Breakout Candidate: Will The Brewers’ Jimmy Nelson Finally Emerge In ’15?

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

When the Brewers traded Yovani Gallardo they cleared a rotation spot for Jimmy Nelson (at least for now, barring another move).  Fantasy owners waited impatiently for his 2014 debut as he dominated at Triple-A (1.46 ERA, 9.24 K/9, 2.59 BB/9 over 111.0 IP), but he disappointed upon arriving.  Part of the problems was poor luck, but at the end of the day poor numbers are poor numbers:

69.1 IP
2 Wins
4.93 ERA
1.46 WHIP
57 Strikeouts (7.40 K/9)
19 Walks (2.47 BB/9)
48.4% Groundball Rate
.344 BABIP

Obviously the luck was clearly an issue.  A .344 BABIP despite just a 19.7% line drive rate?  A 66.6% strand rate?  Regardless of the other numbers, an improvement would be expected based on those numbers alone.

Now you throw in an expected increase in strikeouts, thanks to his success at Triple-A with a 9.5 K/9 over 194.1 IP at the level (8.8 for his minor league career minor league career K/9), 9.2% SwStr% and 30.8% O-Swing%, and things look that much better.  He also has consistently been able to generate groundballs, with a 54.8% mark since ’11.

Control had always been the biggest issue, with a minor league career 3.8 BB/9. He had shown improvement at Double-A in ’13 (1.96 BB/9 over 69.0 IP) and was consistent in ’14, including a 2.6 BB/9 at Triple-A prior to his recall.

Those are the three skills we look for from any starting pitcher, so the fact that he demonstrates all three (or at least has the potential to) is that much more promising.  That’s not to say there hasn’t been concern, with Rich Wilson of Prospect 361 saying the following prior to last season:

“The arsenal has top-of-the-rotation potential, but the mechanics and ultimately the command, doesn’t allow him to pitch as an ace.  Nelson seems to be following a similar pattern and therefore I think a more realistic ceiling is that of a number three starter.”

If last season is any indication, he has figured out repeating his mechanics though we’ll have to continue monitoring that.  If he truly has, Nelson could be a tremendous fantasy sleeper this season.  We have been high on him for some time and some poor numbers in the Majors isn’t going to change that.

The potential is there, so don’t sleep on him.  Pencil him in as an ideal late round sleeper to fill out your fantasy rotation.

Sources – Fangraphs, Minor League Central, Prospect 361, Baseball Reference

Make sure to check out all of our early 2015 rankings:

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