Continuing The Times-Tribune’s annual countdown of the top 15 Yankees prospects. I rank 20 prospects, Donnie Collins ranks 20 prospects, and then we average them together. The list takes into account ETA for the big leagues. You’re going to find some guys who might not have ceilings as high as others, but who instead could be in a position to help the Yankees sooner. Since they’re so new to pro baseball, 2018 draftees are not included on the list.
Nick Nelson has an electric fastball with heavy sink. He strikes out more than 10 per nine innings, but also walked more than four per nine last year. He should be Rule 5 draft eligible after this year, so this is a big season for him.
Position: Starting pitcher
Acquired: In the fourth round of the 2016 draft out of Gulf Coast Community College (Panama City, Fla.)
SWB ETA: 2020
Pitched in three levels of the minors, but spent most of the season at High-A Tampa where he went 7-5 with a 3.36 ERA. With the Tarpons, he struck out 10.1 per nine innings and walked 4.8. He got three starts with Double-A Trenton, but pitched just 8.2 innings and walked nine, struck out 10 and allowed 10 hits.
Here’s some video of Nelson:
— NYYPlayerDev (@NYYPlayerDev) February 16, 2019
Below, Donnie and I discuss why Nelson lands at No. 12 on the list, what’s good about him and what might need work.
CF: I think yesterday I said to you that you could lump Nelson, Garrett Whitlock and one more guy coming up in the list together and they’d be pretty interchangeable prospect-status wise. Nelson is another college guy, but unlike Whitlock, the Yankees invested a higher-round pick (fourth) on him. He’s got a really sweet fastball. The thing really, really moves, which tells me that, at worst, he’s going to be a factor in the bullpen. You’d like to see him lower the walks, but you’ve also got to like how many strikeouts he gets for someone who you’d think profiles as more of a ground ball pitcher.
DC: If you see him on video, he clearly gets a lot of sink on that fastball. But he doesn’t have a ground ball percentage that makes you think that’s what he is. Maybe that changes this year, because he’s still learning. He wasn’t a full-time pitcher in college, and the strides he has made in just a few years in the system have been incredible. His fastball is mid-90s and looks it. He can dial it up to 98, and it moves around. Plus he has a hammer curveball. He’s in that D-Rob, Loaisiga mold to me. Big question with him is the third pitch though.
CF: Yeah, that ground ball percentage surprised me, too. It’s not that it’s bad, it’s just weird for what you see his fastball doing. I think you have to assume that it levels out. His BABIP at Tampa last year was .301 and .304 at Charleston, which you’d think means he was running into at least a little bit of bad luck. I really like that he was able to cut his walks in half from his first year to his second, but the numbers (4.5 BB/9 in 2017, 4.7 BB/9 in 2018) didn’t continue to trend downward last year. You probably can’t be striking out more than 10 guys per nine innings and walking nearly five and expect to last too long in your starts. In fact, starting 25 games (he pitched in 26 total) and going just 121.2 innings would seem to be a sign of that.
DC: It’s do-or-die time for that third pitch. He has been working on a change. He’s been working on a slider. Neither are very consistent. I wonder if they try to have him work on a cutter or something like that, just so there is something to justify keeping him long-term in the rotation. But you know as well as I do what his stuff indicates right now. He can be a really dominant reliever.
15: Phillip Diehl
14: Stephen Tarpley
13: Garrett Whitlock
12: Nick Nelson
7: March 24
6: March 25
5: March 26
4: March 27
3: March 28
2: March 29
1: March 30
Photo: New York Yankees