After dominating Northwest League hitters in his pro debut with short-season Vancouver last season before bring promoted to Low-A Lansing, Justin Nicolino has been receiving a lot of attention on various prospect lists over the last few months. Add Frankie Piliere (@FrankiePiliere), national baseball analyst for FOXSports’ Scout.com, to the list of those who have been quite impressed with the 20-year-old southpaw.
In his latest article, Piliere is quick to put Nicolino’s dominant outing against Yankees minor leaguers into perspective. “He was up against the Yankees’ Low-A Charleston RiverDogs squad, a team loaded with top hitting prospects that has been tearing through most of the pitchers they’ve seen this spring,” he writes. That group likely consisted of top prospect Gary Sanchez and other highly-regarded youngsters like Mason Williams, third baseman Dante Bichette Jr. and Ramon Flores.
As most already know with Nicolino, he doesn’t dominate with his fastball velocity, but it’s the command and the development of his off-speed pitches, specifically his changeup, that make him so effective, especially against the inexperienced hitters that he has been facing. That assessment fell right into line with Piliere’s latest assessment, as Nicolino sat consistently between 89 and 91 miles per hour with his fastball but dazzled his plus-changeup.
“This is clearly his best pitch and is currently a 60 on the 20-80 scale and flashes 70 potential. It’s going to be a true plus-plus offering at the next level and he already shows tremendous command of it,” Piliere says. “It has so much fade and diving action that he’s comfortable throwing it to lefties as well.”
Even though his curveball is still relatively slow and currently an average offering, it’s hard not to be excited about Nicolino given his changeup, makeup and command. The left-hander was unknown to most Jays fans just one year ago, though we conseratively ranked him at No. 43 on our pre-2011 top 50 prospects list.
If you think that he’s shot up on this year’s list, you’re absolutely right, so we’ll have more in-depth information on him when that article rolls around. Without saying too much, Nicolino could pull a Drew Hutchison this year and motor his way right up to Double-A before season’s end.