Prospects on the Verge: Sean Nolin


Feb 25, 2013; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Sean Nolin (71) against the Boston Red Sox during a spring training split squad game at Florida Exchange Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

Sean Nolin has been undervalued much of his career. After being drafted out of high school in the 50th round of the 2008 draft, Nolin decided to go to San Jacinto Junior College. He was then drafted again in 2009, two rounds earlier, before again deciding to return to school. Finally he improved to the point where he was drafted in the 6th round in 2010 by the Toronto Blue Jays. The jump in draft position may be attributed to the 35.2 more innings he threw in 2010 than in 2009 as well as the better quality of those innings: in 2010, his ERA dropped from 2.72 to an impressive 1.98 and Nolin cruised to a 12-0 record. This improvement saw him jump 42 rounds forward but still put him behind several other pitchers taken by the Jays that year. The Blue Jays first four picks in the 2010 draft were Deck McGuire (11th overall), Aaron Sanchez (34th overall), Noah Syndergaard (38th overall), and Justin Nicolino (80th overall). After signing for a bonus of $175,000, he spent the bulk of his time playing in Short-Season A, where he posted a less than impressive walk percentage of 9.8%, while allowing hitters to hit .309 against. The young lefty had a lot to prove.

Nolin came out throwing 88-92 MPH with his fastball but has been known to ramp it up to 94/95 MPH at times. His changeup sits at 80-82 MPH. Throwing his deceptive changeup with the same arm speed as his fastball, it is the best pitch in his arsenal. He uses his height to his advantage, throwing downhill well and keeping the ball down in the zone. Despite keeping the ball in the yard, he is a fly ball pitcher, allowing 31% of batted balls to be fly balls in 2013, which might not fit well at Rogers Centre. He has good command, can pitch to both sides of the plate but seems to get too fine when working against good hitters. Even though he has been a strikeout guy in the minors, he wasn’t fooling anybody with his fastball in his brief outing in the Majors, as he gave up two singles and a double off his fastball, in 1.1 innings of work. He also throws a slider and curveball, which both aren’t Major League offerings yet. He has shown he can throw a good curveball, but can’t do it with consistency.

In 2011, Nolin pitched a full season in Lansing (A), in which he logged 108.1 innings. These innings were of better quality than the Short-Season A ones, as he cut his walk percentage by almost three percent and held hitters to an impressive .248 batting average. He also marginally improved his strikeout percentage. He showed improvement from the previous season, something Nolin was accustomed to after getting drafted higher and higher in three consecutive drafts. Each offseason Nolin seems to come in an improved player. In an interview with Clayton Richer of the Baseball Hot Corner, Nolin attributed his growing success to simply “throwing more strikes”.

Fast-forward to 2013 and he again showed improvement after starting the season over a month late due to a groin injury. Once he came back, he located his fastball and kept his walk percentage to a respectable 6.5%. This was a touch lower than his strong 2011 season with Lansing (A), except this time around he was facing AA competition for New Hampshire. His injury made him a AFL (Arizona Fall League) candidate but the Jays decided on the DWL (Dominican Winter League), likely due to the possibility of more innings. In the DWL, he recorded 7 starts, and totaled 26.2 innings. He pitched well, posting a 3.38 ERA and struck out 24 batters. He pitched a total of 138.1 innings between the 2013 season and the DWL.

Nolin has been known to work hard in the offseason, so to rule him out as a rotation candidate isn’t right. Ever since his days at San Jacinto, he has improved. To go back to school after being drafted and move up in the draft is incredibly hard, considering how scouts devalue players based on age. By giving him a taste of the Majors and sending him to the DWL, the Jays have shown that they think he can get somewhere. Whether or not you believe in him, it’s hard to bet against him with how many times he’s proved people wrong so far. Even if he isn’t a considered for this year’s rotation due to the amount of players already out of options with Spring Training invites, I would expect him to carve out a successful career at the Major League level. With his size and repertoire, it’s hard to see him not making it at a starter. Despite being overlooked during the draft and his time in the minors, he managed to make his MLB debut well before fellow draftee and first round pick, Deck McGuire.