Phils need Nola to be on fast track to Philly

Posted: June 07, 2014

Twenty-one years ago, the Phillies drafted a college pitcher, and when they signed him for $750,000 a month later, the kid took a tour of the home clubhouse at Veterans Stadium before reporting to a minor-league outpost in Batavia, N.Y.

As the kid strolled past Macho Row, he stopped and shook hands with John Kruk, the unkempt and uninhibited first baseman of the 1993 National League champions.

"Hurry," was Kruk's only advice to Wayne Gomes, a closer at Old Dominion University the same year Mitch Williams kept his Phillies teammates and an entire city on edge from the beginning of April through the end of October.

For just the third time since then, the Phillies used their first-round pick in the draft to select another college pitcher. Given the state of the 2014 team, which lost its sixth straight game Thursday in Washington, Kruk's advice to Gomes also works for Aaron Nola, a 6-foot-1 righthander who went 30-6 with a 2.09 ERA during his three-year career at Louisiana State University. Nola turned 21 Wednesday.

Marti Wolever, the assistant general manager in charge of amateur scouting, said Nola's fastball command was the primary reason the Phillies made the 195-pound righthander the seventh overall selection. But it sure doesn't hurt that the kid is projected to be among the first players from this draft to reach the big leagues.

"It truly wasn't a factor, although I think it's going to turn out fairly well," Wolever said. "We would hope that in a couple of years he could be here pitching on the major-league team."

When a team has gone as bad as the Phillies, the only thing to do is to start looking to the future. If Wolever's projection of a couple of years down the road comes to fruition, you could be looking at a starting rotation anchored by a 32-year-old Cole Hamels, with a 23-year-old Nola and a 24-year-old Jesse Biddle pitching behind him.

If Nola and Biddle prove they can be successful in a big-league rotation at those young ages, it would provide the Phillies with payroll flexibility that could be focused on rebuilding a broken-down offense. Sure, it's the future, but at least it's a future that is not that far off.

"I want to try [to get there] as quick as I can," Nola said during a conference call. "I will take it step by step. I will compete as hard as I can wherever I go."

Nola went 11-1 with a 1.47 ERA this season, and Wolever thinks he is ready to start his professional career at high-A Clearwater after he signs with the team. That means it's possible he could be at double-A Reading as soon as next season, and once a player gets that close, the time frame to the big leagues can become accelerated.

Wolever said there was not much projecting to do with Nola.

"There is something to say about having 'now' stuff, and that's what Aaron Nola has," Wolever said. "We don't really have to project a lot, because it's already here."

What's here is a kid with a fastball that sits between 93 and 94 m.p.h. and has good sink.

"We think it will play well" in Citizens Bank Park, Wolever said.

"The real selling point to me . . . is the command of his fastball, which is well above average," Wolever said. "He has a breaking ball that we think is average. Sometimes it's a little bit better. And he has a change-up that he has a pretty good feel for that's average or a tick better."

Given how much the Phillies have struggled as an organization in the command and control departments - they have issued the second-most walks in the National League and have the worst WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) in the league - the idea of having a control freak is refreshing. Nola walked just 27 batters and struck out 134 in 1161/3 innings this season, while holding opponents to a .172 batting average.

The SEC, of course, is not the big leagues. Wolever compared it to low-A or high-A baseball in the minor leagues.

By the end of the summer, Nola will have seen tougher competition - probably in the searing heat of Clearwater. At that point, we'll have a better idea of just how fast he can get to the place that needs him so badly.


bbrookover@phillynews.com

@brookob

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