Yankees Top 30 Prospects for 2020: Nick Nelson (RHP, #16)
Today we continue our Yankees Top-30 Prospects Countdown for the 2020 season with RHP Nick Nelson.
Drafted in 2016, Nelson has been in the Yankees minor leagues for quite a while after being drafted as a player to take a risk on and to save slot money with to sign other talents. After having a history of losing games in his first two seasons, even with good pitching, he started to fix that narrative in 2018 and boost his prospect ranking quickly. Being ranked as high as 11th in 2019, Nelson at this point can break into the MLB soon as a powerful reliever, or spend more time to refine his pitching to stick around as a starter. It truly depends on how the Yankees would look to handle him in this season and next.
(Screenshot From New York Yankees Video, here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6VCHGvJteTU)
Nick Nelson, RHP (#16):
Age/Date of Birth: 24 Years Old (12/05/1995)
2019 Team(s): Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders (Triple A), Trenton Thunder (Double A)
2019 MiLB Statistics: 8-3 Record, 2.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 89.2 Innings, 114 Strikeouts, 43 Walk, (18 Games, 17 Games Started)
Height/Weight: 6’1”/195 Pounds
Acquired: Drafted by the New York Yankees with the 128th Overall Pick (4th Round) of the 2016 MLB Draft
MLB ETA: 2020
Nick Nelson Scouting Grades (20-80 Scale):
What to Know:
Originally drafted by the San Francisco Giants in 2014, Nick Nelson opted to forego his 31st round pick and play as a pitcher and hitter for Gulf Coast State Community College. As a JUCO player, two years later he was draft ready and after showing promise with winning 13 games and hitting 19 home runs over those seasons, the Yankees took a shot on him. He was drafted above his value with the 128th pick in the 2016 Draft (Nelson was unranked) and because of this, he signed for a below value bonus of $350,000.
The day after signing, Nelson would begin his professional career with the Pulaski Yankees (Rookie Advanced). He would end up with an 0-3 record after 10 games started, but did pitch to a 3.38 ERA and a 1.69 WHIP in 21.1 innings. With a 19:22 K:BB rate as well, his control showed obvious signs of work but he still earned a promotion the following season.
Unfortunately for Nelson, his loses would continue to follow him even after moving up to the Charleston RiverDogs (Class A). After 22 games started, and at seasons end, Nelson would end up leading the league 12 loses to only 3 wins. While his ERA did jump to 4.56, his WHIP fell to 1.52 and his K:BB rate was much improved up to 110:50 in 100.2 innings. He did end up on the DL on two different occasions, both for short periods of a little over a week, yet the cause of this was undisclosed.
However, in 2018, Nelson would begin to get into his groove. Starting the season as the 29th ranked prospect in the Yankees system and with the RiverDogs, he spent only 5 games before showing that he had figured out his competition (3.65 ERA, 1.01 WHIP) before moving up to the Tampa Tarpons (Class A Advanced). He continued- and even improved- his numbers after the promotion, spending 18 games (17 starts) and 88.1 innings while pitching to a 3.36 ERA and 1.31 WHIP total with the Tarpons. Nelson would earn his way to two quick stints with the Trenton Thunder (Double A) this season, but in only 8.2 innings total and a 5.19 ERA it was clear he needed a little more time. Even so, and with another great K:BB rate of 144:63, this helped boost Nelson to 17th in the Yankees system at seasons end.
Over the offseason, scouts became very high on Nelson, earning the 11th prospect spot in the Yankees farm going into 2019 as he would begin the season again with the Trenton Thunder. Yet, after two games, Nelson was put back on the IL which kept him out from mid-April to the beginning of June. He’d pitch one game back in Tampa before returning with the Thunder from June 7th to August 13th, collecting 7 wins with a 2.35 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP over 65.0 innings and 13 games. At seasons end, Nelson made his Triple-A debut with the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders, spending 4 games (21.0 innings) while pitching to a 4.71 ERA and a WHIP of 1.29. With the injury this kept him under 100 innings pitched for the first time since his draft year, and this helped to drop his stock (along with the draft and IFA class) to 14th in the system.
In the 2019-2020 offseason, the Yankees selected the contract of Nick Nelson to add him to their 40-Man roster to protect him from the Rule-5 draft. On March 8th, they optioned him down to the RailRiders.
Overall, Nick Nelson has a 4-pitch mix with a 92-96 MPH fastball (with a high of 98 MPH) which he is looking to control higher in the zone but was effective in generating groundouts earlier in his career. His curveball is his second best pitch, which when controlled is a perfect counter but often has trouble finding the zone. Combine this with his inconsistent changeup (maybe truly a splitter) and slider (maybe truly a cutter), and you can see where scouts are weary. After 4 years in the minors his control still ranks below-average.
What Will the Future Hold?
If the Yankees want him to stay a starter, he’ll be looking beyond 2020 as a time when he’ll break into the league doing so. However, if they instead want him to be a hard-throwing reliever that could happen soon. Needing less refinements to be a reliever, as he could focus less on 4 pitches and more on just his plus fastball and curveball combo, good be a good option, but 4 pitch starters are a desired commodity. Chances are he’ll break into the MLB as a reliever in 2020 to get a feel for the league and what it brings, as many back-end rotation guys do, and spend another season with the RailRiders to perfect his starting pitching.
At this point, given his easy to hit floor of being an MLB reliever and still some small work to do before becoming a back-end rotation piece, there isn’t much movement for Nelson to make. Chances are that he won’t break rookie status in 2020, so he’ll stay on prospect lists, but with so little to do in his future this is often where many prospect rankings end. He’ll continue to sit around the high teens or low twenties until he breaks into the MLB as a shuttle-long relief arm or focuses on being a hard-throwing reliever and sticks around.