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  • Twins Draft Preview: Aaron Nola

    The six-foot-two Aaron Nola might not fire the fastest bullets among this year’s draft class but the right-handed junior out of LSU might be the most major league ready arm. But is a pitcher the organization's highest priority?

    Who is this guy?

    Nola, a graduate of Catholic High School in Baton Rouge, LA (that’s French for “Red Stick”), was an intriguing enough a prospect after his senior year of high school that the Toronto Blue Jays selected him with their 22nd round pick in 2011. At that time, the six-foot-two fungo bat was wheeling 92 mile an hour fastballs in Perfect Game events. Several rounds later, the Blue Jays took Aaron’s older brother Austin, a shortstop from LSU, in hopes of getting the family discount.

    Both Nolas delayed their professional careers at that time to play together in the storied baseball program in Louisiana. The younger Nola had a terrific freshman year among the elite competition with the likes of Mike Zunino, terrorizing pitchers with aluminum bats. For his part, Aaron Nola finished the year 7-4 in 19 games and 89 strikeouts in 89.2 innings pitched. Leading the Tigers staff that season was Kevin Gausman, who would be drafted fourth overall by the Baltimore Orioles (one slot behind the ball-killing Zunino).

    In his sophomore season, Nola combined with a future Twins prospect Ryan Eades to be the one-two punch for the Tigers that made it to the College World Series and finished with a 12-1 record, 1.57 ERA, and a 122-to-18 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 17 starts. After the CWS run, LSU’s coach, Paul Mainieri, noted that 22 professional scouts were on-hand to watch one of Nola’s intrasquad fall practice starts heading into 2014. So far this season he has not wasted anyone’s scouting budget -- maybe except if your organization is drafting outside the Top 10 however. Nola has racked up a 9-1 record with a 1.42 ERA and the best strikeout rate of his career (10.62 K/9).

    Why the Twins will pick him

    Nola possesses the kind of command that makes the Twins front office swoon.

    Yes, I know. Twins fans read that a pitcher has above-average command and immediately assume he pitches to contact. That’s not the case with Nola.

    Unlike the more recent pitching draft picks, Nola doesn’t have the power arm that Eades or Jose Berrios have but there is little question that his fastball is a significant weapon. With a slinging three-quarter arm slot, Nola is able to put on a lot of sink and generate plenty of missed bats while hovering at 90-92 miles an hour. The radar gun readings do not do his fastball justice however, as the sound is what makes hitters take notice.

    “It sounds like a loud whistle,” Sean McMullen, LSU’s designated hitter and outfielder, told the local media. “It’s as loud as anybody I’ve ever faced.”

    Beyond the fastball, Nola has an above-average changeup that is considered his best secondary pitch but he also has a developing breaking ball. His stuff isn’t overpowering but his deceptive delivery (there’s some good extension at release) and pitch movement show a polished pitcher who could be MLB ready real soon, as one anonymous cross-checker told MLB.com.

    Why the Twins won’t pick him

    There does not seem to be a real reason to not draft Nola at five if they want to target a pitcher unless one of the higher-upside arms like Brady Aiken, Carlos Rodon or Tyler Kolak somehow falls to them. And the Twins went pitcher/catcher in 2013 so there may be some gravitation towards position players like Nick Gordon or Alex Jackson (a catcher who may not remain a catcher).

    Nola has the stuff to rise quickly through the system but that might not be the Twins biggest need in 2014.

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    Comments 41 Comments
    1. whosafraidofluigirussolo's Avatar
      whosafraidofluigirussolo -
      "but there little question that his fastball is not a significant weapon"

      I don't think this means what you think it means...?
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      One word too many.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      I'm liking Nola more and more as the draft comes up. Even if he doesn't wind up as a big strikeout guy, his ability to limit walks seems like an 80-grade tool. (A tool that is also hard to develop.) For some reason, I am envisioning him coming out of this draft as the best pitcher by far, with teams kicking themselves for passing on him.

