What’s Next for Philadelphia Phillies’ Prospect Aaron Nola?


The Philadelphia Phillies recent run of success has moved the club out of the discussion for worst team in the MLB, at least for the time being, and made it seem as though the club might have a brighter future than originally expected. Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco, among a few others, have been key in the team’s recent run of success, and both pieces figure to be part of the team’s long-term plans.

In Reading, all eyes remain on Aaron Nola, the Phillies number two overall prospect. The 2014 first-round pick is doing his best to force the Phillies’ hand with elite production at the Double-A level, leading to speculation on whether the team should promote him to the Triple-A level, or even directly to the big-leagues.

Prior to the season, the Phillies were criticized for not sending Nola to Major League camp. As a matter of fact, I was one of those people to criticizing the Phillies. To this day I believe it was the wrong move by Amaro, but that’s neither here nor there at this point.

Nola did get to throw in a Spring Training game which allowed him to see big league hitters for the first time. In that performance, Nola showed some promise and flashed three pitches that could end up being plus-pitches.

The Phillies decided to send Nola to Double-A Reading to mature after Spring Training. It appears that Nola is sending the Phillies a message in his first eight starts. The message is that he is ready for the next step.

Coming into yesterday, Nola had been dominant in his first seven starts at Double-A, winning five of them and posting an ERA under two.

Yesterday, Aaron Nola took the rubber in front of Pat Gillick and Ruben Amaro Jr. The two were in Reading to watch their number two prospect attempt to earn his sixth win of the season. Nola didn’t disappoint. In his performance, he struck out seven in his seven shutout innings—lowering his season ERA to a minuscule 1.54 and earning him his sixth win of the year. Nola has now thrown 13.1 consecutive shutout innings.

The question for the Phillies is what they should do with their number two prospect. The learning curve for Nola hasn’t been too steep, and that is what the Phillies expected since they drafted the Nola, who was regarded as the most Major League ready pitcher in last year’s amateur draft.

Since Nola hasn’t had any trouble with in Double-A, the Phillies are and should be considering his next steps. Promoting Nola may come sooner than Amaro thought it would, but Nola is really forcing their hand.

He has allowed more than five hits in just one game. Nola has elite control and that has led to just one multi-walk performance. For the season, Nola has a 32/5 strikeout-to-walk rate, which will translate to the next levels.

I think that the Phillies should move Nola to the next level, but they need to keep this as a slow and steady progression. The Phillies have made their bed and chose this path for Nola. Now is not the time to deviate from the plan they seemed to layout by not inviting him to camp. For me, the time to bring Nola up to the big leagues is right before or after the All-Star break.

The Phillies have control of Nola so that really isn’t a concern and they are burning innings with him in the minors, but that doesn’t mean they should just throw him into the fire. I believe that Nola should make one more start in Double-A, and then move to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. This will put Nola on the timetable to make three or four starts for the Ironpigs before the Phillies face the decision to promote Nola. Of course, this all is contingent on Nola continuing to produce, which I believe he will.

Giving Nola time in the Major Leagues in 2015 has become a given. That is going to happen as long as he stays healthy. Once he is in Philadelphia, there is no reason to send him back down. I doubt that Nola will give them a reason to either.

There are a few things, however, to consider with the progression of Aaron Nola. The first and most important is the inning load that they are willing to give Nola. The Phillies aren’t going to make the playoffs, so it isn’t like they need Nola down the stretch. If they want Nola to throw 160 innings between Double-A, Triple-A and Philadelphia, they can shut him down at any time. It is really about protecting your asset while getting him the experience needed to succeed in the future.

More from Section 215

Along with the innings limit, there needs to be  a pitch limit. If you believe that a pitcher will tell you when he is fine or tired, don’t. I pitched in college and never made a peep about being tired because ‘it was my game’. That is the mindset of a lot of pitchers. Cliff Lee was having elbow issues last season and never said a word before the injury forced him to. The Phillies will need to monitor the pitch count for Nola just as closely as they do with the amount of innings he throws.

Nola is 21-years old and will turn 22 next month. He is an asset the Phillies need to manage over the next several years. Mismanaging the workload of Nola could be devastating for the future of the Phillies. If Nola throws 85 pitches in four innings and that is his pitch count, whatever, he is done (although he would probably be done anyway since that is pretty bad). If Nola goes eight innings and throws 90 pitches, that is fine, too.

My point is that the Phillies need to protect Nola, while having a specific plan in mind. The Phillies won’t be winning the division this year, or even next year, but other key prospects will be ready to graduate to the big leagues in the next few years. Nola is one of those key prospects and the Phillies need to be careful with him. I don’t think that Nola should go straight to Philadelphia, but he should get there this year. For the Phillies, how you handle Nola is all about protecting your future and the progression of one of your top prospects with each start.

Next: Phillies Rumors: Team Discussed Ben Revere Trade With Angels