Nick Evangelista is flying under the prospect radar, but that may not last for long. When the season starts, Evangelista will have just turned 25 and may well be starting the season at Triple-A Ottawa, just one step from a Major League debut. The 6' 4" right-hander was a mid-round pick in 2004 and has moved quickly through the Phillies' organization, reaching Double-A Reading for 22 games last season. Just where he'll start the 2007 season is anybody's guess, but a move up to Ottawa wouldn't be unwarranted, based on how he pitched last season at Reading. It will also be interesting to follow Evangelista throughout the season to see if he warrants a September call-up or can possibly fill a hole that could develop in the Phillies bullpen at some point during the season.
Evangelista has had a weird trip through the Phillies' organization. Most thought that he would start his professional career at the more advanced of the short-season teams in Batavia, New York. Instead, he was sent to the Gulf Coast League and then catapulted over Batavia late in the season and landed in the Lakewood BlueClaws' bullpen late in the year where he pitched in two games. Then, rather than returning to Lakewood in 2005, he was bumped up to Clearwater and spent the entire season with the Threshers. An injury forced Evangelista to delay the start of his 2006 season until mid-May and he spent a couple of weeks back in Clearwater before jumping to Double-A Reading for the rest of the season.
Nick Evangelista's career stats
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Acquired: Drafted by the Phillies in the 26th round of the 2004 Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh. Was originally drafted by Toronto in the 24th round of the 2003 Draft, but didn't sign with the Blue Jays.
Repertoire: While a lot of relievers simply come in and throw heat, Evangelista has a good curve, slider and change-up that have all developed nicely. He's got the obligatory fastball with decent, but not overwhelming velocity. The key for Evangelista is that he keeps his pitches down in the strike zone and has good control.
Pitching: While most right-handers generally are tougher on right-handed hitters, Evangelista is especially tough. Last season, righties hit just .157 against him at Reading. The bad news is that left-handers have hit him pretty well, including a .250 clip in 2005 and a rough .280 clip last season. He also saw a drop in his strikeout numbers from the season before when he struck out one per inning. In 2006, he managed just six strikeouts per nine innings of work. Ironically though, he had a lower ERA last season than when he was striking out more hitters. As he's moved up, hitters have started to catch up with his fastball, but it's still good enough that he can get hitters out with the pitch. He also works down and away from hitters, occasionally coming inside to bust them on the hands and keep them honest.
Projection: Because he has some tough times against left-handed hitters, Evangelista isn't closer material. Instead, he'll likely be more of a middle-to-late inning pitcher who may be asked to give more than an inning on occasion. If he can get more movement on his fastball, he could slide into a set-up role with the big league club before all is said and done. Evangelista does have the ability to bear down in tight spots and he allowed opposing hitters to hit just .180 with runners in scoring position and .136 with runners in scoring position and two outs. With the bases loaded, Evangelista was tagged for two hits in five opportunities, including giving up a grand slam.
ETA: A September call-up certainly wouldn't be out of the question for Evangelista. It's even conceivable that he could find himself making his major league debut prior to September if he's needed. Likely though, he won't be looked at to contribute too much this season and it's more likely that next Spring he'll be fighting for a spot in the Phillies bullpen. Certainly, by then he should be ready for a shot at the bigs, especially if things work out well in Ottawa this season.
Comparison: Evangelista is much like Geoff Geary and Ryan Madson in that he doesn't have the best stuff in the world, but he finds a way to get hitters out. He has also found that it's okay for hitters to put the bat on the ball as long as it's nothing that they can get good wood on. He'll likely have a career much like either one of them where he'll pitch in less pressure situations until he can prove himself and move into tighter spots. The question is whether Evangelista will be able to have the success in those spots like Madson and Geary have had for the Phillies.