May 24, 2013
After former teammates and other prospects were already congratulating him online, the Blue Jays officially announced last night that left-hander Sean Nolin, the club’s sixth round pick in 2010, would make his major league debut tonight at Rogers Centre against the Orioles.
After making his pro debut during his draft year, Nolin worked hard in the offseason to get in better physical shape and slim down. Doing so helped his overall performance on the mound the following year in 2011, when he started to put himself on the radar with the Lansing Lugnuts. There, he tallied a team-leading 113 strikeouts in 108 1/3 innings to go along with 3.49 ERA and 3.16 FIP.
At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, Nolin is an imposing figure on the mound with wide hips and long limbs. He throws almost over the top and on a good downhill plane, with good deception as a result of hiding the ball well. It’s been reported that his fastball has touched 94-95 miles per hour, but he normally sits 89 to 91 and keeps the ball down in the zone with the ability to paint both the sides of the plate when he wants to.
The first time I saw Nolin last year was in Dunedin on July 29, in his first outing since coming off the 7-day disabled list due to an aggravated lat muscle. On a limit of 40 pitches and coming out of relief for a rehabbing Brandon Morrow, Nolin earned the win after throwing 2 2/3 shutout innings with one walk and a pair of swinging strikeouts.
Nolin had been making waves in Dunedin long before late July, though, as he had already earned Florida State League Pitcher of the Week and Mid-Season All-Star honors thanks to a stellar first half of the season.
Nolin complements his fastball with three secondary offerings, starting with a changeup that sits right around 80 miles per hour, and the pitch is effective low and away to right-handed hitters given its good fade. Add that to a sweeping curveball in the mid-70’s and a mid-80’s slider with late bite, and Nolin’s got a nice arsenal to work with and to keep opposing hitters off-balance.
Darold Knowles, Nolin’s pitching coach with Dunedin, liked the southpaw’s fastball in particular.
“He’s probably a hell of a lot better pitcher than people give him credit for,” Knowles said. “He can spot the fastball pretty good, his changeup has been very effective.
“When he gets in trouble he just goes to the fastball and he’s been able to spot it. The fact that he’s left-handed he can sink it, he can ride it.”
Nolin’s strong 2012 season continued following a late-season promotion to Double-A New Hampshire, where he allowed only two earned runs in three starts, along with 18 strikeouts to six walks in 15 innings. In addition to facing tougher competition while with the Fisher Cats, Nolin was taught how to throw a new slider, a power version that has a slider grip, but is thrown like a fastball which gives it more depth and biting action.
I was able to take in Nolin’s final start with New Hampshire on August 30, where he held a Portland Sea Dogs lineup to just one earned run on two hits over six strong innings. The New York native established his fastball early, generated weak contact throwing his curveball low and inside to right-handers, and mixed in his slider for good measure. He didn’t throw his changeup until the third inning, which introduced another weapon to an already confused Sea Dogs team that featured top prospects Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts.
Nolin retired his final four batters on swinging strikeouts and finished with seven punchouts on the night. Despite the strong outing, one scout said he felt Nolin wasn’t ready for the majors but that he had a good feel for four pitches and knew what he was doing on the mound.
Fisher Cats pitching coach Tom Signore was quick to praise the young left-hander, though.
“He’s got to trust his stuff, because it’s very good. This guy’s not far away,” Signore said. “He’s got a chance to be awfully good. He hasn’t been phased by this level at all.”
Nolin had no idea until after that also in attendance for the game were Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and special assistant Dana Brown, who Anthopoulos said pulled hard for Nolin in the draft room as his “gut-feel” guy back in 2010.
Nolin started this season on the disabled list but has picked up where he left off somewhat in three starts with the Fisher Cats, posting nearly identical numbers to what he put up with New Hampshire last season. After 49 career minor league starts and 246 innings, he’s paved his way to The Show.