Many Blue Jays fans will recognize Seaford, N.Y. native Sean Nolin as one of the top pitching prospects in the organization and a left-hander with an outside chance to win the 5th spot in the rotation out of Spring Training. But over at the Mets’ training camp there is another position battle underway for the 5th spot, and a similar left-hander trying to win a starting spot as well. John Lannan, who grew up only 30 minutes away from Seaford in Long Beach, N.Y., is a solid comparable to Nolin. Although Lannan has exceeded expectations at the Major League level before, both currently project as back-of-the-rotation starters and have similar frames at roughly 6’5” and 235lbs. Although, there is much more to this comparison than what meets the eye.
Both Lannan and Nolin began their careers as 20-year-old draftees out of College, and both proceeded to be baptized by fire. In 2005, Lannan posted a gut-wrenching 5.26 ERA to compliment a WHIP of 1.658, and in 2010, Nolin posted an awful 5.48 with a WHIP of 1.688. However, Nolin rebounded in the next season, his first-full season, to post a 3.49ERA with a much improved 1.228 WHIP, he also struck out batters at a phenomenal rate of 9.8K/9. He followed that up with two more strong campaigns in 2012 and 2013, posting ERA’s below 3 while consistently striking out over 9 batters per 9 innings. Lannan, on the other hand, also improved in his next minor league seasons but was never able to raise his K/9 rate above 7.5 and regularly hovers closer towards a rate around 5.
Nolin definitely has a much stronger ability to miss bats than his crosstown counterpart, but if they are so similar then where does that ability come from? The answer lies in their pitch repertoire, which on the surface is actually quite similar. They both feature a Four Seam Fastball (although Lannan also features a Sinker), to compliment a solid Change Up, Slider and Curveball. The difference lies in how fast these pitches are and in this regard Nolin comes out clearly ahead. Lannan works his fastball in around 88MPH, occasionally juicing it up to 90MPH, whereas Nolin’s fastball consistently ranges into the low 90MPH range and has even been clocked as high as 94MPH. The speed also translates equally into their secondary stuff as Nolin has shown he has the ability to throw an off-speed pitch for a strikeout, while (according to Brooks Baseball) Lannan has been forced to rely more on his Sinker to get outs.
If, in most instances, Nolin clearly stands out in comparison to John Lannan, then what has prevented Nolin from receiving more consideration for a Major League role? Lannan got his call-up to the big leagues in 2007, a little over two years after being drafted. Considering that Lannan is one of the few players to have been ejected from their Major League debut, it seems slightly unfair that Nolin only received one-inning of opportunity after spending nearly three years dominating the Minor Leagues. However, that opportunity could have accumulated much sooner if Nolin could stay as healthy as Lannan was over his minor league career.
Lannan was able to build on his innings total in each consecutive season, which helped him rise rapidly up the ranks in 2007. Nolin did increase his total innings from 2010 to 2011, but since then he has faced injuries that have limited him from continuing to build his innings. In 2012, he started the season strong and was having an all-star campaign for Dunedin when he was sidelined with a nagging lat injury. The injury limited him to almost 10 less innings than he had thrown the year before and he followed it up by suffering a groin injury during the following Spring Training, which forced him to begin the 2013 season on the Disabled List. Nolin was able to join the Dominican Winter League for another 26.2 innings over the offseason, which will hopefully provide him with the base he needs to build even more this season.
If John Lannan can be considered as a potential back-of-the-rotation starter, then Sean Nolin easily has middle-of-the-rotation potential. Nolin possesses better overall stuff, which has attributed to his ability to strikeout a significant number of batters over the past several seasons. He also has slightly favorable WHIP and BB/9 numbers in comparison to Lannan, which should speak positively to his chances of being able to translate his success at the Major League level. If he can prove to be the 200-inning-per-season type of workhorse that Lannan has shown he can be, then the sky is really the limit for the young 24-year-old lefty.