- 5) Justin Nicolino – LHP – 11/22/1991 (20) – 6’3″ 185 lbs.
Although he does not possess the explosive fastball velocity that some of the other pitching prospects on this list, Justin Nicolino earns his bread with his great command and plus-changeup. Drafted out of high school in the 2nd round in 2010, Nicolino had a great professional debut in 2011 with the Vancouver Canadians earning himself a late-season promotion to the Lansing Lugnuts.
In his first year of full-season ball, Nicolino did not disappoint. He continued his great success by striking out nearly a quarter of the batters he faced while walking less than 5%. He started the year sharing a rotation slot with fellow pitching prospect Aaron Sanchez in a piggy-backing system which allowed the Jays to coax a full season out of their young starters. By July, Nicolino and the others were given their own spots in the rotation as they got up to 5 innings per outing.
- Fastball (FB) – sat at 89-93 mph, touches 94 mph (Jared Macdonald)
- Changeup (CH) – sits 83-84 (Jared Macdonald)
- plus changeup with good deception (Jared Macdonald)
- throws it high and low (Jared Macdonald)
- Curveball (CU) – sat 75-79 (Jared Macdonald)
Nicolino’s has a smooth, repeatable delivery which should help him maintain his command as rises through the system. Though his bread and butter is his command, Nicolino still has the potential to add a few ticks of velocity to his fastball given that he is still quite lean at 185 lbs on his 6’3″ frame. He’s put on around 25 lbs. since he was drafted but could still add more. Not that he needs it because he’s been successful thus far without an electric heater.
Of the prominent talent evaluators, John Sickels of MinorLeagueBall.com probably likes him the most as he ranked him as a B+ prospect prior to the 2012 season and recently had him ranked 45th on his midseason-2012 Top 120 prospects list. While Nicolino has a lower physical ceiling than fellow prospects Syndergaard and Sanchez, it didn’t stop Sickels from predicting that Nicolino could be in the ‘A-range’ after 2012 and it will be interesting to see how he ranks him after the season he had.
Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked him as the 86th best prospect in baseball prior to 2012 and thinks he will move quickly through the Jays system because he pitches like a college arm, rather than a recent high school draft pick.
When questioned on the development timeline of the Lansing 3, the Blue Jays front office signalled that it preferred a cautious approach with teenage pitching prospects hence why they had them piggybacking through June and keeping them at Lo-A for a full season when they were outmatching their opponents. They did stipulate that as the teenagers entered their 20s, they’d be more aggressively promoted as can be seen with the promotions of Henderson Alvarez and Drew Hutchison to the Major League rotation have shown.
Nicolino will likely begin next season in the Dunedin rotation with a chance at New Hampshire midseason. His great command and devastating changeup should remain potent weapons at both of those levels. Considering the team’s aggressive promotions for pitching prospects recently and Nicolino’s advanced feel for pitching, he could be the first of the Lansing 3 to make the leap to the big leagues even if his ceiling is not quite as high. He could become a productive mid-rotation starter for the Blue Jays as early as 2014 depending on the needs of the ball club.