Nathan Eovaldi was just one inning into his second start of spring training, but New York Yankees television analyst John Flaherty was impressed.
"He looks locked in already," Flaherty said on the YES broadcast Wednesday night.
An inning later, Flaherty was bemoaning Eovaldi's high pitch count, which would force him from the game after just two innings of his scheduled three.
"He needs to work on that, to get to the next level," Flaherty said.
This is the year he can get there. He can do it with the 100 mph fastball and the splitter he used so effectively last year, and the slider he has worked to improve this spring. But it's going to take more than that.
As one veteran scout said after watching Eovaldi this spring, "He's always had the stuff."
He had it back when he was growing up in Alvin, Texas—yes, Nolan Ryan's hometown. He had it when he was a 21-year-old kid with the Los Angeles Dodgers and even when he was giving up the most hits in the National League as a 24-year-old with the Miami Marlins.
He certainly had it last year, when his 96.6 mph average on his fastball was the best of any regular major league starter, according to FanGraphs.com.
He has it already this spring, hitting 99 mph on the YES radar gun his first time out.
The stuff isn't the issue, just as it never was with the Cubs' Jake Arrieta. But even if he didn't reach the depths Arrieta did with the Baltimore Orioles, Eovaldi has also been a guy who leaves you thinking he can do more.
This is the year he can do it, with the confidence acquired in a strong stretch of 12 starts last year (he went 8-0 with a 2.93 ERA and a .584 opponents' OPS from June 20 to August 24).
|Average fastball velocity, 2015 (min. 150 IP)|
The elbow problem that ended his 2015 season in early September appears to have gone away. Any concern over the dangers of being nine years out from his high school Tommy John surgery may be fading away, too.
A couple of years back, doctors suggested that replacement elbow ligaments might have a shelf life of seven to 10 years, which would have put Eovaldi and some other current major league pitchers in serious danger of needing a second Tommy John procedure. More recent research, though, suggests that's not true.
According to Dr. Glenn Fleisig, the research director for the American Sports Medicine Institute, pitchers who make it back successfully from Tommy John surgery are at no greater risk of needing a second surgery than pitchers who never had Tommy John at all. Their careers should be as long as they would have been if they hadn't needed the surgery.
As a pitcher who just turned 26 last month, Eovaldi has every chance at a long career. He has every chance at a good career.
And some chance of a great one.
The scouts who watch him continue to have some doubts.
"I still feel he would be better in a 2-3 role rather than as a No. 1 [starter]," one scout said. "Less pressure."
The Yankees don't necessarily need Eovaldi to be a No. 1, but they do need him to be dependable. Right now, he's typical of their rotation—plenty of promise but also reasons for caution.
He still hasn't pitched 200 innings in a major league season, although he fell only one out shy of the milestone in 2014. He still has those starts where he throws 100 pitches in just five innings. For all the velocity and even with the improved split, he has just one double-digit strikeout game in 106 major league starts (none last year). He still gives up a surprising number of hits (175 in 154.1 innings last year).
For what it's worth, Eovaldi hasn't allowed a hit in his four innings so far this spring. Even with the elevated pitch count that forced him out of his second start, he has looked locked in.
There's no reason he can't stay there.
Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
Follow Danny on Twitter and talk baseball.