2014 MLB Draft Prep Assesses Aaron Nola

USA TODAY Sports

East Carolina righthander Jeff Hoffman had a few people watching him on Thursday. He did okay. But I want to talk about Aaron Nola.

Based on Twitter reports, Cubs upper-level execs are getting in some frequent-flyer miles. Because that is their job. Some teams moved their schedules up to avoid playing on Easter Sunday. Among them was East Carolina, and ace Jeff Hoffman had a few interested observers on Thursday. In a 117-pitch outing against Middle Tennessee State, Hoffman received a run of support. It was enough. In eight innings, he fanned 16, giving up three hits, and walking one. East Carolina won 1-0.

Via Twitter...

As it happens, North Carolina State went the next night in the same state about an hour away. Since hotels rooms are reasonably cheap, they hung around for Carlos Rodon's outing the next night. Rodon represented also in an all-too-rare victory. It sounds like the positive and negatives of all the "chore four" are being scrutinized every chance possible.

***

One of the things I do to get ready for this every week is to read commentary on other sites. Plenty of people have ideas for the June draft, and some of them might be better than mine. One of the occasional refrains is for more respect for Aaron Nola. The junior from LSU is having a very strong season. In a very good... natch... the best college baseball conference. If you can pitch well in the SEC, you can pitch.

The question on me this week is, why don't I like Aaron Nola?

Actually, I do. But it goes deeper than that.

Nola is a 6-1, 200 pound Junior from Louisiana. In just over 70 innings, Nola has surrendered 39 hits. His K/W ratio is 91/15. His ERA is 0.88. What's not to like??

There is no "one thing" with Nola knocking him down to the fifth spot. He's 6-1, and you generally prefer your ace to be bigger and more imposing than that. Similarly, his fastball velocity tops out at 93 or 94. You don't need a fastball quicker than that, but few can dominate with a 'middling' fastball velocity like Jered Weaver. A max of 93 or 94 means a working velocity of less than that. If you see Nola having impeccable command like a Greg Maddux in a few years, then by all means, push for him. Command like that is very rare.

What it boils down to is this: When drafting a player at 1.4, you aren't drafting a guy to outclass the Florida State League for two months the next season. You aren't drafting for a guy who might upgrade the team a touch the next September (And, yes, Nola will likely be the first of the five to reach the majors.). What you're trying to figure is this: Which player, given the Cubs drafting preferences and coaches now and in the future, will have the best career as a Cub? I would throw in, "Who is most likely to have a career WAR as a Cub of over 20?"

If you think that would be Nola, then by all means, push for him. He has hit nine batters this year in seven starts. That isn't a damning stat, but if he's hitting guys in college, he might do the same in the pros. He won't get any taller, so physics won't become more of an ally. While college hitters aren't hitting him, college offenses are down quite a bit, as college coaches tend to recruit quickness and defense more now.

On draft night, barring still-possible surprises, the first five off the board will be Brady Aiken, Jeff Hoffman, Tyler Kolek, Aaron Nola, and Carlos Rodon, In some order. Any of the five would go toward the top of anyone's Cubs prospect list. The question is now becoming, which names do you want off the board at 1.4? And why?

When the Cubs are 'on the clock', two of those gentlemen will be in line to be 'next up'. My curious hope is that Carlos Rodon's name has been called. To an extent, it will come down to which one Cubs pitching coordinator Derek Johnson thinks he can get more out of. He will have two options. I hope Kolek, Aiken, or Hoffman are all available. If not, I'd probably prefer Nola over Rodon.

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