6/11/2014 10:00 A.M. ET
Pipeline Perspectives: Nola will be first to big leagues
Right-handed draftee lauded for advanced arm; could contribute to Phillies soon
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
Forty rounds, a total of 1,215 picks, all in the books. Members of the 2014 Draft class are in the process of signing with the teams that selected them. Then the real fun begins: We get to see what kind of professional prospects they are.
For some, the road will be long and winding. Others will beat a more direct path. Historically, there might even be a handful who make it to the big leagues before this season comes to an end. That's exactly what this week's Pipeline Perspectives is all about: Which 2014 draftee will be the first to make his Major League debut?
Conventional wisdom says to take a reliever. Kyle Crockett of the Indians and Corey Knebel of the Tigers have helped out their respective big league bullpens this year after going in the 2013 Draft. Paco Rodriguez was a 2012 draftee who actually made his debut that summer.
If not a reliever, then maybe a starter who could be shortened up to help out of the 'pen in the near term gets the call. Chris Sale turned that trick in 2010, the same summer he was drafted. Everyone remembers David Price's huge contribution to the Rays' playoff efforts as a reliever, just a year after being taken No. 1 overall.
That's the direction Jim is going by taking the Yankees' top selection, Jacob Lindgren. The Mississippi State lefty reliever has the kind of stuff to get big league lefties out pretty quickly, and it's more likely to be a team that competing that might call on a new draftee to help out in such a way.
As for me, I'm not taking the easy "take an advanced southpaw reliever" way out like Jim did. Nope, I'm taking a guy who is a starter all the way. No LOOGYs for me here (No, I don't think Lindrgen is a lefty specialist long-term, but he would be this season.). My choice is LSU ace Aaron Nola.
I know what you're thinking. Nola isn't exactly making a tough choice. He was, after all, tabbed (for good reason) as the most advanced arm in the entire Draft class. He's one of a select few on our Draft Top 200 with a 60 for control (on the 20-80 scouting scale). The difference between Nola and the others is that 60 could be a present grade, not just something he'll eventually reach. His command is that good right now.
Nola has drawn comparisons to Reds right-hander Mike Leake because of that pitchability. Leake, as most of you know, went right to the big leagues without spending a day in the Minors. He made his debut the April after being drafted. (Back in 2009, the signing deadline was in August, so it was too late for him to get going that summer.)
While I don't see Nola signing and going right into the Phillies rotation, he might not be far behind Leake. It's not too far-fetched to think he'll be better than Leake was right out of the gate, either. The reason? Nola and Leake might be a good match command and feel-wise, but Nola's pure stuff is better than his counterpart's.
This isn't a guy with fringy stuff. He has two pitches that will be above-average in his fastball and changeup. His slider should be at least Major League-average. Add in a slightly funky arm slot that adds sink and deception, not to mention that pinpoint command, and all of his stuff plays up.
There's a reason why Nola went 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA in the SEC, arguably the toughest conference in college baseball. He didn't strike out 134 and walk only 27 in 116 1/3 innings, holding hitters to a minuscule .172 batting average against, with smoke and mirrors. He's a deserving Golden Spikes Award Finalist. For my money, Nola had the best combination of now stuff and command in the entire Draft.
His consistency in 2014 was a sight to behold. He didn't allow an earned run until March 14 against Vanderbilt, his fifth start of the season, stretching a streak that had run through last year's postseason. He gave up more than two earned runs in an outing just twice in his 16 starts and averaged more than seven innings per start.
Truth be told, I think Nola could handle a big league assignment right after signing and an appropriate amount of time to get himself stretched back out. The Phillies are 12th in the National League in starter's ERA. Nola could provide a boost in the second half and his stuff will play just fine at Citizens Bank Park.
If the Phillies were closer to the top of the NL East, I could see that kind of scenario playing out. A recent slide, though, has put them in the cellar, so it might not make sense to rush the right-hander up. Seeing him compete for a rotation spot in the spring? I don't see why not. If that's the case, perhaps Mr. Callis wins this battle. But if the war is who's going to have the bigger impact sooner, I'll take Nola seven days a week and twice on Sunday.