Jimmy Nelson’s Rising Stock

Does Jimmy Nelson have the best pure stuff in the Brewers organization? The answer is yes, or at least that’s what a source who has closely followed the right-handed pitcher’s career told me. And after hearing that, my curiosity was piqued — especially after Nelson faltered in the second half of 2012 and posted a 7.24 BB/9 in his first taste of Double-A.

Video after the jump

I talked to Nelson about his early struggles. “I ran into command problems the second half as a combination of adjusting to the league and missing a month with shoulder fatigue and inflammation,” he told me. Now healthy, the 23-year-old has posted better than a 5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio through his first four starts.

Against a Chattanooga Lookouts roster headlined by Dodgers prospect Yasiel Puig, Nelson didn’t flinch. For five innings, he attacked hitters with a power fastball/slider mix that resulted in eight strikeouts and no walks. In one inning, Nelson tried to overwhelm Puig — a right-handed hitter — with multiple sliders. The result was another K for Nelson. “You can’t be intimidated or scared by good hitters,” Nelson said. “As soon as you fall behind a guy like [Puig], he’s likely to square something up pretty good. You have to pitch to your strengths.”

Those strengths include a four-seam fastball at 94 mph to 95 mph that has late tail away from left-handed hitters. Nelson peppered the strike zone with the pitch, though he’ll need to sharpen his command to the corners before he reaches Milwaukee. For now, though, it’s not a concern. “The pitching coaches have been trying to get me to use my pitches over the plate and trust my movement instead of trying to trick somebody or make a perfect pitch,” he says.

Nelson also threw a two-seam fastball at 92 mph with similar movement to that of his four-seamer, only it was more exaggerated.

Nelson presents with easy velocity and a strong, durable frame. At 6-foot-6, his ability to work downhill makes his fastball difficult to elevate. The result is a ground-ball-heavy arsenal with swing-and-miss stuff from a slider that flashes plus.

The slider generally sits between 85 mph and 87 mph — and touched 88 mph — and features sharp, late break down-and-away from right-handed hitters. Unlike most pitchers who start the pitch middle-out and cut it to the corner of the plate, Nelson threw a handful of sliders at the front elbow of right-handed hitters. This handcuffed more than one Lookouts batter who was forced to bail out before the slider broke across the plate’s inner half.

My only concern about Nelson’s arsenal is a perceived lack of confidence in his changeup. “I threw five changeups,” Nelson told me of the game I saw him pitch. (I clocked him at 84 mph on the one offering I measured.) “It’s a pitch I have, and it’s a good pitch for me. Sometimes, in games, I feel I can execute [another] pitch a little bit better, but it’s a pitch I trust as much as my two fastballs and slider.”

This sentiment was backed by a scout who’d seen Nelson pitch earlier and said the changeup was a potential plus pitch.

At a time when one would expect fierce competition to reach Milwaukee, Nelson is also working to share his second-half experiences with other members of the pitching staff that includes former first-round pick Taylor Jungmann. “Knowing what to expect I can explain things to him (Jungmann), so he doesn’t have to face those same troubles I faced last year,” Nelson said. “The coaches help us get better, but players have to take advantage of other players’ experiences, too.”

After scouting him as two-pitch closer candidate, learning about Nelson’s changeup leaves me confident in his ability to develop as a starter at the major league level. Fellow Brewers pitcher Wily Peralta passed through the Southern League at a younger age, but he didn’t have the same quality of stuff Nelson does now.

Through the first month of the 2013 season, few pitchers are off to a better start than Nelson. Rank top prospects in the Brewers organization today and the right-hander is in the running for the top spot. And with a glut of upper-level pitching prospects with mid-to-back-of-the-rotation ceilings, Nelson is achieving success and is separating himself from the pack.

We hoped you liked reading Jimmy Nelson’s Rising Stock by Mike Newman!

Please support FanGraphs by becoming a member. We publish thousands of articles a year, host multiple podcasts, and have an ever growing database of baseball stats.

FanGraphs does not have a paywall. With your membership, we can continue to offer the content you've come to rely on and add to our unique baseball coverage.

Support FanGraphs




Mike Newman is the Owner/Managing Editor ofROTOscouting, a subscription site focused on baseball scouting, baseball prospects and fantasy baseball. Follow me onTwitter. Likeus on Facebook.Subscribeto my YouTube Channel.

newest oldest most voted
FirstBleed
Guest
FirstBleed

Brewers haven’t had much success with pitchers in the minors since Yovanni graduated. Not that any of these guys are Aces in the making but you have to think 1 or 2 of the following could end up a solid 2-3 in the Majors: Jungmann, Hellweg, Thornburg, Nelson, Bradley, Pena… not to mention recent grads: Peralta, Rogers & Burgos. That’s a lot of depth, or are they all just good RPs?

Yoshi
Guest
Yoshi

Not Mike obviously, but I like Peralta a lot more than the others. After this report, I might like Nelson as much as Peralta too. Jungmann looks like a back-end guy who can’t K guys but gets strong groundball rates. Hellweg is a reliever unless he improves his control exceptionally. Thornburg’s straight fastball plays up better out of the ‘pen where he can sit at 95 and blow the ball hitters instead of 92-93 where he is homerun prone. Bradley was a mess last year; no comment yet. Pena has similar control issues as Hellweg.

I think Peralta could become a #3, and he looked like a #2 last year in September locating his fastball that sat at 94-95 and throwing his slider for strikes. Jungmann could become back-end guy. Hellweg and Thornburg fit better in the ‘pen, although Thornburg has an outside chance to become a #3 if he starts commanding his fastball. Pena probably ends up a reliever. Burgos could become a back-end guy. Rogers can’t stay healthy ever.

I believe its mostly depth and not a lot of top-line prospects. Peralta the best, maybe Nelson after hearing this review.