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Nathan Eovaldi Prospect Ranking Review

With Nathan Eovaldi making is major league debut today, let's take a look at his prospect rankings since getting selected in the 11th round of the 2008 draft.  I usually only do these ranking reviews for players who started out a unknowns and then rose to stardom, but Eovaldi has been a favorite prospect of mine since the beginning so I wanted to do this piece.

Pre 2009 season – A lot of people were surprised that Eovaldi signed with the Dodgers, and his impressive debut along with rumors of an upper 90's fastball put Nathan on the prospects charts right away.  He was included in the Dodger prospect ranking for every major publication except for Baseball Prospectus, and even cracked Baseball America's top 10 as the #10 ranked player.  Baseball HQ had him at #15, and John Sickels had him on his list at #19.  The TBLA community voted Eovaldi at #11, and I gave him a similar ranking as I put him #12.  Here is what I had to say about him prior to the 2009 season:

After the Dodgers selected Nathan Eovaldi in the 11th round of the 2008 draft, most people thought the he would be a tough sign because he wanted to attend college at Texas A&M.  He also wanted to prove that he could handle a full pitching workload after blowing out his elbow in 2007 and getting Tommy John surgery.  Nevertheless, the Dodgers were able to sign the right-hander for $250K, and he has paid immediate dividends.  He was rated by Baseball America as the Dodgers best late round pick and also ranked as having the 3rd best fastball of all Dodger draftees (behind Ethan Martin and Josh Lindblom).  While he regularly pitches at around 93 mph, he can hit 96 mph at times, and some scouts project that he may be able to hit 100 mph if the Dodgers decide to use him out of the bullpen.  He is the ideal size for a pitcher, and still has a little projection left in his frame.  In his professional debut, Eovaldi put up spectacular numbers, but was limited to 10 and 2/3 innings due to precautions placed on him because of his past Tommy John surgery.  In those 10 and 2/3 innings, he only allowed 1 run.  He also struck out 11 and batters hit only .189 against him.  After the season, Eovaldi was sent to the instructional part of the Arizona Fall League to get a little more work in.  In addition, he attended the Dodgers Strength and Conditional Camp in December which was limited to top prospects.  Overall, even though Nathan has less than 11 innings of professional experience, it appears that he is on the right track.  The Dodgers will have an important decision to make in 2009 when it comes to deciding where Eovaldi will play.  My guess is that he will stay in extended spring training until the Pioneer Rookie League starts in June, but the Dodgers may want to put him on the fast track by sending him to Lo-A.  We will just have to wait and see.

Pre 2010 Season – It turned out that the Dodgers were aggressive with Eovaldi in 2009 as they let him spend the entire season in the Midwest League.  He piggy-backed with Ethan Martin in most games, and had an impressive 3.27 ERA despite posting a relatively low strikeout rate.  He fell a few spots to #13 in Baseball America's prospect ranking, while John Sickels moved him up to #13.  Baseball Prospectus put him at #15, but Baseball HQ left him off their list all together.  In looking at the TBLA archives, Phil asked HQ about their exclusion of Eovalid, and the answer was that "said they have seen Eovaldi pitch several times and are unimpressed with his stuff."  TBLA put Nathan at #10 on their last, while I gave Eovaldi his most generous ranking at #7.  Here was my prospect analysis prior to the 2010 season:

