When the Phillies selected Louisiana State right-handed pitcher Aaron Nola seventh overall in last week's draft, many believed the Phillies were selecting the kid who had the shortest path to the majors. The 21-year-old Nola has been widely speculated to be the first player from the 2014 to make his Major League debut. The Phillies don't seem to be reputing that claim.
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb reports the Phillies have an aggressive plan for Nola. Now that Nola signed his first professional contract, he is expected to report to Clearwater in a few days to begin working out with the rest of the draft class. While most of the draftees will find themselves playing in Clearwater for the Gulf Coast Phillies, some will make their way up to Williamsport to play for the Crosscutters while one or two might even make it up to Low-A Lakewood.
Not Nola. Nola is expected to make his professional debut with the High-A Clearwater Threshers. If everything goes according to plan, Nola would be the first Phillies first-round pick to make his professional debut with Clearwater since Pat Burrell did so in 1998 after being selected No. 1 overall.
The right-hander from LSU has a strong fastball that sits between 93-95 mph and can hit 96 mph if he is charged up for the game. He has a 3/4 arm slot release but still manages to stay on top of his pitches giving him control.
The 6'1", 196 lbs. junior has one of the top fastballs in the entire draft and explains why he sports a 10.37 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio, up from his 8.71 K/9 he put up in 2013. While his K/9 went up in 2014 so hid his walks-per-nine from 1.29 in 2013 to 2.09 in 2014. The increase in walks is likely due to his increased use of his slider.
Nola does not rely solely on his fastball. He entered LSU with a plus-changeup that had a lot of sink to it which is one of the reasons the Toronto Blue Jays drafted him in 2011. The changeup looks like a fastball out of his hand which makes the deceptive pitch that much more difficult to hit. During his time with the Tigers, Nola got away from using his changeup in order to develop his slider which has become a true power pitch as well. Getting back to throwing the changeup consistently, in addition to his fastball and slider, will make Nola a top pitching prospect in a hurry.
One area of Nola's game that jumps off the page is not only his strikeouts but the amount of hitters he gets to swing and miss. That's a great sign for a player who projects as a starter when he moves into professional baseball. Even with losing a little touch on his changeup, Nola still possesses great command which should allow him to progress through the minor leagues at a faster rate than other high school arms.
Accolades are nothing new for the 21-year-old. He was selected as a First-Team All-American in 2013 by Baseball America, Collegiate Baseball, ABCA, Perfect Game and NCBWA while also being selected as a finalst for the 2013 National Pitcher of the Year.
Follow Steve on Twitter @SDolan3
Follow Whiz Wit on Twitter @WhizWitSports