      If they were able to sign him for below slot at #5, they could take an overslot HS pitcher in the second round.

      The biggest reason not to draft him is that this might be the last chance the Twins have for a while to have this high of a high draft pick, and therefore it might be the last really good chance to get the SS of the future in a guy like Gordon.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      Here is a comp:
      Maddux: 6'0", 170lbs, RHP, Career rates of 6.1K/9 and 1.8BB/9, 8.5H/9, 0.6HR/9.
      Nola: 6'2", 170lbs, 9.4K/9, 1.4BB/9, 6.5H/9, 0.5HR/9.
    1. drivlikejehu's Avatar
      drivlikejehu -
      Quote Originally Posted by AM. View Post
      Here is a comp:
      Maddux: 6'0", 170lbs, RHP, Career rates of 6.1K/9 and 1.8BB/9, 8.5H/9, 0.6HR/9.
      Nola: 6'2", 170lbs, 9.4K/9, 1.4BB/9, 6.5H/9, 0.5HR/9.
      Yeah, fair comparison.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Nola reminds me of Jered Weaver. Easy slinging motion, pinpoint control. See how he bent that ball from just outside the zone to nip the inside corner? If that's typical of his command, then this guy is going to win a lot of games.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      I like Nola a lot. Admittedly, part of the reason is I don't want to wait 5 years for the pick to make it to the majors like Gordon will need. If one of the big 4 doesn't fall to us, then I'd be happy with either Nola or Freeland. But I'm still hoping for a surprise and nabbing Jackson.

      But we'll draft Gordon.
    1. LewFordLives's Avatar
      LewFordLives -
      You can never have too much pitching. I think the comments about this being the last time the Twins pick this high for a while are right on target. Don't waste this pick on some high school project. Go for one of the established college arms. As we've seen over the past week, the Twins are completely different team when they get even a little bit of pitching. Many of the pitching prospects they have now will get hurt or never pan out. Use this pick on another arm!
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by drivlikejehu View Post
      Yeah, fair comparison.
      Yeah, we have to take him. He is going to be one of the best pitchers of all time.

      I remember when Slowey received comps to Maddux because he didn't walk anyone.
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by LewFordLives View Post
      You can never have too much pitching. I think the comments about this being the last time the Twins pick this high for a while are right on target. Don't waste this pick on some high school project. Go for one of the established college arms. As we've seen over the past week, the Twins are completely different team when they get even a little bit of pitching. Many of the pitching prospects they have now will get hurt or never pan out. Use this pick on another arm!
      I think it comes down to how many k's will this guy get. If we think he will walk less than 2 batters per 9 and K over 7, I would come around a bit to drafting him at 5. I have read a few scouts say that he doesn't have that swing and miss pitch. The one pitch on this article looks great, but it was one pitch. My understanding is he has gotten better as the year progressed and has seen his stock rise, do scouts feel like that fastball or change up are now swing and miss pitches?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      I remember when Slowey received comps to Maddux because he didn't walk anyone.
      Comping a draft pick to Maddux is always a good place to start. No downside to comping a kid to one of the best pitchers of all time.
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      My understanding is he has gotten better as the year progressed and has seen his stock rise, do scouts feel like that fastball or change up are now swing and miss pitches?
      Callis and Mayo at mlbpipeline give him two plus (60) pitches and rank him #5 in the draft. (And plus command, too). That would make him a legit #2 type pitcher if he pans out.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      Comping a draft pick to Maddux is always a good place to start. No downside to comping a kid to one of the best pitchers of all time.
      OK, fine. It was a lousy place to start. I take it back! Plus, I really don't think Nola will be as good as Maddux.

