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2011 Breakout Prospect: Dodgers Starter Nathan Eovaldi

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Dodgers pitching prospect Nathan Eovaldi was drafted in the 11th round of the 2008 draft out of Alvin, Texas by the Los Angeles Dodgers. According to Baseball America, there was question whether he would make it as a starting pitcher or end up in the bullpen, but had this to say about him in their Top 10 Dodgers prospects list in 2009:

Eovaldi projects as a classic Texas power pitcher. His fastball already had climbed back to 91-93 mph in the spring, and in his final outing of the summer, he didn't throw a pitch under 94 and hit 96 mph 20 times. He has a strong body, a decent delivery with good downhill plane and an aggressive approach on the mound.

Eovaldi had a rough start in his first full season of minor league ball as he went 3-5 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.412 WHIP and a 71-41 K/BB rate in 96.1 innings pitched at Low A Great Lakes. He appeared in 26 games, 16 as a starter and actually finished 4 games, earning 1 save.

More on Eovaldi after the jump:

In 2010, made a few appearances in the Dodgers rookie league before making the jump to High A where his performance was very similar to his 2009 season in Low A. He went 3-5 with a 4.45 ERA, a 1.553 WHIP and a 58-33 K/BB rate in 85 innings. His combined stats between rookie league and High A was 4-6, a 4.30 ERA, 1.475 WHIP and a 72-37 K/BB rate in 98.1 innings. He was shut down in July of 2010 with an injury to his lat muscle.

Coming into the 2011 season, Eovaldi was such a non-prospect that John did not rank him in his Top 20 Dodgers prospects. Baseball America ranked him as the #17 prospect in the organization, saying:

Eovaldi owns a heavy fastball that comes at hitters in the low to mid-90s and tops out at 96 mph with occasional life. The curve shows above average potential with tilt and depth when it's on, but it can get slurvy. He also has a fringy changeup that he developed a better feel for last season, and he has to command the strike zone more effectively. The Dodgers laud Eovaldi for his fearless nature on the mound as well as his maturity off it. He has the potential to be a mid-rotation starter, though he could end up as a weapon out of the bullpen.

Something happened between the end of the 2010 and start of the 2011 season, as Eovaldi has had a breakout season, even with the jump to AA Chattanooga. This season, he is 6-5 with a 2.62 ERA, a 1.184 WHIP and a 99-46 K/BB rate in 103 innings pitched. His walk rate of 4.00 needs to improve, but his K rate has made a big jump from 6.6/9 in 2010 to 8.7/9 in 2011.

In his recent Midseason Top 50 Prospects list, ESPN's Keith Law named Eovaldi as an Honorable Mention, as he just missed out making the Top 50. On Friday night, the Dodgers purchased his contract, and he was scheduled to make his first major league start on Saturday night in Arizona.

The leap Eovaldi made in 2011 was not expected, but it appears he has put everything together on the mound. At the young age of 21, he made his first major league start last night, holding the Diamondbacks to 2 runs on 4 hits, 2 walks and 7 strikeouts in 5 innings. If he can stay healthy (he had Tommy John surgery as a junior in high school), he could have a spot in the Dodgers rotation in 2012.

Yesterday, Brandon Lennox from SB Nation's Dodgers site True Blue LA wrote a Prospect Review on Eovaldi, so click on the link and check out his thoughts on the Dodgers young hurler.