Player: Aaron Nola
Drafted by: Philadelphia Phillies
DOB: 06/04/1993 (Age: 20)
Height/Weight: 6’2”, 196 lbs.
School: Louisiana State
Previously Drafted: 22nd round, 2011 (Toronto)
Aaron Nola was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 22nd round of the 2011 draft out of high school, but he instead decided to honor his commitment to Louisiana State. Now, three years later, the right-hander is expected to be one of the first pitchers to come off the board on June 5.
Nola made an immediate impact for the Tigers as a freshman, as he posted a 3.61 ERA and stellar 89/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 89.2 innings while making 17 starts. The right-hander quietly emerged as one of the top pitchers in the nation the following year—and after Kevin Gausman’s fourth overall selection in the 2012 draft—as went 12-1 with five complete games, lowered his ERA to 1.57, held opposing hitters to a .188 batting average and posted a ridiculous 122/18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 126 innings. Furthermore, right-hander averaged at least seven innings over his 17 starts.
This season it’s been more of the same for Nola, who will celebrate his 21st birthday the day before the draft, as he’ll enter the NCAA tournament boasting a 10-1 record, 1.49 ERA, .173 opponents batting average and 127/26 strikeout-to-walk. Nola was also named in early May to the 30-man watch list for the 2014 USA Baseball Golden Spikes Award.
While there certainly are other pitchers in this year’s class with better stuff and a higher ceiling, none come close to matching Nola’s track record of success against top-flight SEC hitters over the past three seasons.
Full Scouting Report
Note: Numerical scores are on the conventional 80-point scouting scale, with the current score first and projected score second.
Nola has good strength and athleticism to his 6’2”, 196-pound frame; some room for physical projection; delivery is clean and efficient; works from incredibly deceptive three-quarters arm slot; ability to repeat release point is both advanced and impressive; very durable despite wiry frame and arm angle.
Fastball velocity has steadily improved during career at LSU; works consistently in 90-93 mph range and has scraped 94-95 this season more regularly; velocity plays up thanks to deceptive slot and jumps on opposing hitters; generates impressive arm-side run; 65-grade projection is fueled by his plus-plus command of pitch rather than velocity.
Breaking ball is average with the potential to gain a full grade; shows good feel for the pitch, throwing it in the 78-82 mph range with depth and tight rotation; could be a bat-misser and out pitch with refinement in the minor leagues; throws pitch in a variety of counts and locates it to both sides of the plate.
Better feel for changeup than most pitchers in the class; arm angle and release point aids his effectiveness of the offering, as does his ability to set it up with well-located fastballs; registers in 82-84 mph range with good arm-side fade; already demonstrates advanced command of pitch.
Consistently around the plate with entire arsenal; leaves the zone by design; present feel for locating pitches to all four quadrants will only improve; feel for pitching is unparalleled among peers.
Command is and will always be Nola’s bread and butter; dude is polished; consistently throws three big league quality pitches for strikes and masks everything with big-time deception; outstanding feel for his craft; has shown capacity to make swift adjustments.
MLB Player Comparison: Jake Peavy
Nola has long received comparisons to Jake Peavy for his low three-quarters angle and plus-plus command of three potentially above-average-or-better pitches.
Projection: No. 3 starter
Major Leagues ETA: Mid-2015
Chances of Signing: 99 percent
Nola doesn’t have a ceiling like some of the other promising arms in this year’s class, but his outstanding command of three legitimate offerings and overall feel for pitching could make him the first in the group to reach the major leagues. It’s nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which the 21-year-old doesn’t sign after coming off the board early in the first round.