Sean Nolin: Next Blue Jays Savior?

It’s been well documented that the Toronto Blue Jays’ season hasn’t exactly gone as planned. A rash of injuries to the veteran pitching staff has created a number of holes. Those gaps have been difficult to fill with competent contributors because the organizational depth was compromised in an effort to beef up the big league product. It’s been speculated in the Toronto media that pitching prospect Sean Nolin, currently at the Double-A level, is viewed by the Jays front office as the next-in-line for a promotion, should the need arise.

Toronto has made a few moves this year that could be considered desperation moves and the promotion of Nolin may not be in the best long-term interests of the club or the young pitching prospect.

From a business standpoint, Nolin doesn’t have to be added to the 40-man roster until after the season. If he gets called up this year — prior to roster expansion on Sept. 1 — it presumably won’t be to stay so he’ll burn his first of three option years. Perhaps more importantly, the southpaw opened the year on the disabled list and has made just three starts in 2013, as well as just six starts above A-ball (including last year) for his career… Just how ready is he for The Show? I watched his second start of the year on May 12 and have some observations to share.

The Game

Nolin, 23, face the New York Yankees Double-A affiliate, which featured some talented but inexperienced young prospects. He looked a little rusty early on, which was not a surprise considering his season didn’t start until May 7. His full windup lacked fluidity in the first inning but got better as the game went on.

Early on, the left-handed pitcher struggled with his fastball command and the opposing hitters were having some really good hacks on his offerings. He was also not throwing his curveball for strikes on a consistent basis. The good news is that those issues should be correctable. At least part of the issue was due to Nolin’s mechanics. His body was drifting forward, causing his arm to drag behind him and messing with his release. It improved as the game progressed and once he stopped rushing through his delivery, although he’s a naturally-quick worker.

Nolin doesn’t do himself any favors with his delivery because he ends his follow-through in a very poor fielding position and I watched two catchable bouncers get past him. By landing in a more favorable position, he could potentially snag or knock down a lot more ground balls.

In general, his delivery suggests to me that he’ll never have better than average command. I would give his low-90s fastball a potential 50 grade and his curveball a 55-60. He didn’t use his changeup much at all in this game and I would have a tough time putting a fair grade on the offering. Based on what I saw (keeping in mind this was just his third start on the year), I would have to rate Nolin as a future No. 4 starter. He doesn’t look ready for the majors but another 10-15 minor league starts could make a world of difference.

Other Players of Note:

As of May 19, outfielder Kevin Pillar had the second highest batting average (.341) in the Double-A Eastern League behind Washington’s Anthony Rendon. He also had 10 more hits than the next closest hitter (61 vs 51). In this game, the outfield prospect showed a wide, well-balanced stance. He also utilized a level, line-drive swing with quick hands. His 2013 numbers are definitely not a fluke, and his swing is geared to making contacting with gap power. His overall tool set – including speed and defense – is average and he looks like a future big league fourth outfielder who could probably be even more if he had more natural talent in center field.

I was interested to see how two Yankees prospects — Tyler Austin and Slade Heathcott — handled Double-A, but came away underwhelmed with both outfielders. The players lacked energy — especially the latter prospect, which was shocking considering his reputation for being a hard-nosed player. Both young hitters struggled with breaking balls. Heathcott swung through a hanging curveball with a full count, while Austin took an average breaker for strike three. Finally, I saw Nolin’s mound opponent, Jose Ramirez. I won’t go into detail, as our own J.D. Sussman will be penning a detailed looked at him later this week, but I was impressed with the young pitcher. He made a veteran-heavy Double-A lineup look limp.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Sean O
11 years ago

Any thoughts on Ryan Schimpf? Older guy, but he’s been posting great numbers since the start of last year.

11 years ago
Reply to  Sean O

I was interested in Schimpf too. He was posting pretty impressive numbers to start but has tailored off a bit (OPS down to .830 and only .669 in May).

The one thing that caught my eye was his L/R splits so far this year:

Vs. L .279/.389/.574/.963
Vs. R .160/.327/.407/.734

I have a feeling that’s what’s holding him back. If that were the other way around, we’d have something to talk about. I have no clue if those splits extend back further but that’s clearly hurting him.