Rookie left-hander Sean Nolin makes his major league debut this evening for the Toronto Blue Jays. Nolin didn't receive a lot of notice outside Blue Jays circles pre-season, but he's a solid prospect and a worthy subject as Friday's Minor League Ball Prospect of the Day.
Nolin was drafted by the Jays in the sixth round in 2010, from San Jacinto Junior College in Texas. Signed for $175,000, he posted a 6.05 ERA in 19 innings for Auburn in the New York-Penn League after signing, allowing 25 hits but posting a 22/9 K/BB ratio. Moved up to Low-A Lansing in the Midwest League for 2011, he didn't receive a lot of attention but performed well, with a 3.49 ERA and a 113/31 K/BB in 108 innings with 102 hits allowed. I saw him pitch that summer and he showed enough for me to mark him as a pitcher with potential and give him a Grade C+ in the 2012 Baseball Prospect Book. At the time, I felt he could become a fifth starter or a useful relief arm.
Sent to high-A Dunedin to begin 2012, he pitched extremely well with a 2.19 ERA and a 90/21 K/BB in 86 innings. He made three late starts for Double-A New Hampshire, going 1-0 with a 1.20 ERA and an 18/6 K/BB in 15 innings. I had him rated a solid Grade B in the book this year, and ranked him fourth on my pre-season Toronto Blue Jays Top 20 Prospects List. Other sources were less impressed: Baseball America, for example, had him ranked 19th in the system.
Since being activated from extended spring training earlier this month, Nolin made three starts with a 1.17 ERA and a 16/5 K/BB in 15.1 innings.
Overall, in 246 professional innings Nolin has a 2.92 ERA with a 263/73 K/BB with 223 hits allowed. He's had very little trouble with minor league hitters since leaving short-season ball and has been particularly dominant since reaching Double-A.
Nolin is a big 6-5, 235 pound lefty, born December 26, 1989. He threw in the 80s when drafted and was at 87-92 when I saw him for Lansing back in '11, but his velocity has picked up steadily and he's more consistently in the low-90s now. He has three usable secondary pitches with his curveball, slider, and changeup. The changeup was the best of these pitches two years ago, but recent reports indicate he's been concentrating on using his breaking ball.
Sabermetrically, Nolin has put up a strong set of numbers, better than many prospects with better press clippings. The scouting consensus is that he can be a useful number four starter. That seems reasonable to me; keep in mind that calling any minor league pitcher a future major league number four starter is a complement, not an insult.
All that said, Nolin has improved quite a bit over the last three seasons, and further progress gives him a chance to be better than commonly anticipated.