I have to admit; Nathan Eovaldi is my favorite Dodger prospect, and that is one of the reasons why I’ve ranked him higher than most other Dodger prospect lists.  Even though I have never seen him pitch in person, I just love the fact that he throws straight heat, is still so young, and has a very projectable frame.  In addition, during the 2009 season he still probably wasn’t even fully recovered from his 2007 Tommy John surgery, so I only expect him to get better.  Now I realize that most people will look at Eovaldi’s stats and immediately point to his low strikeout rate.  I know that I would if I didn’t know anything else about him because strikeouts usually say a lot about how dominate a pitcher can be.  But unlike my concerns with Lindblom, I’m really not too worried about Eovaldi’s strikeout rate because he is still so young and has so many years to improve.  Heck, he was only 19 years old during the entire 2009 season, and only had 8 innings of professional experience prior to that, so I’m sure he is still getting used to the minor leagues.  Another thing I want to point out about Eovaldi is the fact that from June forward, he was absolutely spectacular.  His ERA through his final 62 innings of the season was 1.60, and he only allowed 1 home run during that time period.  He also tacked on another scoreless inning during the Midwest League playoffs in which he struck out the side. In terms of his pitches, Eovaldi sits in the mid 90’s, and hit 98 mph last season.  Some scouts project that he may be able to hit 100 mph if the Dodgers decide to use him out of the bullpen.  He also has a solid curveball, but it is inconsistent.  I’ve heard mixed reports about him using a slider.  Some say he stopped using it because it led to his TJ surgery.  However, in listening to Loons games during the year, I’ve heard the announcers say he has a slider in the high 80’s, and that it is a very good pitch.  In addition, he is developing a changeup.  Overall, whether Nathan ends up as a starter or in the bullpen, I’m expecting big things out of him.  I’m guessing the Dodgers will continue to use him as a starter because that is where he is most valuable, but I can also see him as a solid closer one day.  I’m hoping that Eovaldi plays in Inland Empire next season so I can get a chance to watch my favorite Dodger prospect live.

Pre 2011 Season – Eovaldi had an injury plagued and uninspiring season in 2010, which caused him to fall out of many of the prospect rankings.  Baseball America was one of the few publications that had him ranked where he came in at #17, and he missed the lists of John Sickels', Baseball Prospectus, and Baseball HQ's.  TBLA members gave him some respect and voted Eovaldi #19, although the final vote was very close and he nearly missed our top 20.  Nathan fell to #15 on my list, but as far as I can tell I again had him ranked higher than anyone else.  Here was my most recent write-up of him:

Nathan Eovaldi was the Dodgers 11th rounded pick in the 2008 draft, and surprised many people by signing for $250,000 instead of going to college.  In his professional debut he dominated the Gulf Coast League, and then put up solid numbers with the Loons in 2009.  Promoted to HiA in 2010, Nathan made 14 starts with the 66ers in 2010 before straining his oblique in July.  During his time in Inland Empire, Eovaldi showed flashes of brilliance including two complete game shutouts, but overall he didn’t really have the dominant season that I was hoping for.  His ERA was 4.45 and his WHIP was 1.55, and he only struck out 6.14 batters per 9 innings despite a very strong fastball that was clocked as high as 97 mph.  Eovaldi also has an above average curveball and occasionally throws a changeup, but he continues to struggle with the command of his pitches which has led to his less than stellar strikeout numbers.  Some scouts believe that Nathan would be better suited as a power relief pitcher, but for now the Dodgers want to keep him in the rotation since he is just 21 years old and has a lot of potential.  Nathan finished up the 2010 season by rehabbing the rookie leagues, and for 2011 I expect him to return to HiA for more seasoning.  The other thing to remember about Eovaldi is that he had Tommy John back in 2007 and has not yet gone over the 100 inning mark in any of his professional seasons, so he’s going to have to continue to increase his workload as he gets older if he wants to remain a starter.

Why #15: Eovaldi is one of my favorite Dodger prospects, but his mediocre stats and low strikeout rate in 2010 caused him to drop a little in my rankings.  I still think he’ll make it to the big leagues one day, however, and he has the ceiling of a middle of the rotation starter or a power reliever.

I'm guessing that Eovaldi won't get to 50 MLB innings this year, so I'll get one more chance to rank him this off-season.  A solid debut could give in an outside shot at getting a job in the Dodgers 2012 rotation, although I'll admit it seems unlikely that he'll start 2012 in the big leagues.  Whatever the case, I hoping for the best as Eovaldi has been a pitcher I've had my eye on for a long time.