Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Better Know a Prospect: Ivan Nova

Ivan Manuel Nova
Born: 12 January 1987 in San Cristobal, Dominican Republic
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Height/Weight: 6'4"/210 pounds
Signed: 2004, amateur free agent

2010 Statistics
Scranton W-B (AAA) - 12-3, 145.0 IP, 135 H, 48 BB, 115 K, 2.86 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 3.52 FIP
New York Yankees (MLB) - 1-0, 14.0 IP, 15 H, 2 BB, 11 K, 1.93 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 2.56 FIP

Ivan Nova's first two Major League starts were quite good, to say the very least. In addition to limiting runs, the righty has demonstrated impeccable command and control, kept the ball on the ground (51.2% worm-burners), and maintained a solid strikeout rate. Further, his fastball velocity has sat comfortably around 94 MPH during both starts (topping out around 97 according to Brooks Baseball) - most scouting reports, including Baseball America's Prospect Handbook, had him topping out around 94. In fact, his Major League numbers on the whole are better than anything he did in the minors. While the small sample size caveat is obvious here, Nova's performance thus far does beg the question ... what sort of expectations should we have going forward?

Nova's stuff has never really been questioned. While the velocity was a bit lower in the minors, his fastball was always regarded as a plus-pitch with good movement, and he features a solid-average curveball and change-up. A perusal of Nova's minor league numbers does belie his good stuff - prior to 2010, he had never been this dominant over a full season. Nova certainly is young enough that he may very well be establishing a new plateau (and before our very eyes) - but how do we explain his mediocrity from 2007 through 2009?

The two primary concerns regarding Nova are his command and his delivery. A glance at his walk numbers may not reveal his struggles with location - but I'd suggest that his strikeout numbers do just that. A pitcher with his stuff should be garnering more strikeouts than Nova had prior to this year, put simply. Many scouts believe that Nova's command of his off-speed stuff is mediocre (at best), leading to an over-reliance on his fastball and a contact approach ... making his groundball rates all the more important. That seems to have improved with the Yankees, but how he sustains that command remains to be seem. In terms of his delivery, I'm far from an expert - so I'll leave it to RAB:
The biggest knock against Nova is his delivery, which I explained last winter in his prospect profile. It’s too smooth and effortless. There’s very little deception and hitters haven’t had too much trouble picking the ball up against him, hence the inflated hit totals earlier in this career.
In my mind, Nova profiles as a third or fourth starter in the mold of Javier Vazquez (particularly in his White Sox days) - 200 IP, solid walk and strikeout rates, league average-ish ERA. His stuff could lead to a fantastic season or two, or perhaps even a sustained stretch of dominance (if I'm donning my rose-colored glasses). In short, a useful pitcher with the potential for a bit more.

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