Following one of my favorite late round picks of the 2010 class in Drew Permison is…
#43: Justin Nicolino
19 years old / 6’3″ 160 lbs
Born: November 22nd 1991 in Orlando, Florida
Bats Left Throws Left
High School Team: University High School (wore #11)
Drafted: by the Jays in the 2nd rd, 80th overall, of the ’10 First-Year Player Draft. Signed for a reported $615,000 and his deal also includes the Jays paying for his education. He was signed away from a verbal commitment to playing College ball for Virginia.
Wears: #77 for the GCL Blue Jays
- Justin started playing baseball at age 7.
- Justin was actually in a car shop getting his engine looked over when he found out that the Jays had drafted him.
- Justin was said to have made a special purchase before the draft, as “Weeks before the draft, the hat collector bought a new Blue Jays cap.”
- Is friends with Dante Bichette’s son, Dante Bichette jr. and credits the opportunity to work out at their hom for some of the progress he made while they played for the Olando Baseball Academy together
- Was projected to be a 3rd or 4th rd pick before the 2010 draft.
- MiLB.com’s had ranked Justin as the 191st best prospect in the 2010 draft, making his pick 80th overall a jump up the board for him.
- N/A – Justin signed late and therefore did not pitch for the GCL Blue Jays in 2010.
Interviews / Videos:
Extra Information and previous experience:
- Justin is actually a decent hitter. During his last High School year, his hitting stats were: .259/58 ABs/ 15 hits/ 2 HRs/ 10 walks/ only 7 SOs/ a .394 OBP and .414 SLG
- His 2009 summer stats: 8 starts-2 relief appearances/ 41.2 IP/ 71 Ks/ average against .116
- His pitching stats during the 2010 season, much more important to the Jays, were: 4-2/ 44 IP/ 1.95 ERA/ only 3 doubles and 1 triple allowed as extra base hits – no HRs/ 74 Ks/ 8 BBs/ and 3 complete games
The first thing I noticed when I watched the 2 videos linked above is just how young and skinny Justin Nicolino is. The second thing I noticed is just how often he said that it was an honor to be drafted, that it was an honor to be drafted by the Blue Jays, and that it’s an honor to get a chance to play baseball. I got a sense that he respects the game, that he knows the hard road that’s ahead, and that he’ll do whatever it takes to get there. If he had given Jared and I some stats to work with, perhaps he would have made it into the top 30. In fact, if this were the rankings before the 2010 season, he may of made the top 20! But, with an influx of talent, most of it with data to work with and/or more experience, we placed Nicolino here in the 43rd spot.
The fact that we have him ranked 43rd is no knock on his potential or ceiling, it’s just an indication of just how much work he has to do before he’ll be a proven talent, and also how volatile High School draft picks can be. The Jays were bitten by the High School bug under JP Ricciardi for a short while when they drafted guys like Kevin Ahrens and Justin Jackson, and well, we all know how that’s working out thus far.
On to his stuff and repertoire. The best weapon Justin has in his arsenal is his ability to throw off speed stuff. Just as the recently traded Shaun Marcum was able to do, he can through a change up that will make a hitter’s knees buckle with anticipation. It’s an above-average pitch that he throws within the 70-76 MPH range that will be his go to pitch as he heads up the minors affiliates because so few minor league pitchers have such a commanding change up.
To go along with that change up, Justin also works in an average rated curve that is slightly faster than the change up – at 75-79 MPH – which he can also throw for consistent strikes. Just as with the change up, he’s able to locate it at any point in the count and isn’t afraid to throw it as such.
The make or break issue, if you believe that a good fastball is absolutely necessary, will be whether or not Justin will be able to keep hitters off balance by throwing his fastball often enough. Right now, he’s hitting 88-92 MPH with the fastball, which is a speed that doesn’t leave much room for error, particularly as you get higher up in the talent pool. Therefore, location will be the key for his fastball unless he can add some strength and velocity to it. That, by looking at his frame and age, is a strong possibility, so it bodes well for him to add at least a tick or two, which is plenty to be effective if he delivers to the spots.
As for his delivery itself, it’s reportedly smooth and very well repeated. David Rawnsley of Perfect Game Scouting Reports had this to say about Justin’s delivery:
"“He has an easy, well-paced delivery with a smooth left arm coming through.” and add that “Nicolino can consistently spot in the strike zone, even when behind in the count, a leftover quality from the days when he was a true crafty lefthander.”"
As anyone who has pitched will tell you, the competitiveness of a pitcher and what goes on between the ears is the majority of the battle once you know how to throw the ball well and have your pitch repertoire settled. That Justin already has 2 great off speed offering that are average or better works to his advantage, because he’ll be able to work harder on adding strength and on understanding what to throw when, and why.
I, for one, can’t wait to see what he is able to do against the GCL in 2011 and to see whether or not he gains a promotion to SS or LoA Lansing at some point in the season. If his off speed stuff is as good as advertised, there’s no reason to think he won’t do well and get a promotion as a result.
The added bonus for Justin is that he’ll be staying close to home, as is from Florida and will be in the GCL to kick things off. Even though he may head to some other areas for some time, Justin knows that once he hits HiA, he’s back in Florida while playing for Dunedin – where he’ll also visit for spring training when he’s invited. There’s nothing wrong with a little home time to help him feel at ease, and it may help him make an easier transition to the pros as a result. When you also know that any time you go home you can seek the help of a guy like Dante Bichette who has been there and done that, and you can also use his “facilities”, you know you’ve got the support you need to get it done.
Expected 2011 Team: GCL Blue Jays
Ultimate ceiling if he puts it all together: #3 starter, in the mold of a left-handed version of Shaun Marcum
That’s it for #43 Justin Nicolino! On to #42, as we continue on through our top 50 with yet another Jays pitching prospect to go over!