The Strange Case Of Nick Evangelista

For Nick Evangelista, pitching for the Reading Phillies was a great situation to be in. Growing up in the Reading area, it was a stop for Evangelista on his way up the ladder to the majors. Now though, all that is in doubt.

Nick Evangelista started off his professional career in baseball by posting some pretty impressive numbers. The Phillies drafted Evangelista out of the University of Pittsburgh in the 26th round of the 2004 Draft and by the time summer ended, the right-hander had moved up to Class-A Lakewood. In 2005, he started the year - and spent the entire season - at Clearwater where he again posted nice numbers (3.03 ERA in 68.1 innings of relief).

Evangelista started the 2006 season six weeks late because of an injury and when he did start, he was back at Clearwater where he pitched in four games for the Threshers. As was planned during the off-season, Evangelista was moved along to Double-A Reading and was pitching close to home for the first time since his high school days. The return was a successful one and Evangelista was seemingly on his way up the ladder. He came into the season ranked as the 21st best prospect in the organization by Philly Baseball News and was poised to see his career take off, which was important since he had just turned 25.

One teammate, who knew Evangelista well, said that Evangelista seemed to have a different attitude when the team assembled in Clearwater this past spring. "He seemed a little less driven and sort of assumed he would be heading to the next level," said the player. "I really just thought that maybe he had been told he would be going to Ottawa and that's why he had put so much confidence in that."

His teammates aren't the only ones who were surprised at Evangelista this spring. The Phillies minor league staff thought Evangelista was out of shape when he reported to camp and were further disappointed at his efforts to lose that weight.

Whatever Evangelista was feeling or thinking in spring training, he sure didn't look like the same pitcher when the season started. From his very first outing of the season against Harrisburg, Evangelista struggled. In five of his first seven appearances, Evangelista gave up at least one earned run and finished the month of April with a 7.56 ERA. The struggles continued and the Phillies decided to make a quick move and send Evangelista back to Clearwater.

Initially, there didn't seem to be an issue. Evangelista was going to head to Clearwater, not happy about the move, but looking to work his way back through the system. Things quickly changed though and Evangelista's agent told the Phillies that heading back to Clearwater wasn't in his client's best interest and requested that the team either keep him at Double-A, trade him or release him. Without even having to think about it, the Phillies reportedly labeled Evangelista as "not a priority" according to Brian Grieper, Evangelista's agent.

With that, the two sides were officially at a stalemate.

Evangelista has no official recourse, since he hasn't pitched long enough to qualify for minor league free agency. For his part, Evangelista seems ready to hold out no matter what the consequences. "We are prepared for the ramifications that may stem from our current position and understand if the Phillies will not honor our request for a trade or release," Greiper told the Reading Eagle in an e-mail.

For the Phillies part, their disappointment with the right-hander didn't start in the last week or two. It started last fall when Evangelista told the Phillies that he wouldn't report to the Arizona Fall League.

How long the stalemate will last or how it will all play out is anyone's guess, but the Phillies seem to be in the driver's seat. Evangelista can't go to another organization without the Phillies either trading him there or releasing him and he won't add any minor league service time to his record while he's not pitching meaning that he would conceivably never become a minor league free agent since he needs three more seasons of service. The fact that Evangelista wasn't a high draft pick who has gotten a lot of money out of the Phillies certainly won't help his case. Had they spent big bucks on him, they would be interested in getting whatever they could in return for him in one way or another.

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