By the time you read this, Yankees pitching prospect Ivan Nova may, in fact, be pitching for the Los Angeles Dodgers or some other club looking to bolster their pitching staff with a major league ready pitcher. But he could just as easily become part of the New York Yankees' rotation in the coming days. Especially since Sergio Mitre struggled in his spot start taking the place of the injured Andy Pettitte. Whatever the case, I like Novaís chances of getting a phone call to a big league club. Soon.
Nova certainly fits the description of a major league ready pitcher that can help any number of pitching seeking organizations. Nova is a tall and lanky, 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-handed pitcher from San Cristobal, Dominican Republic. Thatís the same hometown of Twins starter Francisco Liriano. Heís been a pitcher with major league potential since the time he was signed as an amateur free agent in July 2004.
Nova has three quality pitches. The best and the most developed is a high velocity sinking fastball, with which Nova has induced ground balls at least half the time at every organizational level of his career. His fastball has been known to touch 100 MPH, but he generally sits in the 92-95 range. Itís the late life and downward movement that cause hitters to swing and miss or beat the pitch into the ground.
The other two pitches are still in the process of being developed. However, Novaís changeup is an outstanding alternative after hitters have seen the blaze of the fastball. His change is probably more advanced than the curveball he continues to try to develop.
In order to really step up to a regular rotation role, Nova will have to have at least that three pitch arsenal going forward. He will likely be tinkering with a cutter or a hard slider, as those pitches seem to be pitching staples in the big leagues (especially the cutter), but Nova is perfectly capable of adding that pitch.
What makes Nova special is the downward plane of his body to the hitter. With the height and lanky all-arms look, hitters have little time to adjust to the pitch. Pitching downhill makes seeing the ball far more difficult for hitters who dig in at the plate. Nova takes full advantage of his height and body type.
I particularly like the way Nova comes right after hitters with his best pitch. He uses the fastball to control the count and the at-bat of almost every hitter. The pitching sequence works off the fastball. If there is reason for concern, it might be an increased comfort level for hitters the second and third time through the batting order after they have seen the limited repertoire. However, Nova employs excellent pitching mechanics including a smooth, easy delivery with good extension and follow-through ďfinishĒ to his pitches. Those type mechanics are crucial for success in the major leagues. It is most often an inability to repeat a delivery that dooms potential starting pitchers to life as a minor league pitcher or as constant trade bait to another club.
Nova this season has pitched 111.1 innings at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in the International League where he is 8-2 with 18 starts. As of this writing, Nova has given up 106 hits and he has a 3.06 ERA. Of some concern is the high walk total of 40 compared to 84 strikeouts. Still, the 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio isnít bad, considering he is striking out a hitter every inning. Itís that sinking fastball and change of speeds to the changeup that helps Nova miss bats.
Overall in 4 1/2 seasons of professional baseball since 2006, Nova has a 31-31 record with a 3.90 ERA over 542 innings pitched. He has walked 183 and struck out 373. Those figures include two games of relief pitching with the Yankees in May this year.
After being signed by the Yankees, Nova was selected as a Rule 5 player by the Padres at the December 2008 Winter Meetings. Of course the Yankees liked him, but they couldnít offer him a position on the roster and had to expose him to the Rule 5 draft. The Padres took him in the second round that year, having taken shortstop Everth Cabrera in the first round. At the conclusion of spring training, not finding a spot for Nova on their 25-man active roster, the Padres returned him to the Yankees for half of the Rule 5 draft price. Nova is signed this year to a $400,000 contract and he is part of the 40- man roster.
Ivan Nova is a perfect example of how different organizations and their scouts view the same players differently. At the time he was plucked from the Yankees as a Rule 5 selection, Nova was seen as a good arm for a pitching poor organization like the Padres. But the Padres chose not to keep him on their 25-man roster following spring training. They didnít make a trade with New York to even keep Nova within their organization at the minor league level. The lack of an attempt to keep Nova via trade was surprising. However, perhaps the Padres were not convinced that he was worthy of the cost of a trade to retain him. Or perhaps the Yankees and Padres couldnít agree on proper compensation via trade. Those are decisions that can haunt an organization. Of course, the full story of Nova has not been written, but I certainly like the fastball and the potential. As a result, I like Novaís chances for success. It may have been a mistake by the Padres not to keep him in their organization. Only time will tell.
This season at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Nova is consistent in day games as opposed to night games and against both right-handed and left-handing hitting. That consistency bodes well for him, as pitchers that skew one way or another day/night and righty/lefty hurt their own chances to catch on and stick at the big league level due to perceived inconsistency.
There are those who feel Nova should have taken the rotation spot being vacated by Andy Pettitte during Pettitteís most recent injury. As I indicated before, that spot has gone to Sergio Mitre thus far. Perhaps itís solely because Mitre has more experience and the Yanks are locked in a pennant race. Earlier this season, Nova was recalled from Triple-A to pitch in relief for the Yankees. He threw three innings in two games and gave up four hits and no runs. He didnít walk anyone and struck out one hitter. It was a good showing for the tall, thin righty.
Before he was traded to the Angels, there was every indication the Diamondbacks had come calling for Nova in a possible deal for Dan Haren. That makes sense. The D-Backs have indicated they would require a starting pitcher in any deal that included Haren. Of course, there would be other organizational players involved. Reports indicate that the Yanks refused to part with Joba Chamberlain as part of any deal for Haren. Much is dependent upon how much, if any money the Diamondbacks were willing to pay of Harenís salary. Now of course, we know that Haren was shipped to the Angels. But other teams have interest in Nova, so keep your eyes on the trade activity.
Nova will pitch soon in the major leagues. He has all the requisite ingredients for success. His mechanics are sound, his velocity is good, his command and control are average, but could improve and his pitch repertoire is solid enough but getting better. He could stand to strengthen the curve and add a slider or cutter to the mix. For now, however, he has caught the eye of baseball executives and heíll get his chance to strut his stuff on a big league mound. He may not be pitching for the Yankees as he thought he would be when he was signed. And of course, his chance to be highly successful could be very dependent upon the team that ends up paying his salary. It could be the Diamondbacks. It could be some other club and yes, it could still be the Yankees. They like his stuff and his chances as a back of the rotation starter. So do I. Especially if itís with the Yankees.