MLB Prospect Watch is profiling one prospect from each organization per day throughout the months of November, December and January. You can find all of the player profiles here and the schedule for when each team is profiled here.
Justin Nicolino is one of the more polished pitching prospects in the game, but that often causes people to overlook his talent. Being polished tends to put a limit on the ceiling of a player in the minds of fans, but it shouldn't.
Nicolino has a plus-change-up that could end up being even better than that, giving him the great equalizer when it comes to pitching prospects. A great change-up can make up for a lot of other deficiencies, and Nicolino's is extremely good.
Nicolino started the 2013 season, his first in the Marlins organization, in the High-A Florida State League. It's a pitcher's league and Nicolino was one of it's best.
I saw Nicolino in person in July before he was eventually promoted to Double-A. You can see the full write-up here, but the short of it is I though he was very good. I also thought he would struggle in his first taste of Double-A. At the time I wrote:
"It's the kinds of strikes Nicolino throws that are the issue. On this night, Nicolino frequently missed his spot within the strike zone. In a big ballpark on a tough night for hitting against a lineup without any real impact bats, Nicolino got away with his misses, but he won't as he moves up. There's no reason he can't improve his command, but it's an important lesson in why we take our time with prospects and let them develop properly."
Nicolino throws a ton of strikes, but he's been a great example of the difference between command and control. He has a good fastball, but the command isn't there yet. He controls it and throws it in the zone, but he throws too many hittable strikes. It's a fixable problem and not one that's a cause for concern, but it's why I predicted that he would get hit harder when he jumped to Double-A.
In nine starts after a promotion, Nicolino posted a 4.96 ERA, more than twice his ERA in the FSL, and gave up 12.5 hits per nine innings.
There is no reason to worry about Nicolino. He will get the fastball command worked out because he has good mechanics and a refined approach. The fastball is above-average right now and will play out as a plus pitch because of the way it will play off of his change-up. His worst pitch, his curveball, should be avearge as well, giving him an average pitch, a plus pitch, and a plus-plus pitch. That makes for a number two starter.
That's exactly what Nicolino can be if the Marlins give him a chance to finish his progression. Nicolino isn't Jose Fernandez and won't come up and dominate if he's rushed to the majors. He needs to spend some time in Double-A and shouldn't even be considered for the majors until the summer. Even that would be quick, but with the Marlins ineptitude both in the majors and the front office, we can't expect them to hold him off much longer.