There was a time not long ago that Yankees pitching prospect Nick Nelson couldn’t even fathom being a pitcher at all. Nelson was a two-way player at Gulf Coast State CC in his native Florida before the Yankees used a premium selection and drafted him in the fourth-round just two short seasons ago. The 23 year-old right-hander is coming off a 2018 campaign that saw him go through three levels of the system that began at Low-A Charleston and ultimately concluded with a cup of coffee in Double-A Trenton. The hard-throwing Nelson went 8-6 with a 3.55 ERA in 26 appearances (25 starts). In just over 121 innings of work, Nelson fanned 144 batters and walked just 63 while holding the opposition to a .216 batting average.
Nelson was kind enough to join Pinstriped Prospects via telephone last week to recap his 2018 season, his growth as a pitcher and his expectations moving forward.
Nick Nelson: Right now I am working out four days a week and sometimes it’s twice per day. It just kind of depends on how I’m feeling ; if I’m feeling great then I’ll definitely get after that second workout that night.
NN: Right now I’m kind of just doing a light little toss – nothing too heavy. It’s a long season and I try to save my bullets for that. I will start ramping it up at some point here in the next 15 days, or so.
NN: I’m definitely trying to maintain what I have been doing. I’m probably trying to get a little bit more flexible and just keep working on my mechanics to make sure that they’re good. Other than that, I’m going to keep working on my slider. I was working on developing that slider during instructs this past year, so I am going to continue working on that. Hopefully I’ll have that mastered by the time the season rolls around.
NN: I had been trying to work in a slider since I was in Charleston at the start of last season. They told me to start messing with it, but I didn’t have any idea as to what I was doing with it and the pitch really wasn’t doing anything. I went down to instructs and all of the coaches and coordinators really helped me out a lot with it. I do feel like it’s been a big improvement and I feel confident with it going into spring training.
NN: I think that it’s going to be huge. I developed a change-up about halfway through last season. I mean, I guess that I always had one, but I rarely threw it. I developed it when I got to Tampa. I was just messing in the dugout one day and I found a grip that I really liked. I threw it on flat ground the next day and they said it looked good. I threw it in a game the day after that and I think that I had five or six strikeouts with it. I definitely feel confident in my change-up going into the season and I’m pretty sure that adding that slider is going to help me out a lot.
NN: I was actually a Braves fan growing up. I was a big fan of Chipper Jones.
NN: I never imagined that today I would be pitching. I always thought that I would go somewhere for hitting. That’s why I liked Chipper – he was a good third baseman. Back in the day I was a little bit chunky and I couldn’t really play third base, so I got put at first. I didn’t really pay all that much attention to pitchers.
NN: At that point in time I didn’t really think that I was going to get drafted. I had talked to a couple of scouts, and what not, but I didn’t really think much of it. I knew that I wasn’t really ready to go into professional baseball at that time coming out of high school, so it really wasn’t that hard of a decision to go to college to get a few more years under my belt.
NN: You have no idea. It is the craziest thing. I always dreamed of playing pro-ball, but I never imagined myself being in the situation that I am now. If you sit back and look, it’s a little bit breathtaking in a way. It’s definitely surreal and crazy to think about.
NN: I think that the hitters approaches were the biggest thing. Down in Tampa and Charleston, you kind of get ambushed. I felt like in the short period of time that I was up in Trenton, I felt like they were much more patient. If it wasn’t their pitch, they weren’t going to offer at it. It was tougher to get them to swing at an 0-2 breaking ball or to chase out of the zone. I also saw that if you didn’t have your breaking stuff working that day, they would completely eliminate it and just sit on the fastball. I think that’s where I got into trouble up there.
NN: I’m so grateful that I got to go up there for a short period of time because now I know what to expect for the upcoming year, even if I don’t start up there. I’m going to be working on controlling my fastball better and definitely working on my curveball because I kind of lost that towards the end of last season. Throwing the slider in the mix and keep working on the change-up are going to be big. Like I said, I’m very confident in my change-up right now. Going back to when I was throwing it last season, it’s actually one of my best pitches – it was right there with my fastball.
NN: Yeah, it’s most definitely exciting to think about. It kind of goes back to that whole surreal thing, like wow I made it to Double-A and you’re just a phone call away. Line Jonathan Loaisiga started last year in Tampa, got moved up and did good and then he got the call. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s just crazy to think about.
NN: I really try not to pay too much attention to it. Sometimes it will be in my Twitter feed or something like that, and when that stuff comes across I will usually check it out. If the cards fall and I end up getting traded, it’s just another opportunity – but I don’t pay too much attention to that stuff.
NN: Definitely working on fastball command is going to be a big part. I think the mental side of things is important for me, too. Instead of trying to be perfect in a tough situation, I need to calm myself down and know that I’m one pitch away from a fly out or a ground ball to get out of it.As far as where I’ve grown since last year, I think maturity. I feel like I have grown up a little bit in pro-ball. I’ve also physically gotten a lot stronger than what I was last year. I know what I need to do to get things done – I don’t take any reps off. I feel like my arm is getting stronger as I develop better pitches. I’ve got that change-up, I know that I keep pressing you hard about that change-up; I’m proud of that thing, I love it. I think I’m throwing a little bit harder than I was last year too, as I continue to climb that ladder.