It is September and the Milwaukee Brewers are 20 games out of first place. That makes it easy to ignore what's going on in Milwaukee, but fantasy owners and general baseball fans should keep this name in mind as we move towards 2014: right-handed pitcher Jimmy Nelson.
Nelson pitched college baseball at the University of Alabama. He struggled with command issues as a freshman (6.26 ERA, 37/29 K/BB in 42 innings), but improved as a sophomore (4.54 ERA, 39/20 K/BB in 38 innings) used mainly as a reliever both seasons. He moved to the rotation for his junior year in 2010 and improved significantly, posting a 4.01 ERA with a 98/33 K/BB in 110 innings. There was some question on his long-term role, but his stuff was strong and he was drafted in the second round.
Assigned to Low-A Wisconsin in the Midwest League for 2011, Nelson posted a somewhat disappointing 4.38 ERA due to command troubles, though he pitched 146 innings with a 120/65 K/BB. Moved up to High-A Brevard County in the Florida State League for 2012, he showed better control, posting a 77/25 K/BB in 81 innings with a 2.21 ERA. Promoted to Double-A Huntsville in July, he had some adaptation issues but held his own overall, posting a 3.91 ERA with a 42/37 K/BB in 46 innings.
Nelson returned to Huntsville for 2013 and improved a great deal, with a 72/15 K/BB in 69 innings. This got him an invite to the MLB All Star Futures Game, as well as a promotion to Triple-A Nashville. He ran up a 3.67 ERA in 83 innings for the Sounds, with a 91/50 K/BB and 74 hits allowed. He's thrown three scoreless innings so far in the majors.
Born June 5, 1989, Nelson is a big guy at 6-5, 245. He had problems keeping his mechanics in gear early in his career, but has made a lot of progress making his delivery more consistent, enhancing his command and control. He has needed time to make adjustments at each level: the general pattern is a spike in his walk rate when he is promoted, but it comes back down again as he gets used to the competition.
His stuff is certainly good enough: he can hit 94-96 with his four-seam fastball, 90-93 with nasty sinking action when he goes with two seams. Even when his command is off, he keeps the ball down and gives up very few home runs; walks are his weakness, not gopher balls. His slider is very good, and he's improved his change-up from quite weak to at least workable and sometimes better than average.
Nelson eats innings and has a workhorse body. He still had some occasional mechanical issues in Triple-A, but PCL sources were impressed with his stuff and he is certainly ahead of where he was two years ago in the Midwest League. Although he hasn't been spectacular, his development has been steady and consistent.
Assuming that health problems don't crop up and he continues to progress with his command, Nelson has the ability to become a mid-rotation starter. Don't expect Nelson to dominate immediately, but given a proper chance to adjust, he should be valuable. I think his profile is similar to fellow Milwaukee Brewer Wily Peralta. Peralta hasn't been great this year, but he's flashed ability and clearly has the potential to get a lot better. Nelson should be similar.