When the Miami Marlins acquired Nathan Eovaldi, they were confident he can be a top of the rotation arm. But after two years with him as the club's number two starter, Eovaldi has been inconsistent, which has led to scouts and baseball executives questioning whether he belongs in a major league rotation.
Eovaldi's inability to put together one consistent major league season resulted in MLB.com's Joe Frisaro listing him as a player who may undergo a position change this offseason.
If Eovaldi's offspeed pitches improve, there is no question he will remain in the rotation. If not, he could be headed to the bullpen, where he could get by with a fastball and breaking ball. As a starter, he needs at least three pitches to keep hitters off balance.
In 2014, Eovaldi posted a 6-14 record with a 4.37 ERA and 3.37 FIP in 199.2 innings pitched. He saw a significant decrease in his fastball velocity, and as a result, also had a lot of his offspeed pitches hit well. Miami at one time saw Eovaldi as a front of the line starter to complement Jose Fernandez, but may not be prepared to make a move yet.
While he did struggle for parts of 2014, Eovaldi is just 24. He still has time to develop, which can work in his favor considering he shouldn't have the desire to move to the bullpen having been a starter for the duration of his professional career.
His K/9 remained almost the same (6.40 as opposed to 6.60), and his BB/9 was nearly cut in half (3.39 in 2013 to 1.94 last season). However, his inability to find the strike zone in key situations likely magnified a lack of control late in games.
Towards the end of the season, it was noted that Eovaldi may lose his rotation spot, although the Marlins ultimately allowed him to end the season as a starter. Since he has a power fastball to complement a curveball and slider, scouts who have watched Eovaldi develop believe he would have much more success as a reliever, notably as a closing option. Eovaldi does have the velocity and repertoire of a closer, but may be too young to make such a transition.
Making Eovaldi a closer could be logical if the Marlins didn't have another closing option. But Steve Cishek is coming off of another efficient year, and the organization does not have an apparent desire to head in a different direction.
Cishek was rumored to be on the trading block before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, and the Marlins, if they feel he is getting too expensive, could look to trade Cishek this offseason. But that does not appear to be realistic, which would not leave a scenario in which Eovaldi becomes the team's closer.
Placing Eovaldi in the bullpen would also create a need for a starting pitcher, although the Marlins have a significant amount of starting pitching depth and are reportedly looking to add a free agent starter this winter.
Eovaldi is likely best suited as a starter, where he will grow and continue to develop. In order to be successful, he will have to become consistent. And moving him to the bullpen may be premature considering his limited major league experience as a starter.