Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Juan Nicasio faced little resistance, relative to the journeys taken by many pitching prospects, on his way to the Colorado Rockies rotation. He made the jump straight from AA to make his debut in 2011. He generated excitement with flashes of promise in those appearances. You could argue that the excitement about Nicasio’s promise carried him for the two springs thereafter in which he was placed in the rotation from day one, mostly by default.
2014 is different. For the first time Nicasio will have to earn his spot in the back of the Colorado rotation by beating out a number of candidates. Furthermore, said candidates offer actual promise and talent (Jordan Lyles, Franklin Morales) as opposed to the parade of Roy Oswalt, Jon Garland and Jeff Francis-type pitchers in recent seasons.
Yesterday Nicasio discussed what he believes he will bring to the pitching staff (quotes courtesy of MLB.com):
"I have power…I hit 98, 97 [mph]. The lowest it was last year was 88 or 89, I think. You’re going to see.”"
Having battled injuries, including a terrifying neck injury after he was struck by a comeback line drive, Nicasio might be enjoying increases in velocity thanks to improved health.
You might see that 97/98 MPH number and wonder about Nicasio in the bullpen. I know that thought continues to cross my mind. But if nothing else, his best starts of 2013 earned him a crack at the 2014 rotation. For his part Nicasio insists that he wants to remain a starter.
For so long we fixated on Nicasio’s need to develop his second and third pitches (his slider and change-up). But last season his effectiveness essentially relied on one pitch: a fastball with mega-sinking action. If he focuses on that pitch and generating a ton of groundballs, he might not need to worry about those secondary pitches very much (in particular the change-up, the weakest of the bunch). Now, what running it up there in the mid-90’s will do to that sinking action is another story, although maybe Nicasio plans to change speeds with his fastball to effectively turn it into more than one pitch.
In a way, this year is a clean slate for Nicasio. The context is completely different than it has ever been for the 27-year-old right-handed pitcher. How he responds and where he and his ‘power’ slot into Colorado’s plans will be a key story-line as Spring Training progresses.