The next in a line of young arms that might get a chance to shine in the big leagues appears to be the Brewers' Jimmy Nelson. How close is he to being called up and what type of pitcher will he be when the decision is made to let him face big league hurlers? Ray Flowers investigates in his Player Profile series.
Baseball America had him ranked as the 96th best minor league prospect this year.
MLB.com had him ranked as the 83rd best minor league prospect this year.
Striding out of the cornfields, Jimmy Nelson stands 6'6” and weighs 245 lbs. He's a beast. A second round draft selection by the Brewers in 2010, the 25 year old righty hopes to earn a call up to start for the Brewers at some point in the near future.
2010: As a 21 year old he pitched 12 games at rookie ball. He had a 3.71 ERA, 1.61 WHIP and struck out an impressive 33 batters in 26.2 innings. Too bad he also walked 13 and gave up 30 hits.
2011: He made 26 appearances (25 starts) for Wisconsin of the Midwest League (Single-A). Nelson went 8-9 over 146 innings with a 4.38 ERA, 1.45 WHIP an a 1.85 K/BB ratio. He also tossed 13 wild pitches. Not very impressive.
2012: Spent time at High-A and Double-A ball. All told he threw 127.1 innings going 6-8 with a 2.83 ERA, 1.25 WHP and 1.92 K/BB ratio. Still way to many walks as he posted a third straight year with a mark of 4.0 per nine or worse.
2013: Made 27 starts between Double and Triple-A. He once again had a mediocre record (10-10) with as 3.25 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and 163 Ks in 152.1 innings. He inched his BB/9 mark down to 3.8.
2014: He's made 14 appearances (13 starts) in Triple-A. He's gone 8-2 with a 1.79 ERA, .095 WHIP and 3.56 K/BB ratio. He's got 96 Ks in 90.1 innings and impressively has cut his walk rate down to 2.7 per nine.
He appeared in four games last year with a 0.90 ERA and 0.70 WHIP over nine innings. This year he's made one start that went 5.2 scoreless innings (six Ks, three BBs).
Nelson throws both a two seam and four seam fastball that can sit in the mid 90's. Because of his height he generates a nice downward plain on his pitches that makes it more difficult for batters to square up his heat. He also throws a slider and change up, he needs to work on the change to help him attack lefties, something that has long been a bugaboo for him (in 2013 lefties had an OPS of .715 versus righties at .585 though he has done a better job against portsiders this year, no doubt). There's little doubt that he possesses the best stuff in the Brewers minor league organization.
A review of the above numbers shows that while talented and possessing a big arm, the big fella often has serious issues throwing strikes. The height and size he brings to the bump might be one of the main reasons while he struggles to repeat his mechanics, hence the lack of strike zone control. In fact, it's not until this season that he's really started to locate his pitches consistently. That has to be a concern. The guy has thrown 542.2 innings in the minor league and his walk rate per nine is 3.8. That's more than a half batter worse than the major league average. Have to also figure that his pure stuff simply dominates some of the over-matched hitters he's faced, so that number would likely be even higher against the refined approach of big league batters. The strikeouts are legit though. He's got 532 of those over those 542.2 innings, and he should continue to generate his fair share of punchouts in the big leagues.
Another thing about the fastball that generates all those strikeouts is the heavy action of it. He throws a sinking fastball that helps him to keep the ball in the yard. In 90.1 innings this season he's allowed a total of three homers and over 173.2 innings at the Triple-A level he's allowed five homers. That's it. Nelson is the proud owner of a nearly 55 percent ground ball rate during his minor league run. You couldn't find a guy more drastically different in allowing the big fly in Nelson from the guy he might be replacing in the Brewers rotation (more on that below).
PLAYING TIME CONSIDERATIONS
The Brewers rotation is solid, at least the top-4 are: Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Wily Peralta. The 5th spot is where all the trouble is. Marco Estrada has an 8.13 K/9 mark, walks only 2.81 batters per nine, and has a 1.28 WHIP. So what's the issue? It's the long ball. He's allowed, and this is staggering, 24 homers in 15 starts. The result is a 2.41 HR/9 and a 5.22 ERA. Everyone knows the homers will slow, even for a homer prone guy like Estrada, but at some point you have to look at the results and they suggest his removal from the rotation wouldn't be a bad idea. Who becomes the new 5th starter if a move is made? Could be Nelson, but it could also be Mike Fiers who is currently working out of the bullpen. In 11 starts in Triple-A he had a 6-3 record, 2.53 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 12.24 K/9 and 10.22 K/BB ratio. Read those numbers again before you blindly assume that Nelson would take over the 5th spot in the rotation if a move was made.
Nelson has a big arm, should bring the rain, and if he's able to locate his pitches down in the zone as he's usually done he should be able to have immediate success at the big league level. When will he be called up? That's the issue with his Nelson.
10 team lg: I say it all the time, if you're in a league this shallow, unless it's a keeper league, I just don't see much point holding on to a guy who is pitching in the minors.
12 team lg: Could take a risk here. When he's called up the FAAB dollars will fly. However, take note of what I wrote earlier. There is no certainty as to when he will be called up. For all his struggles Estrada has given the Brewers innings, and the homers simply cannot keep up at this pace. The Brewers are also winning, and teams don't always like to make changes when that is happening. Third, Mr. Fiers was fantastic in the minors this season so it's even possible that if the Brewers make a move that it would be Fiers, and not Nelson, who would be given a shot.
15 team lg: A strikeout per inning arm --- good luck finding too many of those on the waiver-wire. Nelson is worth the add if you can spare the roster spot.
NL-only: Has to be on someone's roster. If he isn't, rectify that mistake immediately.