A Ray of Sunshine in Philadelphia: Aaron Nola
Life hasn’t been easy for Philadelphia Phillies fans this year as they have seen their team lay claim to the worst record in baseball at 26-48. This terrible season has been backed up by a run differential of -122 essentially stating, “Yes they do deserve to be this bad”. All is not lost though as we have seen a great rookie campaign from former top prospect Maikel Franco and current top prospect J.P. Crawford has been excellent for the Reading Fightin’ Phils. Without a doubt though the most impressive player in the Phillies organization has been last year’s 1st round selection Aaron Nola.
When the Phillies selected Aaron Nola 7th overall in 2014 I was one of the first people to criticize the pick. I thought that it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for a team that was so far away from competing to select a quick rising college pitcher out of LSU when they could have taken a higher ceiling less polished arm like the injured righty Jeff Hoffman or three sport stud lefty Sean Newcomb. Let’s just say that after watching Nola perform this season I have changed my tune.
Nola is not an overpowering pitcher by any means, he stands a very average 6’1” and weighs about 200 lbs. Nola throws from the right side and relies on a fastball, curveball, and change-up. His fastball sits in the low 90’s, his strikeout pitch is his curveball, and his change-up can be at times inconsistent. What he possesses in spades, which separates his seemly pedestrian physical gifts, is his polish and poise coupled with command beyond his years. Nola is far from a thrower already—at just 22-years-old he is a full on pitcher.
Since entering the minor leagues shortly after being drafted in 2014 Nola has dominated the competition. Over his 25 career minor league starts Nola has posted a 2.30 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 118 K’s over 144.2 IP. Over that same period of time Nola has walked just 21 batters. This control around the zone has been his carrying tool and should continue to help him perform beyond what you could normally expect from someone with his tool kit. Nola is able to place his fastball wherever he wants moving the pitch around the zone at will and has shown the ability to throw his high 70’s sweeping curveball in any count and for strikes.
As you can see from the above chart, all of Nola’s pitches have some sinking action to them and work not only to strike batters out but when they are hit they produce an above average amount of groundballs and weak contact. As our colleague at The Dynasty Guru and owner of the blog philliesminorthoughts.com Matt Winkleman says, “Guys rarely square him up”. His ability to create so much weak contact has persisted through the upper minors and over his second stint in AA and his first taste of AAA we have seen his K/9 rise as well.
Nola will not be an ace in the traditional sense or a guy who can strikeout batters in droves. His plus durability and excellent command will ensure that he should throw 200 innings or more every year and strikeout round 175-190 batters per season. Nola has the upside of a number two starter whose worst case scenario is hard to envision being any lower than a low end three. His command is not going anywhere and he should be extremely helpful in both ERA and WHIP. Although playing his home games in Citizens Bank Park can be daunting, his ability to place his pitches mitigates a lot of my concern about the long ball.
Nola has had two extremely impressive starts at AAA since moving up and could see some time with the Phillies in September. Since they are not in any rush to compete you can expect them to take their time with his service clock. Nola, Crawford, and Franco coupled with the return they expect to get from moving Cole Hamels should provide Phillies fans plenty of excitement to look forward to in the future but in the mean time Reading and Lehigh Valley might be the more exciting places to watch Phillies baseball.