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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