What to expect from Nola in Major Leagues
Game's No. 28 prospect set to make debut for Phils on Tuesday
When the Philadelphia Phillies took Aaron Nola with the seventh pick of the 2014 Draft, they were hopeful he'd be the type of college starting pitcher who made it quickly to the Major Leagues. The right-hander, who is ranked No. 28 on MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects list, is poised to make his debut in Philadelphia vs. the Rays on Tuesday, so it turns out they were right.
Nola was the most advanced pitcher in the 2014 Draft class, and it was clear the LSU product's combination of solid stuff and impeccable command would allow him to make quick work of the Minor Leagues. He did just that, beginning his first full season of pro ball in Double-A and earning a promotion to Triple-A after just 12 starts.
Nola was arguably the best starting pitcher in the Eastern League in those dozen appearances, posting a 1.88 ERA and a .219 batting average against. The number that stands out the most, though, was the nine walks he allowed (compared to 59 strikeouts) in 76 2/3 innings. That's a 1.1 BB/9 ratio.
The 22-year-old hasn't been quite as dominant in Triple-A, with a 3.58 ERA and .288 BAA over six starts, though the numbers were mostly inflated because of Nola's most recent start on Thursday, when he gave up five earned runs on seven hits over three innings. Prior to that, he had allowed eight runs in 29 2/3 innings (2.43 ERA). While Nola was a little more hittable, he also missed more bats (9.1 K/9). His walk rate went up a bit (2.5 BB/9), but he still has a miniscule 1.5 BB/9 ratio for his brief pro career. That rate would put Nola in the top 10 among all big league pitchers this season.
At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Nola doesn't look like the prototypical starter, but that shouldn't deter anyone from thinking he can get the job done at the highest level. Nola is obviously never going to hurt himself with walks, but not only can he throw strikes, he commands the ball well within the zone. His 60 control grade (on the 20-80 scouting scale) might actually be a little conservative.
Sometimes, command and control pitchers are assumed to be soft-tossers. While Nola doesn't blow people away, don't mistake him for a finesse arm. He throws his fastball in the low-90s, and it plays up because he can locate it to both sides of the plate, and it has a ton of life to it thanks to his three-quarters arm slot. Nola has a plus changeup at times, and his slider has gotten better within the past year. That gives him three offerings that are Major League average or better, he can throw all of them for strikes at any point in the count.
Nola is smart on the mound and understands his craft well. Even if he takes some lumps -- most young pitchers do at some point early in their career -- look for him to make necessary adjustments to get big league hitters out.
Outside of the low walk rate, don't expect eye-popping numbers from Nola right out of the gate. He'll miss some bats, but he won't be a huge strikeout guy. Nola will pitch to contact, which could mean a fair amount of base hits. But he's going to keep his team in the game nearly all of the time, and he'll be efficient enough to pitch deep into games, especially once he settles in. Performances similar to Rays righty Jake Odorizzi are reasonable to see from Nola going forward.