Draft recap Day 1: Aaron Nola Scouting Report, Matt Imhof notes.
The Phillies got their wish Thursday night as a few surprises (the biggest of which In more ways than one was the Cubs’ selection of Kyle Schwarber at #4 overall) ahead of them freed them up to take the guy they’ve been targeting all along, LSU right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola. Nola, who turned 21 just a few days ago, has dominated SEC competition for the past two years, posting sub-2 ERAs in both 2013 and 2014.
Scouting-wise, the 6’1”, 180lb Nola is thin and loose, possessing one of the draft’s quickest arms. It allows him to generate above average velocity from his smaller frame. While there’s room for weight to be added to Nola’s stringy body, he looks more to me like the type of guy who stays relatively thin for good. But it matters not, as Nola’s lack projectability is not what got him drafted #7 overall. This isn’t a guy who needs years to hone his craft and build his body, much of that is already here.
“That” is a package that includes an above average fastball that sits in the 90-93mph range and touches 96 with some armside run thanks to Nola’s unusually low arm angle. It includes a presently fringe-average curveball in the 76-80mph range that flashes a full grade higher than that at times. While I’m not as enthused as others are about the curveball’s pure grade (it’s a tad slurvy for my taste), I wouldn’t be surprised if it played up in the pros thanks to, again, Nola’s unusually low arm angle which makes it difficult for right-handed hitters to pick up the ball out of his hand since he’s essentially releasing the baseball behind them. Lest ye be concerned about how left handed hitters will feast on a pitcher with such a low arm angle, Nola’s best secondary pitch is his changeup, which I think will be a 60-grade, bat-missing phantom at maturity. For dessert? Present average command and control that projects a half grade higher, maybe all the way to plus if you’re really optimistic about it. The optimists point to Nola’s insane college statline. When you combine his sophomore and junior years, Nola struck out 249 and walked just 44 in 235 innings of work against the best conference in the country.
That’s one hell of a package, folks. Even if Nola loses some juice off his fastball as a result of pitching once every fifth day instead of once a week (most pitchers do but Nola’s a biomechanic freak and might be an exception, which I’m getting to), you’re still looking at, conservatively:
50 curveball that might play up vs righties due to the arm angle
That’s a solid #3 starter and there’s nothing wrong with that. Is he safe? No. He is a thrower of baseballs and is therefore automatically unsafe. I’ll acknowledge that Nola is a risk due to the sheer fact that he’s a pitcher. But, just for posterity’s sake, what other holes can we poke in Aaron Nola’s game and can Aaron Nola answer those questions?
First question: This guy is smallish (6’1”) and has a low arm slot. That fastball is going to come in pretty flat. Might he be homer prone? You know, like you think Severino Gonzalez, whose scouting report you need to write you lazy fuck, is going to be?
Answer: It’s possible. It’s hard to find another big league starter this size, with this arm slot. The only two I can think of are Madison Bumgarner and Justin Masterson who are both much bigger than Nola and who have pronounced, early-delivery stabs back toward second base that extend the arm early. Nola’s delivery is more violent. But I digress. I think Nola’s command, deception and horizontal movement will be enough to offset how little plane his fastball has. Besides, Clint Hulsey has done some rudimentary work on whether or not fastball plane really matters when it comes to missing bats and he’s found that horizontal movement is more important.
Question: Speaking of that arm angle, how does Nola get on top of the ball enough to get any vertical drop to his curveball?
Answer: I’m not totally sure but he does it just enough to get some depth on it. It isn’t great, and it’s really more of a slider than a curveball as far as I’m concerned, but the uniqueness of his delivery helps keep hitters off of it, especially righties.
Question: Those mechanics looked fucked up. What’s with that? Is that a concern?
Answer: They do looked fucked up and yes it’s a concern but if anybody truly knew what kinds of deliveries got pitchers hurt and which didn’t they’d have become an industry rock star on the spot. Unless a delivery is really beautiful or really violent, I don’t typically concern myself with it with any real depth. And even then, injuries are pretty random. Max Scherzer, who had the most violent mechanics I’ve ever seen on a college arm, had a few nicks here and there but hasn’t blown out completely and has had a great career. Neftali Feliz, who generated 100mph velo with more ease than I’ve ever experienced, is currently broken, having lost two full grades off his fastball. It’s worth noting that Nola is double-jointed. I’m not going to pretend to know whether or not that’s going to help or hurt him. All I can say is that he hasn’t had a history of arm trouble.
Question: Are lefties going to pick him up early because of the arm angle?
Answer: The changeup and his glove-side command of the fastball will help mitigate platoon issues. Learning to backfoot the breaking ball will help a bit, too.
Again, I think this is a #3 starter and the same people who knock the pick because it’s “safe” or whatever vaguely negative adjective you want to use are the same people who would have bitched if they would have taken someone “toolsy” or “athletic.” I’m on record as saying that I would have taken Jeff Hoffman from ECU, who would have been #1 on my board before his injury, but I like Nola too much to trash the selection in any way.
The team’s second round pick was Matt Imhof.
Another college arm, the 6’5” Cal-Poly lefty features an average fastball that will touch 92mph. Imhof’s size and very vertical arm slot give him tremendous plane on his naturally-cutting heater. The breaking ball shows some promise but doesn’t project as a swing-and-miss pitch. The changeup, which has the splitter movement you’d expect from this arm slot, is a bit behind but also has some room to grow. Imhof isn’t a terrific athlete and can struggle with control. It’s a backend of the rotation profile for me and, while I like Imhof a little bit, thought it was a bit of a reach when considering who else was on the board. An inning-eating backend starter is a terrific outcome for your second round pick, but I’m a tools whore that would have been more attracted to higher upside players who fell due to signability or rawness.