Today the Phillies will send their top pitching prospect and 2014 #7 overall pick, Aaron Nola to the mound against the Yankees. It will be a shorter start and will be more of a cameo than a leading role for the young right hander. At this point we are all pretty familiar with the expectations on Nola, and that he should be fast moving and arrive in the majors at some point this season. So here is just a quick guide to his arsenal.
During his junior year of college, Nola was consistently 91-94 touching 95-96 with regularity and getting to 97 occasionally. In professional ball he was consistently 91-93 touching 95. In college and early in the minors the pitch showed late explosive life. As the season went on the velocity stayed but the pitch only had life at lower velocities. Most people attribute this to his career high workload (171.2 IP in 2014, 126 IP in 2013), and him tiring after such a long season. Nola shows impressive command of the fastball and can locate it all over the zone.
There is some debate over the final grade on the changeup. Some evaluators think it is his best secondary pitch and that it is a near plus pitch right now with great deception. Others see what was once a plus pitch, that has regressed to more of an average pitch. Either way there is feel for a plus changeup and his delivery puts good life on the pitch. For me it likely ends up at least plus as he refines it and finds consistency in his delivery. The changeup clocks in at 82-84.
Some people call Nola’s breaking ball a slider because of the horizontal movement he gets on it from his low arm slot. However, the pitch is a curveball with good two plane break that Nola used to devastating effect last year. The movement and command of the pitch is plus. The only problem he has had is lowering his arm slot further causes the pitch to flatten out as he can’t stay over top of it, and it becomes more of a horizontal frisbee. Nola typically will throw the pitch at 79-81.
Nola comes with a rather unconventional low 3/4s. It is a delivery rarely seen on a pitcher of his height (6’1″), but he is extremely athletic and maintains the delivery very well. In college he would alter his arm slot some to fool hitters. The Phillies have worked with him to find a single and consistent release point for all his pitches. This should help keep the curveball from flattening out and improve the changeup by making sure the deception is there from coming from same release as the fastball. The one inherent issue of his delivery is that the combination of height and low delivery can make him a bit more home run prone than his taller and more upright brethren.
What it left to work on:
Up to now Nola has never worked out of a pro-style system with 4 days rest and he still needs to learn how to fit into that schedule. The secondary pitches could use consistency, as could the delivery, but it is more about polish than growth. Right now he could be a major league #4 starter if the Phillies put him in the rotation on opening day.
It is difficult to grade Nola as much higher than a #3 starter based on the raw stuff (3 possible plus pitches). However, Nola has such an impressive feel for pitching and command that he could see his stuff play up more than the scouting grade. He will need to continue to refine and adjust, but I have more confidence in his ability to do so than I am about almost any pitcher currently in the minors leagues.
Nola Pitching in Minor League Camp:
Nola allowed 5 hits while striking out 4 and walking 0 in a scoreless 3 innings. His fastball was 91-93, touching 94 with good movement. His curveball lacked sharpness and bit, but he was able to locate it and break it into the strike zone. His changeup was very sharp with good late drop and deception.
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