The Phillies today officially announced that Aaron Nola, their top pitching prospect, will make his eagerly anticipated Major League Baseball debut next Tuesday night against the Tampa Bay Rays in an interleague game at Citizens Bank Park.
Nola, the club’s top pick at 7th overall in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft out of Louisiana State University, is a 22-year old, 6’1″, 195 pound righthander from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
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When selected, Nola was considered by most draft experts to be one of the draft’s “closest to the majors” players, meaning that it would not take him long to reach the big leagues. Now he becomes the first Phillies player to make his MLB debut just a year after being drafted since Pat Combs back in 1989.
After being drafted last summer, Nola pitched at two levels in the Phillies system. Between stints with both High-A Clearwater and AA-Reading, Nola had a 4-3 record across 12 games, 11 of those as starting outings. He allowed 49 hits in 51.1 innings, with a 45/10 K:BB ratio in that first 2014 half-season of pro work.
“Wherever they have me, I’m going to pitch to the best of my ability. Go out and focus on every start.” ~ Nola, prior to the promotion
This year, Nola returned to Reading, beginning the 2015 campaign with a dozen more starts for the Fightin’ Phils. He immediately set out to dominate the Eastern League, going 7-3 with a 1.88 ERA and 0.887 WHIP. In 76.2 innings, Nola allowed just 59 hits, with a 59/9 K:BB ratio.
That set the stage for a promotion to AAA Lehigh Valley, just a step away from the Majors. While Nola did not dominate the entire time, he did enough finishing work to prove that he was ready for Philadelphia. In a half-dozen International League starts, Nola went 3-1 with a 3.58 ERA, allowing 38 hits in 32.2 innings of work, with a 33/9 K:BB ratio.
Just yesterday, Nola made what no one, at least no one who was saying so publicly, knew would be his final AAA start before his Phillies call-up. He did not fair well, allowing 6 runs on 7 hits, including a pair of homers, lasting just 3 innings.
Still, both his overall body of work, which demonstrated his readiness for another challenge, and the current state of the Phillies starting pitching rotation, which demonstrates regularly that most of them are not, led to this promotion.
Nola was interviewed just last weekend by Jim Salisbury as he participate in activities surrounding the MLB Futures Game, a marquee all-star game featuring baseball’s top prospects: “Wherever they have me, I’m going to pitch to the best of my ability. Go out and focus on every start.”
Phillies fans will certainly be excited by this development. In a season that can be described with no word other than abysmal, the hope of a brighter future is all that fans have. To this point, that future look has only been at 3rd baseman Maikel Franco. Now, at least every five days, fans will have something else to watch.
Of course, the particular timing of a call-up while the team is at home cannot be considered a coincidence. The team has been drawing almost as abysmally at the gates as the team has been playing on the field. In their two most recent home stands, the club broke the 30,000 barrier just twice, once on a Sunday doubleheader and again for fireworks.
The team was sure to draw a horrendous crowd for a normal Tuesday night against a relatively unattractive interleague opponent like the Rays. Now, that is surely to change. For those who cannot make it out to the ballpark, they can catch the youngster’s debut on Comcast SportsNet.
Expectations for Nola should be somewhat tempered. He is not considered an elite #1-type starter. That isn’t taking away from what he can become, which is a workmanlike #2-3 type starter on a contending staff.
For immediate results, if the team can just get 6 effective innings out of him most times, that will be plenty to build on. It will certainly be much more than most of the team’s starting pitchers have provided.