At times, the blind optimism of Spring Training can be a bit much. Certainly, it’s an exciting time because baseball really is just around the corner. However, we often get carried away with best case scenarios and focusing on things that ultimately won’t matter very much. Every player came into camp in the best shape of his life. All the pitchers are looking dominant in live BP. The vets have found the fountain of youth and the youngsters are ready to break out.
It’s slightly comical, at least to me, that much has been made about CarGo’s added bulk. Why is that funny to me? Because last year much was made about CarGo’s added bulk. As you’ll see by clicking on those links, he’s the same weight this year as he was at the start of last season. What can you do though? It’s early March. Cactus League play hasn’t even started yet. These types of things become stories because there really isn’t much else to talk about. However, there is one player who, even at this early stage, deserves all of our attention – Juan Nicasio.
It was probably the most horrifying thing most of us have ever seen happen on a baseball field. But, there really is no reason to rehash Juan Nicasio’s gruesome injury. By now, if you haven’t seen it, you either don’t care or just don’t want to view something like that, which is understandable. However, the importance of Juan already throwing to live hitters again can’t be understated. Having him back in the fold is a huge deal for the Rockies. In fact, I’m willing to go so far as to predict that if the Rox surprise people this year, Juan Nicasio will be one of the biggest reasons.
So far this spring, no one with the Rox seems truly willing to fully commit to Nicasio being in the rotation to start the season. It seems very likely, but it’s almost like there is an underlying fear that his comeback will be jinxed if too much is handed to him too soon. It’s not too soon.
After making 13 starts last season and accumulating over 70 innings, Nicasio is no longer a rookie. But, it’s more than just raw experience. Arguably, Nicasio was the Rockies’ best pitcher in the second half. And, if not for the unfortunate events that took place last August, we might even be talking about him as a candidate for Opening Day.
Obviously, starting pitching is the biggest question mark for the Rox this year. However, what’s been lost in the shuffle of the offseason character movement is one of the most promising pitchers to ever come up through the Rockies system. Much has been made about the various pitcher acquisitions this offseason. Some, like me, seem to think that most of O’Dowd’s acquisitions will be a bad fit. Others believe that the GM has acquired a bevy of talented arms and will find success with at least a few of them. Whatever you believe about the direction the organization has gone with the pitching staff, you have to be excited about Juan Nicasio.
The most remarkable thing about Nicasio’s debut season is how well he pitched at home. Now, we can’t get carried away and put too much stock in a 40 inning sample, but Juan’s success at home may not have been a fluke. Going off Brandon Cloud’s blueprint for successful pitching in Colorado, Nicasio fits the bill. Obviously, he has a high octane fastball, but his command of that fastball has been the biggest driver behind his emergence. His last couple of years in the minors were highlighted by lots of strikeouts and very few walks. And he was able to carry that over into his Major League debut. In addition to missing bats and being stingy with the free passes, Nicasio has been able to force hitters to put the ball on the ground. As we’ve seen, the grounder isn’t a cure all at Coors Field, but when combined with no walks and lots of K’s, it becomes a very dangerous weapon.
Juan’s peripherals last year were pretty terrific, especially for a rookie pitching for the first time in one of baseball’s most unforgiving ballparks. His FIP, xFIP, and SIERA were all roughly in the mid-3’s. At home, he was particularly impressive. His FIP was 2.88, and most importantly, he walked just over one batter per every nine innings. If he’s able to build upon that success this year, he will be well on his way to replacing the Great Ubaldo. In fact, he could end up being even better than Ubaldo. He has the same kind of overpowering fastball, but has exhibited much better control so far in his career.
Forgive me if I’m getting ahead of myself on Nicasio. It’s just that guys like him don’t come along very often and lost in the shuffle of his horrific injury is the truth that he’s a special talent with a chance to do great things for the Rockies.
I’ll leave it with this encouraging thought about the Rockies’ pitching situation. There is a chance that, by the end of the season, the Rox could have one of the league’s better rotations. I know, it sounds ridiculous. But, if Drew Pomeranz, Nicasio, and Chacin all get it going, and De La Rosa makes a successful return, suddenly things don’t look so bad. Add Guthrie to the mix and it’s enough to get me all worked up. It all starts with Nicasio though. Even if he doesn’t throw a single pitch for the Rox this year, he’s a miracle. Wouldn’t it be something if his return to the mound became a rallying point for this franchise? I can’t wait to see.
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