Prospect Retro: Ricky Nolasco
Ricky Nolasco was drafted by the Cubs in the fourth round in 2001, out of high school in Rialto, California. He didn't get much attention since he was overshadowed by Cubs first-rounder Mark Prior, but Nolasco's pro debut was brief but impressive, with a 1.50 ERA and 23/5 K/BB in 18 inning for the Arizona Rookie League Cubs. He threw 90-93 in high school with a strong changeup, but lack of a good breaking ball kept him out of the first three rounds. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2002 book, which is a good grade for a rookie ball guy without a top draft rating. I wrote that he "could move quickly."
Nolasco pitched for Boise in the Northwest League in 2002, going 7-2, 2.48 with a 92/25 K/BB in 91 innings. He still showed the same fastball and changeup, but his curveball improved and scouts liked his pitching instincts. I raised him to Grade B- entering 2003.
After a strong spring training, Nolasco began '03 in the Florida State League, skipping low-level A-ball. He was brilliant, going 11-5, 2.96 with a 136/48 K/BB in 149 innings, 129 hits alllowed. Scouts continued to praise his pitching instincts and three-pitch arsenal gave him a Grade B+ entering 2004.
Nolasco began 2004 in Double-A and got off to a fast start. Promoted to Triple-A in May, he was crushed at Iowa, giving up a 9.30 ERA and 68 hits in 41 innings. Scouts said he didn't seem to trust his stuff as much against better hitters. Sent back to Double-A, he was hit hard at times down the stretch, finishing with a 3.70 ERA though also a 115/37 K/BB in 107 innings for West Tennessee. His velocity was down towards the end of the season and there was concern he might not be healthy. I lowered him to Grade C in the '05 book, though in retrospect that was way too low, I should have cut him to B or B-, not all the way to C.
Returned to Double-A in 2005, he spent the entire season there, going 14-3, 2.89 with a 173/46 K/BB. I moved him back up to Grade B. Reports were that he'd lost a small tick off his fastball, 89-92 now rather than 90-93. But he also reportedly had his confidence back. In December 2005 he was traded to Florida along with Reynel Pinto and Sergio Mitre in the Juan Pierre deal.
Nolasco spent all of 2006 in the Marlins rotation and did fairly well. He was plagued with injuries in '07, but is healthy in '08 and pitching quite well. In 272 innings he has a 4.43 ERA and a 192/79 K/BB with 287 hits allowed. This year alone he is 10-4, 3.74 with an 82/29 K/BB in 111 innings, 104 hits allowed.
His performance this year is in line with what you'd expect given his minor league markers of strong K/BB and K/IP ratios. If he stays healthy, he should remain an effective pitcher for a long time to come. From a player development perspective, his failure at Iowa in 2004 may have been a good thing, since it forced him to face adversity and gain command of his emotions as well as his pitches.
2001 First Round High School Pitchers
Macay McBride, LHP, Braves
Kris Honel, RHP, White Sox
Jeremy Sowers, LHP, Reds (did not sign)
Dan Denham, RHP, Indians
Colt Griffin, RHP, Royals
Mike Jones, RHP, Brewers
Jeremy Bonderman, RHP, Athletics
Gavin Floyd, RHP, Phillies
Nolasco is better than most of those high-profile '01 draft day prep pitchers. Scouting is difficult!