Next in our preview of players the Mariners might draft is Aaron Nola, mocked to the Mariners at #6 by Baseball America's John Manuel. Nola is perceived by some to be the second most desirable college arm available behind Carlos Rondon, but others have him falling to the middle of the first round. Manuel states that the Mariners may be interested for the following reasons.
As we wrote last week, Conforto is an intriguing local option here for the Mariners. The organization's pressing need for pitching, however, which is heightened by the loss of 2011 first-rounder Danny Hultzen to shoulder surgery, means a fast-moving college pitching target makes more sense. No college arm other than Rodon will move more quickly than Louisiana State's Aaron Nola.
Aaron Nola, RHP, LSU
While previously previewed prospect Tyler Beede has command issues, it certainly isn't a problem for Nola, who carries an excellent 5.22 K/BB ratio through the 2014 season. Unlike Beede, he's also been tremendously effective with a 1.42 ERA through 14 starts, striking out 10.62 K/9. He has zero wild pitches.
Nola has it together at the college level, but some question if his stuff is quite as good as Beede's. He also doesn't possess the typical power pitcher body that Beede does, standing in at 6'1'', 196 lbs. He doesn't quite throw as hard either, tossing a two-seamer that sits mostly in the lower 90s. He pairs that up with a curve and a change. It's a standard arsenal, and he generates a lot of ground balls with it.
As you can see from the video below, Nola's delivery is below three quarters, really coming in at more of a two thirds angle. There's not a lot of wasted motion here, though the low delivery reportedly causes him to hang his curve from time to time, via The Good Phight's preview of him a few months ago. Scouting reports all around tend to gush about how Nola "knows how to pitch," and hits his spots, changing eye levels and putting batters away with efficiency.
Brace yourselves, because you've heard this one before -- Nola is considered to be a fast-tracked pitcher, a starter that could reach the bigs in a relatively short period of time. Given the Mariners' decimation of the big three pitching prospects, Nola could be an attractive piece to replenish the organization's upper pitching depth, which has been ransacked or will soon graduate. In fact, Nola is routinely compared to Mike Leake, who made the leap directly from the draft back in 2010 after being selected 8th overall. Neither have power pitcher frames, and both were control artists their junior years, Leake at Arizona State.
Jim Callis at MLB.com answered some questions a few weeks ago, and one of them compared Nola to Leake. Here's his response.
There are some obvious similarities between Leake and Nola. Neither is extremely physical, and both stand out for their ability to command their pitches rather than any particular plus offering. Leake was the eight 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.
Leake, the most recent player to begin his professional career in the Majors, has been steady in four-plus seasons with the Reds. He has gone 44-32 with a 3.95 ERA in 121 games (116 starts) and won a career-high 14 games in 2013. Leake is a quality No. 4-caliber starter.
Nola has more upside than that. Leake doesn't have a consistently above-average pitch, while Nola has two potential plus offerings in his fastball and changeup. He has what it take to be a good No. 3 starter, a notch above what Leake is.
Nola seems like a match for the Mariners, who have dipped into the college pool in early rounds over recent years. He could fill a back end of the rotation need, and might not take long to get there. With a GM on the hot seat, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Mariners reach for somebody who can contribute before somebody else might get fired. Plus, Nola has already played for the Mariners in the Cape Cod League.