Aaron Nola: Next Impact Prospect?

Jul 21, 2015; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Nola (27) throws a pitch during the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Citizens Bank Park. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

For the 2015 Philadelphia Phillies, there have not been very many bright spots. The former perennial NL threats, have gone through both managerial, ownership and personnel drama over the last few years.

While the storyline of their season has been widely been focused on the return that Cole Hamels will eventually bring, that does not mean there are not some exciting narratives to follow in a lost season.

The cast of characters that have made up the Phillies rotation have been uninspiring to say the least. The combination of Aaron Harang, Sean O’Sullivan, Jerome Williams, Kevin Correia, and David Buchanan have had Phillies fans feeling horrified. Thus, Phillies fans were clamoring for some kind of sign or player that is capable of not getting absolutely shelled every time they step on the mound.

I think most Phillies fan had their sights on one guy in particular that was tearing it up in the minors. The Phillies 2014 first round pick, seventh overall selection, Aaron Nola looked the part and his debut was vastly overdue. 

Nola was great in college, where he led LSU’s staff nearly as soon as he was placed in the rotation and as a result catapulted himself into the top of the 2014 draft. After his selection in the draft, he went on to pitch extremely well at both Double-A Reading and for the Triple-A Iron Pigs.

Between the two levels in 2015, he has 10 Wins, a 2.39 ERA, 92 K’s, and a 7.6 SO/9. Clearly the results where there, and for a guy that was not supposed to make an impact until 2016, he has certainly found his stride.

The thing that separates Nola from most top prospects, is that Nola does not have overpowering stuff. On one hand you have a prospect like Noah Syndergaard that throws a gazillion and has hard breaking off-speed offerings. But, at this stage he is more of a thrower and often finds that he pitches himself into trouble. On the other hand, you have Nola who tops out around 93, but his pitching approach and natural movement on his pitches has been the key to his success.

While his upside might be capped at a number 2 or 3 starter, it is clear that he can have success in this league as long as the movement and command stay the same and even progresses as he gets older. At this time he is mainly a fastball and curveball pitcher, and once in a while sprinkles in a changeup which is not fully developed yet.

I like Nola’s arsenal and pitching approach going forward. For the 2015 season though, I still want to give Nola one more start before I anoint him a must have on the waiver wire. Nola was able to find success against the Rays, 6 IP, 1 ER and 6 K’s. A very solid line and quality start, something that is always a welcome addition via the waiver wire, but the Rays are hardly an offensive juggernaut. 

Nola’s next opponent, for me, will be the best indication of his value for this season. Nola gets the loaded Blue Jays lineup for his next start and he gets them in Toronto where they have produced tremendous stats.

Now I know it can be futile to grade a guy on only one start per say, but for a movement and deception based pitcher like Nola, seeing his stuff go against the best lineup in baseball, will go a long way in how I value Nola going forward.

If Nola can even go for five innings and only give up three runs, I will take that as a win and consider him a waiver wire add. But, if he gets absolutely rocked, I think all fantasy owners should take a step back from the hype and excitement that surrounds him and wait and see how he can rebound.

Nola has all the tools to become fantasy relevant in 2015 and going forward. At this point, I am just advising fantasy owners to take a cautious approach, as we all want to find the next big fantasy prospect. Monitor his next start, if he succeeds act fast, an if he falters just stay the course and exhibit patience.