The situation: The Phillies are all but mathematically eliminated from the 2015 playoffs, possessing the worst record and run differential in all of baseball. The “positive” that comes from this is that Philadelphia can now see what their youngsters are capable of, and another piece of the rebuilding puzzle will make his debut on Tuesday in the form of Aaron Nola.
Background: Nola was the LSU ace his sophomore and junior season and was among the most dominant hurlers in the SEC during that time. He went from fringe first-round arm to establishing himself as a lock for the top 10 in 2014, eventually going 7th overall to the Phillies. He’s exceeded all expectations since entering the system, posting a 1.88 ERA this year at Double-A Reading and holding his own in Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Those impressive results – along with the stuff to show it was sustainable — saw Nola rise to No. 7 on the BP midseason top 50.
Scouting report: While Nola doesn’t have the elite fastball most top-10 pitching prospects do, he’s far from a soft-tosser, generally sitting 91-93 mph with the occasional mid-90s offering when he reaches back for more from his low three-quarter arm slot. The pitch plays up because it’s rarely straight – usually offering some sink or run – and his fastball command is already above-average.
Nola’s second best pitch is his curve; a pitch that sometimes gets labeled a slider because it doesn’t have prototypical curveball shape and does offer more bite than your typical yakker. Whatever you call the offering, it’s an above-average one, and he can locate it in the zone to get ahead in counts or bury it as a swing-and-miss pitch. His change is the weakest of his three offerings but it has made progress in his short time as a professional, as the pitch offers deception from his quality arm-speed – there’s just not enough to the pitch to call it a more than a solid-average at this point.
His raw stuff makes Nola a mid-rotation arm, but what gives him a chance to be more than that is his ability to locate everything. The delivery is sort of bizarre – he appears to be double-jointed at the elbow and his arm rotation reminds me of former Cubs closer Henry Roengartner the way it comes through the zone – but he repeats it as well as any young pitcher, and that allows him to throw any pitch at any count. I’d like to see him use the change earlier, but that’s likely a sequencing issue that he doesn’t have control over. He has plus command, and at some point, it might be plus-plus.
Immediate Big League Future: When you throw strikes with all three pitches, you’re going to have a chance to succeed at the big league level, and since Nola does just that, it should be a relatively smooth transition for the right-hander. Because we’re talking about a player who is more command than elite stuff though, it’ also reasonable to expect some turbulence in his first big league looks. He should be a fine backend starter for these final few months, with No. 2 upside if everything goes to plan.
Fantasy Impact: Nearly all of the Phillies high-impact prospects won’t make it to the major leagues until 2016 at the earliest, so in the near term there hasn’t been much to look at outside of Maikel Franco. Now, with the promotion of Aaron Nola, the Phillies have called up their other minor league chip who could have a significant impact in 2015.
Nola’s attack-the-zone, strike-throwing approach will give him a leg up in WHIP; the question is how well will the rest of his game translate to the big league level. Nola dominated in Double-A and was fairly successful in Triple-A (his final outing prior to his promotion skewed the overall numbers downward), but his stuff speaks less to a future ace and more to a mid-tier rotation starter. PECOTA’s 50th rest-of-season percentile projection of a 3.66 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP seems like a realistic baseline expectation. Nola isn’t a flamethrower by any stretch of the imagination, but something between seven and eight strikeouts per nine innings is possible.
In keeper and dynasty formats, Nola isn’t quite as appealing as some other pitching prospects still down on the farm due to the fact that his ceiling isn’t especially high. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Nola slotted in immediately as a strong SP4, but he likely won’t be better than a SP3 once he reaches his prime. The advantage with Nola is that if you are considering using a FAAB bid or waiver claim on him this year is that he is fairly likely to stick with the Phillies given his solid base of skills as well as the Phillies lack of internal options to replace Nola. The Phillies low win potential does make dampen Nola’s value in that category.
There aren’t too many big-time pitching prospects left in the high minors who are on the verge of a call up, so if you need an arm, you should bid somewhat aggressively in deeper mixed and NL-only formats. A $30-35 bid in NL-only isn’t out of line, and if you really need an arm (and play in a league with deep reserves where a lot of back-end starting pitchers are already stashed) a $40 bid might be what it takes. Although Nola won’t get to face his own Phillies, keep in mind that Philadelphia’s schedule does feature a lot of National League East opponents down the stretch. Facing the Mets, Marlins, and Braves in August and September is going to provide sneaky value to Nola that some are not building into his price. – Mike Gianella
- 90th percentile: 2.50 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
- 50th percentile: 3.66 ERA, 1.14 WHIP
- 10th percentile: 4.92 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
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