Evaluating The Talent: Juan Nicasio


Quick (and I do mean quick…you have to promise you won’t take time to think about it): in how many games has Juan Nicasio appeared for the Colorado Springs Sky Sox?

Quick (not as quick as last time…you can think about this one): over/under 24.5 career starts for Juan Nicasio entering the 2013 season?

While you think about the answers, let’s take a brief moment to remember what 2012 entailed for the young starter. His return to the Rockies less than one season removed from a horrific neck injury will always rank among the best feel-good and miraculous stories that baseball will ever see. His ability to step back up on a mound and face professional hitters after taking a line drive to the head was inspirational. Nicasio’s season was eventually cut short by an unrelated knee injury. In 11 starts he posted a 2-3 mark with a 5.28 ERA and 3.99 FIP. All in all, his injury stopped what was a promising campaign.

Here are the answers to those two questions: zero starts with the Sky Sox and under (24 career starts).

Back off a bit on Nicasio. Image: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

One year ago I feared that too much pressure was being heaped on Nicasio; this year I fear for the same thing.  It is easy to forget that Nicasio still has growing pains through which to struggle as a young pitcher. His development has been rushed at every step, as indicated by those answers. Heck, he is still fine-tuning that elusive third pitch that will vault him from “young, raw” starter to something more proven.

When Nicasio arrived, some wondered if he was better suited to come out of the bullpen because he was essentially a two pitch guy: fastball and slider. His third pitch is a change-up. He threw it 10.7% of the time in 2011 and a mere 7.1% of the time in a small sample sized 2012. He skipped winter ball this year as a concession to his balky knee, meaning that the injury forced him to miss an opportunity to develop that third pitch. Like everything else in his career, Nicasio will have to learn how to use that change-up on the fly.

Most concerning in 2012 was the rise in Nicasio’s BB/9 from 2.26 in 2011 to 3.41 in 2012. Perhaps a growing pain, that number needs to level off in order for Nicasio to find success this season. And he will have to fix that on the fly, too.

In the end we need to ratchet back the pressure on this young pitcher. In presenting the 2013 ZiPS projections for the Colorado Rockies, Carson Cistulli from FanGraphs notes that Nicasio will likely be “the best pitcher in the starting rotation.” That is far too much to ask. Nicasio still needs time to develop and work through the bumps that inevitably come with being a young starting pitcher. Furthermore, the Rockies will need to monitor his workload. They will either need to skip starts or shut him down at some point to ensure his long term health. So let’s all hope that Nicasio can be a key contributor for an improved Rockies rotation this season, but let’s pump the brakes on the notion that he should already be some proven stud. Let him be a kid, too.

Where should Nicasio be in 2013? In either the third or fourth spot in the rotation to start the season.

Where will Nicasio be in 2013? In the starting rotation with far too much pressure on him.