Nathan Lavender was born in Hudson, Illinois and homeschooled until he began high school, attending El Paso Gridley High School in El Paso, Illinois. He was a dominant golfer, winning a pair of conference championships, and in baseball, where he was a four-year letterwinner who posted a cumulative 0.71 ERA over his four years at the school. One of the better pitching prospects in Illinois in his senior year, Lavender ended up going undrafted in the 2018 MLB Draft and elected to attending Illinois State, passing up on virtually every other Big Ten school in addition to a handful of others. In pitching for a college team, he would be following in the footsteps of his father, who played college baseball at Marian College, his uncle, who played ball at Marian, and his older cousin, who played ball at Evangel University.
The southpaw appeared in 17 total games in his freshman year, starting 4, and posted a 4.08 ERA in 28.2 innings for the Fighting Illini, allowing 21 hits, walking 24, and striking out 37. Following the conclusion of the season, he went to pitch for the Hyannis Harbor Hawks in the Cape Cod League, making a pair of appearances.
The cancellation of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 had a major impact on every athlete, both professional and amateur, but for Lavender, its impact was even greater as he did not even get the cursory amount of innings under his belt that most other pitchers did. The left-hander missed the beginning of the season with an injury and did not get into a single game prior to the NCAA shutting down all athletic activities. Returning to the mound in 2021, Lavender started things off on the right foot, going 5-0 in his first few starts, and ended up posting a 4.11 ERA in 57.0 innings, allowing 55 hits, walking 15, and striking out 79. Following the conclusion of the Fighting Illini 2021 season, he played for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers in the new MLB Draft League, where he posted a 7.65 ERA in 20.0 innings.
Lavender has a solid frame for pitching, standing 6’2” and weighing 210-pounds. The left-hander throws from a three-quarters arm slot, slinging the ball with a long arm action through the back. Prior to the 2021 season, he was mainly a fastball pitcher who relied on his heater to strike batters out, but the development of his secondaries from usable pitches into legitimate options has transformed the southpaw from a thrower into a pitcher. The emergence of his secondary pitches has also improved his walk rate, but the left-hander is still more of a control-over-command pitcher and can struggle with hitting his exact spots.
His fastball sits in the high-80s-to-low-90s, topping out at 93, 94 MPH. While the velocity on his fastball might not be that impressive, even for a left-hander, the pitch has a high spin rate and has average roughly 17 inches of vertical rise. He complements his fastball with a curveball, slider and a changeup
His slider sits in the low-80s and features about 5 inches of vertical drop and 12 inches of lateral movement, while his curveball sits in the low-70s and features more vertical drop and less lateral movement. The two pitches sometimes blend together into a slurvier offering. His changeup sits in the low-to-mid-80s and features roughly 13 inches of vertical and horizontal tumble and fade.