Saturday, January 17, 2015

Aaron Nola: Cajun Comin' Quick

In the Phillies rebuilding plan, pitching is key. And few of the prospect arms are more important to the plan than Baton Rouge, Louisiana native Aaron Nola.
Nola was the Phils 1st Round pick at 7th overall in last year's MLB Draft. A 6'1, 195 lb right-hander out of Louisiana State University, Nola came to the organization after excelling at his home state university.
The 3-year letter man at LSU followed his shortstop brother Austin to the school. "It's one of the best programs in the nation. Watching my brother for three years made me want to be..even more," said Nola about his college choice.
During his own three collegiate years, Nola went 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA and allowed just a .201 batting average to opposition hitters. He had a 345-52 K/BB ratio and allowed just 240 hits in 332 innings. 
Prior to LSU, Nola had been named the Louisiana Class 5A State Player of the Year in 2011 by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association, and was voted the state's "Mr. Baseball" winner as well. He led his school, Catholic, to the state's 5A crown in 2010.
At LSU, he was named a 1st Team Freshman All-American by Perfect Game in 2012. As a sophomore in 2013, Nola became the SEC Pitcher of the Year, was named a 1st Team All-American by Baseball America, and won the Corbett Award as the Best Amateur Athlete in Louisiana.
This all set up his even more spectacular junior year, where he won the SEC Pitcher of the Year for a 2nd consecutive season and was again a Baseball America and Perfect Game 1st Team All-American. 
"He is as fine of a pitcher that I've coached in my 32 years. He was everything you wanted in a pitcher." ~ Paul Mainieri, LSU baseball head coach
Nola was a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award in 2014, given to the best overall player in the collegiate game, and was named the National Pitcher of the Year by the College Baseball Foundation.
Nola has a big fan in his coach at LSU, Paul Mainieri. "He is as fine of a pitcher that I've coached in my 32 years. He was everything you wanted in a pitcher. You gave him the ball and he goes out and competes as hard as he can every night. The consistency of his performance from week to week can't be matched. He constantly met the challenges and got better. He gave you everything he had."
All of these achievements and accolades led to his selection by the Phillies in last June's Draft process. Following the selection of Nola, the club's director of player development, Joe Jordan was quoted: "We feel like this guy's going to be an important piece of our major-league rotation at some point in time, and it should be quicker than some."
After his signing, it was the Phils stated goal to get innings under Nola's belt at as high a level as he showed he could handle. He ended up pitching 55.1 innings combined at High-A Clearwater and at AA-Reading. 
"He’s already a damn fine prospect as is." ~ Josh Norris, Baseball America
Nola's 2014 finished up with a 4-3 mark across the two stops, with a stellar 2.93 ERA and 1.066 WHIP. He allowed 49 hits, including 8 longballs, with a 45-10 K/BB ratio.
Last month, I ranked Nola as the #4 prospect on the TBOH Phillies Top 10 Prospects list. That was absolutely no slight to him at all. While some took offense to the rank, it was more a nod to the talents of the top three. That entire group of four are clearly the club's best hope for the future at this stage.
Baseball America prospect analyst, Josh Norris, commented "He needs to get more consistency on his slider. When his arm slot drops, the pitch flattens out. They also would like to see his change up improve. He’s likely to head to Reading again this year to work on just that. He’s already a damn fine prospect as is."
Nola is indeed slated to begin the season back with Reading. In a perfect world, he would continue to excel there, make a dozen or so starts into June, and force a promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley. This would put him just a step away from the Phillies rotation.
Cliff Lee is almost certainly entering his final spring with the Phillies. Either he will be healthy and traded, or will breakdown again physically and be finished. Cole Hamels is likely to remain on the trade blocks. The rest of the Phils 2015 pitching options are complete question marks.
Aaron Nola is a Cajun who is coming quick. He and Zach Eflin should provide Reading Phillies fans a dynamic 1-2 punch.

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