ESPN the Magazine’s Jorge Arangure Jr has an excellent piece up today on Ivan Nova, tracking his unlikely evolution from an unheralded prospect who grew up poor in the Dominican Republic to a key member of the Yankee rotation. The entire piece is a must-read, as it describes Nova’s career all the way back to before he signed. Nova was primarily a position player in his teenage years, until a growth spurt created curiosity among coaches about whether he could pitch. Nova did, impressing against some older competition, and never looked back.
The article describes Nova’s tireless work ethic even as a teenager, getting up at 5 AM to work out and make up for lost development time as a pitcher. It also describes how Nova wasn’t on the Yankees’ radar, and for a while, the only team that gave him an offer was the Red Sox (at whose academy Nova played for a few weeks). However, because Nova and his father were both Yankee fans, he rejected Boston’s offer. Eventually, the 17 year-old Nova got an $80,000 offer from the Yankees after a trainer told Yankee scout Victor Mata about Nova.
While Mata knew that Nova was a raw prospect who didn’t throw very hard at the time of signing, he saw the projectability in Nova’s tall lanky frame and was willing to take a chance on Nova’s work ethic. While Nova’s velocity and secondary offerings were raw, Mata was very impressed by Nova’s ability to consistently throw strikes. He liked Nova’s approach on the mound, and figured that the other skills would follow.
Nova went through some tough times in the lower minors, but persevered and made the necessary improvements to advance. He almost ended up in San Diego after being taken in the Rule V Draft, but was returned to the Yankees after failing to make the team. We have written extensively about Nova’s slider, but it turns out that the pitch started out as a cutter (shown to him by Yankees VP Billy Connors). The acquisition of this pitch, along with gradual gains in fastball velocity and movement, allowed Nova to become the successful pitcher that he became today.
If there is a single message of Arangure’s piece, it is that there are so many obstacles that could prevent a prospect from becoming a major leaguer. For every Ivan Nova, there are dozens of prospects with similar or more talent that never make it as far as he has. Through hard work, good coaching, and a little bit of luck, Ivan Nova was able to make it to the bigs, and he seems likely to have a long major league career. He has had some struggles with home runs this season (along with most of the Yankee starting staff), but if history is any guide, Nova will figure out how to overcome that difficulty as well.
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