors): 33 GS, 199 2/3 IP, 4.37 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6 W, 142 SO, 43 BB
The Yankees traded away Martin Prado, a fan favorite for his success during his short time with in New York last season, to the dismay of much of the fan base this offseason. But if who the Yankees got in return, young right-hander Nathan Eovaldi, can continue to progress on his current trajectory, the Bronx faithful should be swayed rather quickly.
Though he already has parts of four big league seasons under his belt, Eovaldi is just 25 years old and only approaching his prime. Despite this, he’s coming off a very strong yet inconsistent season, in which he posted a 4.37 ERA and won six games in 33 starts spanning 199 2/3 innings. While those numbers on the surface won’t blow you away, there is plenty of reason to believe the best is yet to come.
To start, you can throw away the 6-14 record, as he was on a Marlins team that won 77 games. The ERA isn’t that impressive, especially considering he was pitching in the National League, but it was a bit inflated by some disastrous starts. Eovaldi was 5-4 with a 3.61 ERA through July 9. He was then shelled for 18 runs in 16 1/3 innings over three starts to end July. He went on to toss seven quality starts in his final 11 outings, despite getting little run support and going 1-8 during that span. In all, if you take away that three-start stretch to end June, he finishes the year with a much shinier 3.88 ERA.
Not only does Eovaldi bring the Yankees a young pitcher on the upswing, whose four-seam fastball averaged 95.5 MPH last season (according to Pitch/FX data on Fangraphs.com), but he also brings to the rotation something the Yankees desperately need — durability. Eovaldi’s 33 starts ranked second in the Majors to the handful of MLB starters who made 34 starts in 2014. The only Yankees to even sniff 200 innings last year were Hiroki Kuroda (199 IP) and Brandon McCarthy (200 IP, just 90 1/3 of which were with the Yankees), and New York no longer has either at its disposal.
The only three “sure things” in the rotation this year are CC Sabathia, Masahiro Tanaka and Michael Pineda. Sabathia is now 34 years old and pitched only 46 innings last season. Tanaka and Pineda are both 26 years old, but Tanaka is on the road back from an elbow injury and Pineda has dealt with a multitude of injuries, with 2014’s 76 1/3 innings being his lengthiest season since his rookie year in 2011. Eovaldi’s only true competition for the final two spots will come from the 36-year-old Chris Capuano and the inconsistent Ivan Nova (who some believe is a given for a spot in the rotation given his previous success as a starter). Adam Warren has an outside chance but will most likely find himself in the bullpen.
With a rotation spot likely, Eovaldi will have every chance to become a stud in New York. When you combine his aforementioned fastball, his strong walk rate (1.94 BB/9) and solid ground ball percentage (44.8), it looks like Eovaldi has every right to succeed as a big league starter. The key will be the development of his splitter, which he has been working on at camp. Primarily a fastball-slider pitcher, Eovaldi has had no success with his changeup as a third pitch, and now hopes the splitter, which he added last season, can replace the changeup and develop into his third pitch. Should that work out, you could see way more swings and misses and an overall better starter in Eovaldi’s first season in the Bronx.
Rich Arleo is a freelance sports writer and editor who covers Major League Baseball and fantasy sports. You can follow him on Twitter, @Rarleo.