With the Philadelphia Phillies short on bright spots this season, any hope the fans still maintain lies in the future of the organization. The 2014 MLB Draft was a major part of that future with Aaron Nola, No. 41 on the Grading on the Curve Top 50, being at the center after being selected seventh overall.
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Nola’s reputation as highly-advanced for his age meant it wouldn’t be long before the Philly faithful would see him in the majors.
In his first professional season after being draft, Nola recorded a 2.93 ERA with 45 strikeouts in 55 and 1/3 innings. After being denied the chance to compete in big-league camp, Nola was sent to Double-A where he leads a Reading Fightin Phils’ rotation that also includes recent acquisition Zach Eflin.
With expectations high it wouldn’t have been surprising to see a young pitcher fall prone to the pressure. Instead, Nola has taken the bull by the horns.
Nola’s first major league spring training appearance gave a glimpse of what is on the horizon. Yielding five hits while striking out four across three shutout innings, Nola pitched like a veteran against a team full of veterans in the New York Yankees. Notably, he caught the eye of Yankees’ designated hitter Alex Rodriguez whom Nola struck out during the game. “Good arm. Power slider. Power changeup, I think he has a bright future”, Rodriguez told CSNPhilly.com.
That arsenal of pitches that Rodriguez mentions is why Phillies’ fans are hopeful. Unlike most young prospects Nola has excellent command of his three best pitches. He has a plus fastball that can reach the mid-90s which he locates well in the strike zone. He also throws what is best termed as a “slurve” as it gets so much late movement that it looks like a slider or curve on different occasions. His control of his change-up is what sets him apart. Most young players have issues throwing a change-up let alone using it as one of their top options during an at-bat. It’s effectiveness against lefties is far more evident, but it should become more effective against right-handed hitters as he gains more experience.
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During his short period in Double-A this season, he’s continued that success, posting a 2.55 ERA and sparking .89 WHIP. Hitters are only batting .217 against the right-hander and possibly most impressive, he’s sporting a 9 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio in 24 and 2/3 innings of work. In his most recent start against the Richmond Squirrels, he gave up one earned run in seven innings and the Richmond lineup only batted .227 on balls in play. He may not keep up the pace, but his start could land him in Triple-A sooner rather than later.
For the Phillies, Nola’s future looks bright, but they know he needs further development across the board. “He’s a fast-track guy and there’s a reason why. He’s got pitch-ability that’s beyond his years. He’s got great poise. But he still needs work”, Phillies General Manager Ruben Amaro told CSNPhilly.com’s Jim Salisbury.
Even with his youth and inexperience, however, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Nola get a September call-up when rosters expand. With the Phillies rotation in flux and lacking difference-making talent, he could even be promoted before then should there be an injury. If he continues to progress, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him land as a long-term number three starter in the majors.