The Milwaukee Brewers are clearly pretty high on their young right hander, Jimmy Nelson. Nelson has ascended his way through the ranks since being drafted in the second round in 2010, and began last season as the Brewers number one prospect and the 96th best in all of baseball. Jimmy blew away AAA in the first half least season, posting a 10-2 record in 111.0 innings pitched with a phenomenal 1.46 ERA, striking out 114 versus only 32 walks. Nelson was called up midseason last year to replace Marco Estrada in the rotation and had risen all the way to the 38th ranked prospect.
Jimmy had his difficulties once he made it to the show, going 2-9 with a 4.93 ERA in 69.1 innings pitched. Though his peripherals were markedly better, Nelson still struggled with his command within the zone and was criticized for lacking a third pitch. Despite this, the Brewers felt confident enough in Nelson’s ability to trade longtime stalwart Yovani Gallardo to open up a spot in the rotation for their prized pitcher.
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According to Fangraphs, Jimmy threw his fastball/slider combination nearly 98% of the time he was in the majors last season, throwing his changeup only a minimal 2.3% of the time in 2014. When I interviewed Jimmy in January, he said that he does not lack confidence in his changeup, but simply got away from his minor league gameplan once he reached the big leagues. Nelson’s changeup was roughly league average last season, with his wCH (changeup runs above average, 0 being average) grading out at -0.7. Nelson has committed to throwing this pitch more in 2015, but as Jimmy also mentioned to us, he was working on a mystery fourth pitch. Today, it seems like we have an answer to what that pitch is.
The Brewers have had many pitchers with stellar curveballs in their arsenal; Ben Sheets and Yovani immediately come to mind. Generally, a curveball will either break straight downwards or down and away from a right handed hitter. A curveball gives Jimmy another offspeed pitch to add to his arsenal, as his fastball (93.5 mph in 2014) and slider (86.6 mph) are both thrown with plus velocity. It appears as though Nelson will keep all four pitches in his repertoire, rather than dumping his other offspeed pitch. While Jimmy will likely try and use his changeup as a weapon against left handed pitchers, a curveball would be most effective while opposing a right handed hitter.
Jimmy has been limited so far this spring while dealing with a minor hamstring issue. Despite having his initial bullpen back a few days, he isn’t expected to miss any significant time. Nelson is slated to get his first Cactus League start next week.
If the Brewers hope to compete for a playoff spot this season, they will need Jimmy Nelson to not skip a beat while stepping into the rotation for one of the best starters in franchise history. Nelson had an up and down season in the bigs last year while relying mostly on two pitches, but has already dedicated himself to mixing in his decent changeup more often this season. Adding an Uncle Charlie to his arsenal will only make Jimmy Nelson more of a force to be reckoned with in 2015.