Draft Preview: Aaron Nola

(Photo: Bill Feig/AP)

Aaron Nola
School: LSU
Position: RHSP
Height/Weight: 6’1”/196
B/T: R/R
D.O.B.: 06/04/1993
Previously Drafted: 2011- 22 (679) by Toronto Blue Jays

Scouting Reports:
High School:
“Nola resembles former LSU recruit Jeremy Hellickson, as his out pitch is a devastating changeup that earns plus grades from scouts now. Nola has had health issues, with a sports hernia that cost him weight and time in 2010 and shoulder tendinitis that slowed him in 2011. He came back strong, throwing strikes and sitting with average velocity at 89-91 mph this spring. His lower slot is better suited to a slider, but Nola is still throwing a below-average curveball”. –Baseball America in 2011.

College:
Aaron Nola’s best asset may be his fastball command, which can be pinpoint accurate, and helps his arsenal to play up. His fastball is low to mid 90’s and he can top out at 96 according to Baseball America with good movement. BA notes that Nola has been featuring his slider more this season and it has improved to the point that it can be considered at least average. This has resulted in an increased K/9 this year. However, the increased slider usage has perhaps been to the detriment of his change, which is BA say is no longer the plus offering that it once was, but it could return to that level again in the future. He doesn’t offer much in the way of physical projection or upside.

Baseball America’s Aaron Fitt offered the scouts view from Nola’s start from May 22 “He ran his fastball up to 95-96 mph in the first, settled in at 92-94 and held that velocity all the way through the eighth inning. He threw his 79-81 mph slider for strikes, and the pitch was particularly effective when he threw it on the inside corner against righthanded hitters, because his low slot, extension and the depth of the pitch make it look like it’s coming right at them, before crossing the plate. And he mixed in his 83-84 mph changeup effectively, often for groundball outs against lefties. As usual his command of his entire repertoire was pinpoint after that first inning.”

“Nola isn’t physical or overpowering, but he has exquisite command of his three-pitch arsenal. He effortlessly works at 91-93 mph with his fastball, which plays up because his low three-quarters arm slot produces sink and he can locate the pitch wherever he wants. His changeup is his best secondary pitch, grading as plus at times, and he can throw his three-quarters breaking ball for strikes”. –MLB.com

Scouting Grades:
Note: these grades are my summations based on all readily available scouting information from sources such as Baseball America, MLB.com and ESPN (Present/Future, 20-80 scale):

Fastball: 55/60
Slider: 50/55
Change: 50/60
Command: 60/65
Overall: 60

Prospect Overview and Future Outlook:
Aaron Nola is generally considered to be the most polished prospect in the 2014 draft class, with a high floor and the possibility of being the quickest to the Majors. That may not sound particularly exciting, especially at #3, but if you can take him and sign him for below slot money (which is not guaranteed), it would give the Sox an option to implement a different draft strategy. Keith Law also reported that Kenny Williams and Jerry Reinsdorf had been out to watch Nola recently, but these reports turned out to be false.

I’m not a big fan of Nola and wouldn’t consider him at #3, even if it was for below slot money. I am very concerned about his ability to strike batters out at the next level and he looks like a #3 starter at best to me. If the Sox want a college pitcher and Rodon is off the board I prefer Evansville’s Kyle Freeland, or even the injured Jeff Hoffman (draft previews on both to come soon). After watching supposed “safe” prospects in Lance Broadway and Kyle McCulloch fail, I think many Sox fans, perhaps me included, are a little weary of guys like Nola with this type of profile.

Jim Callis at MLB.com recently made the comparison between Nola and Mike Leake. He wrote “Neither is extremely physical, and both stand out for their ability to command their pitches rather than any particular plus offering. Leake was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, and Nola will go in the same range this year. Leake was the first player from his Draft class to get to the big leagues, and Nola is a good bet to do the same.” He continued to say that he believes Nola has a higher upside than Leake though as both his fastball and changeup are better than Leake’s offerings, but Nola’s ceiling is still that of a “good No.3 starter.”

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