When the New York Yankees had to finalize their 40-man roster in late November, one of the additions they made was right-handed starting pitcher Nick Nelson. Nelson, who was the Yankees’ 4th Round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, came off of a good 2019 campaign with Double-A Trenton and Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre.
While with the Thunder, Nelson was 7-2 with a 2.35 ERA in 13 games. He had 83 strikeouts to 35 walks over the course of 65 innings. He would get the promotion to Scranton Wilkes-Barre in August, where he would make four starts. He was 1-1 with a 4.71 ERA and had 24 strikeouts to 7 walks in 21 innings.
Last week, we had the opportunity to talk to Nelson about his eventful offseason, his 2019 season, and the role that sabermetrics has had on his career, including the evolution of one of his offspeed pitches.This interview is an example of the exclusive content provided to Pinstriped Prospects Dugout Members. Dugout Members get complete access to scouting reports, interviews, and more all with limited advertisements on the website. Click here to sign up!
Ricky: How would you evaluate your 2019 season?
Nick: Honestly, I thought it was good for the most part. I am definitely not mad about the season. I wish I didn’t miss a month, but I felt like it was good. Need to work on that slider more. I tried to get a feel for it during the season, but never really to, so I have been working on it since then. Yeah, I thought it went really good.
R: When you miss that much time early in the year, does it reset you to offseason mode in a way and what was that injury?
N: So, all it really was was shoulder tightness, inflammation and why not. I missed a month or a month and a week for that, felt like forever to tell you the truth. Definitely coming back from that injury when I first got back up to Trenton and started throwing, it felt like April. This season went pretty quick for me, but I don’t think it messed anything up.
R: What in particular are you looking to improve out of the slider going into 2020?
N: Just consistency. Finding out that break that suits it best. Definitely consistency and learning what counts to throw it in and when not to throw it. I feel like that’s one of the toughest parts about learning a pitch, when to throw it and when not to throw it.
R: What do you feel like you improved on the most in 2019?
N: I might have cut down on the walks a little bit from 2018, but I feel like 2018 and 2019 were pretty similar.
R: Where were you when you found out you made the 40-man roster and what was your reaction?
N: I am down here in Tampa. We just had a baby girl (Hynleigh) who is 3 months old, so I was hanging out with them. My daughter [had] just gone to sleep, so I was hanging around waiting for the call. I think I got the call around 7:40 and that last hour, I’ll tell you man, was brutal. The Triple-A pitching coach called me and told me I had gotten put on the roster, so it was a good experience.
R: You finished the season with 4 starts in Triple-A. What did you take away from that experience?
N: That I can’t rely on my fastball. In double-A, I can miss in the upper part of the zone and they could foul it off or swing and miss. I got up there and it was tougher to blow it by them, especially the older guys playing in Triple-A because all they do is put the bat on the ball through the hole or over second base or shortstop. It definitely was a big adjustment. I glad I had my 4 starts up there just to know what I have to do this upcoming season.
I really had to figure out how to locate down and away, that was the biggest adjustment. At the lower levels, I had more success at the top of the zone. I liked living up there, but I can’t live up there anymore. Have to start throwing the fastball low and away.
R: What was the adjustment like going from one baseball in Double-A to a different one in Triple-A?
N: My first start I did. It was harder to get a grip on the ball. Other than that, the more you throw it, the more you don’t notice much of a difference.
R: What do you feel is the most memorable piece of advice you have received from a pitching coach in the organization so far?
N: Probably not to do too much up there. My stuff is good enough where I don’t have to overdo it. Don’t work too hard up there. Don’t work harder than you have to on the mound.
R: How do you feel you have grown as a pitcher since you were drafted?
N: When I was drafted, I wanted people to know that I throw hard. Fresh out of junior college, going from where I can blow anyone away. I got to pro ball, I was thinking I will show everyone I can throw hard. Going from then to now, I know the stuff that I have on the mound and what I got to do to succeed. I did develop a changeup compared to when I first started out.
R: How do you feel the changeup has developed for you?
N: That is actually my favorite pitch to throw. I love my changeup.I feel like that’s a big pitch in my repertoire.
R: In baseball, we have analytics/sabermetrics/biomechanics as a big role in today’s game. How has that played a factor in your development?
N: I definitely like it especially the slow-mo cameras. Seeing how the ball comes out of your hand or seeing what you did on something bad. With trackman, seeing your axis of how you are throwing your fastball if you wanted it to ride or want it to sink and the spin you have to create to do that, it’s pretty cool. It’s helped me a lot. I enjoy it.
R: Is there one number in particular that stands out to you the most?
N: For my slider, before going into blind, I had no idea how to throw one or hold one other than grip it and rip it. I never knew what they wanted on the axis or spin rate. During instructs, I was working on my slider a lot on the trackman, get the spin rate. It has definitely improved my offseason.
R: Where are you now in your offseason routine?
N: I was here for instructs and I took like a total of 2.5-3 weeks off completely from baseball-related activities. I feel like I have been ramping it up. I threw my first bullpen and I feel like I am in a good spot with my offseason and training.
R: You played your college ball at a junior college. Was there a unique experience you had at that level?
N: Probably the bond you make with your teammate. That was one of the best experiences I have ever had. It was a big step from high school going to junior college so I am glad I went that route. The competition in the Panhandle conference is good competition. You are facing 90+ mph guys and everyone who plays there should be drafted. It was an awesome experience to play with and against some of those guys.
R: Was there a particular home field advantage you had at Gulf Coast Community College?
N: Not really. The field that we played at was right on the Gulf, so the wind blew out constantly. I was a hitter, signed with Florida as a 2-way guy. The way the ball carried, as a pitcher, it wasn’t as fun to throw there sometimes. Playing at home, I am originally from Panama City, so having my family come out every game to watch me play was a pretty cool experience.
R: Did you prefer hitting as opposed to pitching and did you take away anything from hitting that helped you as a pitcher?
N: I actually liked hitting over pitching. I loved to hit. I enjoyed it. In a way, I feel like it is an advantage because I can think of it as a hitter on the mound and what I wouldn’t want to see when I am up there in different situations.
R: What is your favorite non-baseball activity?
N: Golf and fishing and hunting.
R: If you weren’t playing baseball, what do you think you would be doing for a career?
N: I really enjoyed science (archaeology, paleontology), so something along those lines.
R: Recently, the Yankees made a big acquisition by signing Gerrit Cole. Being in the organization, how do you react to the chance of playing with Cole?
N: I think it will be pretty cool. I would love to talk about the game with him. It would be really cool to ask him about how he feels about his stuff and what his mentality is.
R: What are you looking forward to about Major League spring training?
N: I think it will be cool to be around all of the Major League guys, talk with them, ask them questions. I am excited for the experience and also I want to face some of the hitters.
R: You were a teammate with Deivi Garcia in Trenton and Scranton Wilkes-Barre. What is it like to watch him pitch and what stands out to you the most about him?
N: It’s really awesome to watch him pitch. He doesn’t have that many bad games, but you can’t tell whether he is having a good one or a bad one.
R: What are your goals for 2020?
N: Make my debut and eliminate a lot of my walks. I think that’s one of the things that’s really holding me back. Eliminate most of my walks and go after guys more.