Fall League observations: Nolin in zone; Wang struggles
MESA, Ariz. -- On the final day of the Arizona Fall League regular season, the Peoria Javelinas and Surprise Saguaros met in a winner-take-all game to decide the Western Division title. The Salt River Rafters already had clinched the East, but their game against the Scottsdale Scorpions gave Twins outfielder Eddie Rosario a chance to lock up the batting title.
Nothing of consequence was on the line in the third game on Thursday, which ended in a 4-4 deadlock between the Glendale Desert Dogs and Mesa Solar Sox after 11 innings. But that contest did feature five innings of work from two of the most promising left-handers in the AFL, Mesa's Sean Nolin (Blue Jays) and Glendale's Wei-Chung Wang (Brewers).
Known for throwing strikes, Nolin put on a show against the Desert Dogs. Sixty-one of his 71 pitches (86 percent) found the zone, including all 13 of his changeups and all nine of his curveballs. He also threw 37 of 44 fastballs for strikes and shelved his cutter/slider when it wasn't effective early on.
Nolin gave up six hits and three runs, though two of each could have been prevented by better defense behind him. His only egregious mistake was leaving a 91-mph fastball over the plate against Michael Ohlman (Orioles), who drilled it over the fence in left-center.
Though he's built like a power pitcher at 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Nolin is more about finesse. He can add and subtract from his fastball, which ranged from 86-95 mph and averaged 90-91 versus Glendale. He can do the same with his curveball, and he employed both slow benders in the upper 60s (and one as low as 62 mph) and quicker breakers in the mid-70s on Thursday.
Nolin's curveball was his best pitch against the Desert Dogs, as it finished off four of his seven strikeouts. He fanned Nick Basto (White Sox) with his slow curve and Darnell Sweeney (Dodgers) twice and Garabez Rosa (Orioles) once with the harder version. Of his nine curves, five missed bats, three were fouled off and one was called a strike.
All seven of Nolin's strikeouts came on swings, as he also got Rosa on a changeup, Ohlman on a 93-mph fastball and Tim Anderson (White Sox) on a 91-mph heater. All told, Nolin elicited 15 swings and misses: five each on fastballs and curves, four on changeups and one on a slider.
Nolin's fastball didn't have a lot of movement, though he generally spotted it well, and Glendale put 12 of them into play (four for hits). He had good depth on his curveball and some nice fade on his changeup, and he did a fine job of maintaining his normal delivery while varying the speeds of his offerings.
Nolin also had some creative pitch sequences that seemed almost unfair. Basto's second-inning strikeout began with a 91-mph fastball, followed by a 67-mph curveball and a 94-mph fastball, all fouled off. He then swung through a 69-mph curve.
Sweeney and Anderson were similarly victimized by huge fluctuations in velocity. Sweeney saw five straight strikes to end the fourth: 91-mph fastball, 88-mph fastball, 62-mph curveball, 92-mph fastball, 76-mph curveball. Anderson sat down after three pitches to begin the fifth: 87-mph fastball, 67-mph curveball, 91-mph fastball.
A sixth-round pick in 2010 after helping San Jacinto (Texas) to a runner-up finish at the Junior College World Series, Nolin made one start for the Blue Jays in 2013 and returned to Toronto for one relief appearance this year. The 24-year-old spent most of 2014 in Triple-A, missing time with a groin injury, and could help the Jays next season if needed. He won't keep throwing 80 percent of his pitches for strikes or getting swings and misses with 20 percent of his offerings, but he has the savvy and enough stuff to become a useful No. 4 starter.
Glendale's Wang (Brewers) is just 22, but has logged more big league time than Nolin, spending most of this year in Milwaukee after getting selected in the Rule 5 draft. The Brewers couldn't send him to the Minors (except for rehab assignments) without placing him on waivers and offering him back to the Pirates for half of his $50,000 draft price.
A year after pitching in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Wang posted a 10.90 ERA in 14 relief appearances for Milwaukee. He has worked just 91 2/3 innings in pro ball since signing out of Taiwan in 2011, in large part because he needed Tommy John surgery before making his debut, so sending him to the AFL for extra work made perfect sense.
When the Brewers plucked Wang from the Pirates, scouting reports credited him with a 90-95-mph fastball, an advanced changeup and a curveball that need work. Whether it was because of fatigue or rust or both, he didn't look like that pitcher while surrendering six hits and four runs to Mesa.
Twenty-six of Wang's 38 fastballs found the strike zone, but the Solar Sox put 15 into play (four for hits) and swung and missed at just one. He worked from 86-92 mph and averaged 89 with his fastball.
All three off Wang's strikeouts came on 81-82 mph changeups, on swings by Spencer Kieboom (Nationals) and Boog Powell (Athletics) and a called third strike against Tony Renda (Nationals). But he also battled his control and command of the pitch, serving up an 84-mph hanger to Jon Berti (Blue Jays) that got whacked for a three-run homer. Wang showed some feel for a low-70s curveball, but didn't use it much.