Phillies select LSU righty Nola with No. 7 pick
Hurler projected to be first starting pitcher from '14 Draft to reach Majors
WASHINGTON -- The Phillies hinted last week they preferred a polished baseball player, not just an athlete with the proverbial "high ceiling" with the seventh overall pick in Thursday's First-Year Player Draft.
They followed through and selected LSU right-hander Aaron Nola.
"We would hope that in a couple of years he could be here pitching here in the organization with the Major League team," Phillies assistant general manager of amateur scouting Marti Wolever said. "It's hard to say, but within a couple of years, I think that's a pretty safe estimate."
MLB.com considered Nola the sixth-best player available in the Draft, and most scouts project him to be the first starting pitcher to appear in the big leagues. He is 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, so he is not imposing on the mound. But Nola has excellent command of his pitches, which includes a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a changeup and a breaking ball. His fastball sits in the 92-94 mph range, although Wolever said he has seen him touch 97 mph.
"A name that was mentioned upstairs [in the Phillies' front office] quite frequently was Tim Hudson," Wolever said, when asked for a comparable big-league pitcher. "I hate to put it on these kids because now all of a sudden they've got to live up to that. But that was tossed around quite a bit with our group. Just the command and the life on his fastball. … There's something to say about having 'now' stuff. And that's what Aaron Nola has. Aaron Nola has 'now' stuff. We don't really have to project a lot because it's already here."
Nola, 21, is eager to get started.
"I kind of want to get going," he said in a telephone interview Thursday night. "I look forward to getting up there."
It sounds like that should not be a problem. Wolever said he thinks they are "very close" to signing Nola. Once he signs, it would not be a surprise to see him begin his professional career with Class A Clearwater, but because he threw 116 1/3 inning this season the Phillies plan to bring him along slowly.
Nola is the only two-time SEC Pitcher of the Year, and he was one of three finalists for the Golden Spikes Award, given annually to college baseball's top player. He went 11-1 in 16 starts with a 1.47 ERA, 134 strikeouts and 27 walks in 116 1/3 innings. He struck out 345 batters over his three-year college career, which are 53 more than base runners he allowed.
He went 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA in his career.
"I'm obviously biased and I haven't seen all the other guys in the draft, but I know what Aaron can do," LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. "He's pretty close to being big-league ready, if he's not already. The reason I say that is because he's got good stuff. He wouldn't go in the first round if he didn't have good stuff, but he has impeccable control. He's got the best command of any pitcher I've ever coached. Plus, he's got amazing mound presence. You can't fluster this kid."
Nola had a 6.63 strikeout-to-walk ratio at LSU. How that translates to professional baseball remains to be seen, but the average big-leaguer this season has a 2.52 ratio.
The Phillies certainly could use somebody who attacks the strike zone.
"If you could build a pitcher this is what you would build him to be like," Mainieri said. "He'll throw 92-94, and he'll maintain that the whole game. His curveball has become a plus pitch and he's always had a pretty good changeup."
The Phillies scouted Nola thoroughly throughout the season, with Wolever estimating at least a Phillies scout or two at every one of his starts. That included Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. and senior advisor to the general manager Pat Gillick.
"I'm going to move as quickly as I can through the organization," Nola said. "I'm just going to do my best, compete and see where I can go. I'm just excited to get rolling."
The Blue Jays selected Nola in the 22nd round in 2011, but he did not sign. The Marlins selected his older brother, Austin, who also played at LSU, in the fifth round in 2012. He plays shortstop for Double-A Jacksonville.
There is no question the brothers would love to face each other in the future.
"No doubt, no doubt," Nola said. "That would be awesome. I pitched against him a couple times here at LSU. We always messed around. It would be fun, funny and special at the same time for us."
But as the seventh overall pick with a polished college resume, Nola figures to move quickly through the Phillies' system.
"I'm afraid little brother might beat his older brother to the big leagues," Mainieri said.