Everyone who’s ever ridden a minor league bus knows the unwavering determination and hard work it takes just to get to that point.
Not everyone has the sheer feel for the game, the commitment to getting better, and the talent to step off the bus and onto a Major League field.
Jimmy Nelson has all of that.
The right-handed Milwaukee Brewers prospect and second round selection in 2010 knows exactly what it takes to live the dream of being a big leaguer: consistency, persistence, and hard work.
He’s been largely overlooked in the Brewers farm system, but has found himself on many Brewers top prospect lists (including 12th on Reviewing the Brew’s ranks) after displaying his ability in the minors.
Nelson is entering his fourth season in the minors, coming off a 2012 campaign in which he emerged as one of the brightest stars of the Milwaukee farm system. He appeared in 23 games – all as a starter – and combined for a 2.83 ERA and 119 strikeouts in 127.1 innings between High-A Brevard County and Double-A Huntsville.
As for the upcoming season, Nelson, a product of the University of Alabama, is approaching with an open, positive mindset.
“I’m focusing on just improving on last year and staying consistent and healthy,” Nelson said via a conversation over the phone with RtB, “If you can give your team a chance to win every night, then you’re doing your job.”
Say what you must about the stat this is the quality start (6 innings, 3 or fewer earned runs), but, over his first 14 starts last season, Nelson surrendered more than three runs only once.
As efficient as the 23-year-old’s season was, it was slowed down by shoulder fatigue that shelved him for a month. The injury won’t plague Nelson any further, as he said it was just a cause of fatigue. He’s been strengthening his arm all off-season for a possible increase in work , even after a 2012 campaign extended by a stint in the distinguished Arizona Fall League.
Nelson impressed scouts and battled through a couple rough patches in the AFL, but his time with the Phoenix Desert Dogs was a positive, learning-based experience for the starter. Over seven appearance (six starts) and 22 innings, Nelson posted a 4.91 ERA and struck out 23 batters, but walks–14 of them, to be specific–got him in trouble.
As for the walks, Nelson acknowledged the walks, which were uncharacteristic of him. In terms of understanding how pitching works at the professional level and having a natural feel for the game, Nelson is ready for the big leagues.
“Take ten starts, and two of you can throw in the trash. Two will be easy, you’ll hit your spots and feel good out there. The other six make the pitcher. You won’t have your best stuff and the guys that battle out there, the ones that can always put their team in a position to win, have what it takes,” Nelson said.
Nelson takes the mound with a bulldog mentality, willing to challenge every hitter and placing the team over himself.
“Not every night goes smoothly. You usually know by the second or third inning how you’ll have to pitch,” he commented on getting a feel for the game and making in-game adjustments, “some days you gotta battle, some you might just need to limit the damage to hold a big lead.
It’s all about just winning the game.”
He’s carved up minor league hitters for three years now with a four-pitch repertoire consisting of a mid-90′s four-seamer to compliment a hard sinker and both a slider and changeup. He describes himself as a “mix” of both a power and contact pitcher–a hybrid guy on the mound. He has nothing wrong with putting hitters away when up 0-2 or 1-2 (8.16 K/9 between four levels), but would rather get quick outs than go deep on hitters and throw more “stress pitches”. Each of his pitches has good movement, keeping the ball off the barrel – his primary goal on the mound – and keeping balls in the park (career 0.48 HR/9). The two different fastballs “are like two different pitches, anyway.”
Pending an eventual call-up to the bigs, Milwaukee fans will find a liking in the kid from Niceville, Florida. His attributes, both on the field and off, recall memories from successful Brewers past: a staunch hard-worker, competitor, classy, good sinker. The long-term goals even have the same focus, as he hopes to “make the Big Leagues, and stay there, and give the team a chance to win on a nightly basis.”
As for 2013, Nelson is hopeful for another successful season. After the injury last season, he has spent the off-season working on strength and conditioning in warm climates to come into spring at full force. As for his 2013 statistics, Nelson asserts those are “tough to predict” and he is focused on staying in “better shape than last year.” The six starts when he has to battle could very well determine how quickly he’ll make an appearance in Milwaukee.
If his demeanor, approach, and ability are any indication, that could be sooner than later.