If you were to ask someone about a pitching prospect in the Tigers organization, odds are the report would look something like this: "big bodied player who throws 95 miles per hour and is either from the SEC or Venezuela." Pitchers like this are scattered throughout the organization, and we have several on this countdown already.
After a breakout season in which he added velocity to his fastball and struck out over a batter per inning, Angel Nesbitt joined this not-so-exclusive group. He blazed through two minor league levels with a three-pitch arsenal, holding opponents to fewer than six hits per nine innings along the way. Nesbitt was completely off the radar before the season -- we didn't even have him on our "just missed" list, let alone the top 30 -- but forced his way into the conversation with a monster season. As 2015 approaches, Nesbitt is a dark horse candidate to join the Tigers bullpen out of spring training and a likely call-up at some point during the season.
Nesbitt is a right-handed pitcher who was signed out of Venezuela by the Tigers in 2008. He spent three seasons in the Venezuelan Summer League to begin his career and did not come to the United States until 2012, his age 21 season. He allowed a 4.71 ERA with a 2.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio for the Connecticut Tigers in the New York-Penn League that season. He was called up to Single-A West Michigan in 2013, where he lowered his ERA to 3.22 and struck out 54 batters in 67 innings.
It was not until 2014 when Nesbitt started turning heads. Boasting an improved arsenal, he made short work of the Advanced-A Florida State League, allowing a 0.79 ERA and 0.90 WHIP in 34 1/3 innings. He struck out 36 batters to just eight walks, and all but forced the Tigers to promote him to Double-A Erie. The high strikeout rate continued for the SeaWolves; Nesbitt fanned 36 batters in 32 1/3 innings while allowing a 2.23 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball was succinct when describing Nesbitt, who he ranked 17th on his top 20 Tigers prospects list earlier this year.
Prototype hard-throwing relief prospect from Venezuela, another mid-90s fastball, has made strides with slider and change-up. Should get a trial soon if command holds up.
Nesbitt's breakout 2014 season is not entirely a mirage. While walk rates can vary from one year to the next -- he even showed signs of regression during his stint in Erie -- reports indicate that Nesbitt's fastball velocity improved from his days in West Michigan. Seeing an uptick in velocity as a player matures physically is common, and usually a good sign in a player's development path. He struck out over a batter per inning in 2014, the first time he has done that throughout a full professional season.
Even more encouraging was the fact that Nesbitt was able to maintain the high strikeout rate in half a season at the Double A level. Our former prospect guru, Jordan Gorosh, indicated that this was reason for optimism.
One of the most encouraging things about Nesbitt's 2014 season is how overpowering he was to hitters at both levels. Nesbitt allowed just 43 hits in 66 2/3 total innings, or less than six hits per nine innings. Opponents batted .183 with a paltry .238 slugging average against him, resulting in a .497 OPS allowed. This is very promising, especially for a raw pitcher during his age 23 season. If Nesbitt can continue this type of dominance in 2015, a big league call-up will come sooner rather than later.
While Nesbitt has great raw velocity, his stuff does not seem to be as deceptive as one might imagine. Jordan got a first-hand look at Nesbitt in 2013 and came away somewhat unimpressed.
He's straight over the top. The slider was better than the other times I've seen him, but still consistently below MLB average. He'd throw a couple that flashed plus, then three or four "spinners." It didn't seem like it was difficult to pick him up. His pitches lacked "conviction," and by that I mean he didn't seem to have much of a purpose for every pitch. His stuff is a bit flat, and even though he was throwing 95-96 miles per hour, batters didn't seem uncomfortable. I see his ceiling as a decent organizational guy, and unless he adds some deception, I doubt he cracks the majors.
Nesbitt has also been prone to bouts of wildness, something that became very apparent during his short spell in Erie. He walked 15 batters in just 32 1/3 innings, nearly double the rate that he had in Lakeland. The walks tended to come in bunches as well; he had six outings with multiple base on balls allowed, which accounted for 15 of the 23 walks he gave up on the season.
Projected team: Toledo Mud Hens
I have been intrigued by Nesbitt's profile all winter. The improvements in velocity and raw stuff help explain the big jump in strikeout rate, a change that I think will be sustainable moving forward. I identified Nesbitt as someone who could help the big league club in 2015 earlier this offseason, and my thoughts then still hold true now.
A dark horse candidate for some MLB innings next year could be right-hander Angel Nesbitt. He torched the Florida State League in 2014, allowing three earned runs in 34 1/3 innings. He was called up to Double A in mid-June and didn't show any signs of slowing down, with a 2.23 ERA. His command can be iffy at times -- he walked 4.2 batters per nine innings in Erie -- but reports indicate a big bump in his fastball velocity from 2013 to 2014. The command will need to be better and his secondary offerings need work, but mistakes at 96 miles per hour are much tougher to handle than they are at 90. I would expect the Tigers to test him at Triple A to begin the year, with a call-up to Detroit if things continue like they did in '14.
There are still too many arms in the mix for him to make the big league club out of spring training -- having minor league options puts a dent in his chances too -- but Nesbitt could crack the roster sometime this summer if he keeps blowing away minor league hitters.
New addition: Adam Ravenelle, right-handed pitcher
The above description also holds true for Ravenelle, a right-handed pitcher from Vanderbilt who can touch 95 miles per hour with his fastball. A fourth round pick by the Tigers in 2014, Ravenelle only pitched four innings after being drafted due to a finger injury. Ravenelle was a reliever in college, but the Tigers are hopeful that he can add a changeup to his potent fastball-slider arsenal and make the jump to the rotation. Like most of the other pitchers in the system, Ravenelle profiles as a back-end starter or middle reliever at the MLB level.