Miami Marlins pitching prospect Justin Nicolino had a solid start Monday for Double-A Jacksonville, leading the Suns to victory over the Birmingham Barons. Nicolino threw five innings, allowing three hits and two runs, walking nobody and striking out one. He has now allowed three runs or fewer in every start dating back to May 24th, never failing to pitch at least five innings and usually going six or seven, including an old-fashioned nine-inning complete game shutout on June 21st.
In 18 starts for Jacksonville, he is now 8-2, 3.18 ERA, 3.49 FIP with a 48/12 K/BB in 108 innings, allowing 100 hits. His control is outstanding and he's walked just five guys in his last ten starts covering 64 innings. Control like that covers a lot of sins and his pitching instincts are unquestioned, however there is a valid worry about the very low strikeout rate; he doesn't have the extreme ground ball ratios to ease sabermetric discomfort about the lack of bat-missing.
Between this year and 2013, Nicolino has now made 27 starts at the Double-A level, with a 3.66 ERA, 3.40 FIP, and a 79/24 K/BB ratio in 155 innings. I don't think the 22-year-old has much left to learn in the Southern League, and if I were the Marlins I'd be looking to move him up to Triple-A soon. The Pacific Coast League will be a challenge for him, but we need to see how his arsenal (88-92 MPH fastball, curve, changeup) works against more experienced hitters.