      The downside on Nola, I think, is that he isn't tall enough, doesn't throw it fast enough, and doesn't have one dominating pitch. But if Nola can turn into a pitcher with 3+ K/BB rates, <9 H/9, and keep HRs down...wouldn't that be an exceptional pitcher?
    1. pierre75275's Avatar
      pierre75275 -
      If the twins took Nola at 5 what are the chances that one of Gatewood, Gordon or Turner is still available? Or if they took one of those three out are the chances they can still get a good pitcher equal to Nola at 46
    1. tobi0040's Avatar
      tobi0040 -
      Quote Originally Posted by gunnarthor View Post
      Callis and Mayo at mlbpipeline give him two plus (60) pitches and rank him #5 in the draft. (And plus command, too). That would make him a legit #2 type pitcher if he pans out.
      I have generally heard references to plus pitches being 65+, but I don't know if this is neccesarily an exact science.

      Fangraphs gives comps and stats that provide context to the numbers, but only on command and fastball velocity. For 60 command they give a BB rate of 5.7% and the comp is Rick Porcello. He has a career 2.2 BB per 9, which is very good. 60 fastball velocity averages 93 mph.

      I like the Porcello comp as a potential floor for Nola, career ERA 4.42 and FIP of 4.06. Porcello's ERA was hurt by the fact that he was starting at 20. But Nola should be around 2.2 BB Per 9, but the key is the K's. Porcello is at 5.5 per 9. If Nola can be in the 6.5-7.5 per 9 range I think he can be a #2 starter as well. Given a lower bust potential, if we think he can be that guy I don't hate the pick here, although Jackson and a higher upside arm intrigue me a little more.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-2...le-sabr-style/
    1. gunnarthor's Avatar
      gunnarthor -
      http://www.minorleagueball.com/2012/...3-4-5-starters

      That's from minorleague ball defining the terms when scouts talk about it. Baseball prospectus had something pretty similar although I don't have the link for it and Klaw uses similar definitions as well (ie - 60 = 6 = plus).

      I'd prefer Jackson to fall to us but it's unlikely.
    1. markos's Avatar
      markos -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      Given a lower bust potential, if we think he can be that guy I don't hate the pick here, although Jackson and a higher upside arm intrigue me a little more.

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/the-2...le-sabr-style/
      This is exactly how I feel - I don't hate the pick but would prefer someone else.

      Also, I'm bookmarking that link. Thanks for sharing.
    1. Macneil4025's Avatar
      Macneil4025 -
      I want Aaron Nola and its not even close! I'm not sure a Greg Maddux comp is fair, but a Brad Radke comp is more in line. Wouldn't everybody here discussing this agree a 2nd coming of Brad Radke would be more then welcome on the MN Twins!! Take him, develop Polanco & Santana at short!! You can never have enough quality pitching!!
    1. cmb0252's Avatar
      cmb0252 -
      Average is 50, above average is 55, plus is 60-65, plus-plus is 70+.

      As for Nola, I'm just not a fan. If the Twins want a 6'1-6'2 pitcher give me Grant Holmes because of his raw stuff. Maybe I'm just a sucker for stuff or maybe it is because rarely is fastest to the bigs/safest ever turn out to be accurate.

      Wimmers, Gilmartin, and Hultzen (no I'm not comparing stuff but the label all of them were given) injuries/set backs have stopped all three from quick to the big arms. Brian Johnson was given the same label in 2012 and he might actually live up to it. I just don't like when part of a players value is link to quickness to the bigs.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      Quote Originally Posted by tobi0040 View Post
      I have generally heard references to plus pitches being 65+, but I don't know if this is neccesarily an exact science.
      I think these "terms" are pretty well defined, actually:

      50=average
      60=plus
      70=plus-plus
      80=elite

      from Kevin Goldstein: (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/ar...articleid=4860)

      "A score of 50 is major-league average, 60 is above-average (also referred to as "plus"), and 70 is among the best ("plus-plus"). 80 is top of the charts, and not a score that gets thrown around liberally. 80s in any category are rare..."

      cmb0252's list is exactly how I use it. A 55 is "above average."
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