As many of our regular readers have probably noticed, we’ve taken a bit of a break from the Toronto Blue Jays’ 2014 Top Prospects list during the past couple of weeks. This wasn’t our intention but there’s just been so many other things going on that it was temporarily pushed to the back burner. I’m sure some of you were even starting to wonder if there would be another three (plus) month gap between profiles like last year.
Well I’m here to promise you that this won’t be the case. So without further ado, let’s get back to business as we return with #4 on this year’s list, left-handed starting pitcher Sean Nolin.
Name: Sean Nolin
Position: Left-handed pitcher
Date of Birth: 12/26/1989 (24)
Acquired: 6th round of 2010 draft
High School: Seaford HS (Seaford, NY)
College: San Jacinto CC, TX
Height/Weight: 6’5″/235 lbs
Awards and Accomplishments:
- Previously ranked #5 by Jays Journal
- Ranked Blue Jays #5 prospect by Baseball Prospectus
- Ranked Blue Jays #10 prospect by Baseball America
- Ranked Blue Jays #10 prospect by FanGraphs
- 2013 MiLB Organizational All-Star (Left-handed starting pitcher)
- 2013 Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star
Stats and Analysis:
His well-publicized poor first start at the major league level aside, the 2013 baseball season was yet another successful one for the less large than before left-handed pitcher.
He finished the 2012 season at Double-A and continued at that level to start last season. Performance-wise, he was nearly as good as Top 50 prospect Marcus Stroman and nearly matched him in strikeouts (10.0 K/9 compared to 10.4 K/9) and K/BB ratio (4.12 to 4.78). Both players tied a New Hampshire Fisher Cats record with 13 strikeouts in one game. Nolin actually did a better job at keeping the ball in the park and allowed half the rate of home runs as Stroman.
Nolin’s very good K/BB rate and low amount of home runs made for an impressive FIP of 2.69, which was slightly better than his ERA of 3.01 at Double-A. His BABIP wasn’t abnormally low either and was maybe even a bit higher than you would expect at .333. He’s a fly ball pitcher and had nearly twice as many air outs as ground outs last season. Watching Nolin pitch in Buffalo I felt he was leaving the ball a bit up in the zone but it has seemed to work for him so far. Whether or not he will continue to get away with that location at the MLB level is open for debate.
Speaking of Buffalo, Nolin started three games for the Bisons at the end of last year and despite seeing a drop-off in his K/BB rate (over a very small 17.2 IP sample size) was generally successful with a 1.53 ERA and 1.302 WHIP. He finished the year playing winter ball for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican League, where he threw another 26.2 innings and pitched to a 3.38 ERA.
Video by Prospect D2J www.mlbprospectportal.com
Nolin throws out of a 3/4 arm slot and has a smooth, quick delivery to the plate. He mentioned that after he lost weight he felt quicker and stronger to the plate, with less effort required out of his delivery. Marc Hulet of FanGraphs says “Nolin needs to do a better job of leveraging his height to create a downward plane on the ball in an effort to work down in the strike zone on a more consistent basis.”
Pitch Arsenal Breakdown
Nolin usually works with his fastball in the low 90’s but his velocity will range anywhere from 88-95 MPH. It has a bit of natural arm side run and he will also throw what looks more like a sinker with more horizontal and vertical movement, primarily in the high 80’s. He can throw his fastball to both sides of the plate but sometimes doesn’t work down far enough in the zone.
The changeup is probably Nolin’s best off-speed pitch, which Hulet calls an above average offering. Jason Parks of Baseball Propsectus also likes the arm action of Nolin’s change, which he throws in the low 80’s. His slider (mid-80s) and curveball (mid-70s) are both considered to be average pitches at best and lack any real devastation but good pitchability do help them play up a bit.
Nolin has good control and can throw all of his pitches for strikes but is still working on consistently commanding his offerings. The fact he lacks a plus fastball means that for the most part he will need to hit his spots and mix batters up in order to get outs at the major league pitcher.
Risk, Outlook and ETA
Nolin has already made a couple of appearances in spring training this year and in all likelihood will be assigned to Triple-A Buffalo to begin the year. Hindsight is 20/20 but it probably wasn’t a very good idea for the Blue Jays to call up Nolin last year since they were forced to burn the first of his three option years by sending him back down to the minors. With only two options left, the Blue Jays may be tempted to leave Nolin in the minors until near the time rosters are expanded in September.
There isn’t much risk when it comes to Nolin but there also isn’t a tremendous amount of upside either. That’s not necessarily a bad thing since it looks like he should be able to step in as an effective back-end starter for the foreseeable future. It might not be the most exciting of projections but quality back of the rotation left-handed arms are fairly sought after by big league clubs, which should keep Nolin employed in the Show for years to come.