Angel Nesbitt wasn't on anyone's radar as a potential bullpen arm prior to the 2014 season, but not because of the usual reasons. Signed out of Venezuela as an amateur free agent in 2008, Nesbitt spent three years in the Venezuelan Summer League before finally making his stateside debut in 2012. He allowed a forgettable 4.71 ERA and 1.65 WHIP with just 23 strikeouts in 36 1/3 innings.
In 2013, he improved his numbers to a 3.22 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 67 innings at Single-A West Michigan. However, with an unimpressive 19.2 strikeout rate to his name, the 22-year-old Nesbitt wasn't opening any eyes with his Midwest League performance.
That changed in 2014. Nesbitt held opponents to a 1.48 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 66 2/3 innings at two levels. More importantly, he struck out over a batter per inning while keeping his walk rate in check, resulting in a career-best 3.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. This included an impressive showing for Double-A Erie, where he struck out 27.7 percent of the batters he faced in 32 1/3 innings.
One of the most telling statistics of Nesbitt's breakout season is the number of hits he allowed. In 2012 and his earlier days overseas, Nesbitt routinely gave up over a hit per inning. The strikeouts were not there either, but a reliever who gives up that many hits at any level is not going to last very long. This figure improved to just under a hit per inning in 2013, when he gave up 60 hits in 67 innings. In 2014, Nesbitt allowed 43 hits in 66 2/3 innings, or 5.8 hits per nine innings.
Nesbitt's dominance can also be seen in the power numbers opposing batters had against him. In 2013, he allowed a .235 batting average and .349 slugging average, resulting in a .114 isolated power (ISO). In 2013, those figures decreased to .183, .238, and .055, respectively. He only allowed seven extra base hits all season long, and did not allow a home run in 34 1/3 innings with the Lakeland Flying Tigers.
Like the last two players we have previewed, Nesbitt has yet to reach the major leagues. He was added to the 40-man roster last November and still has three minor league options remaining. The Tigers could feasibly shuttle him between Toledo and Detroit over the next few years. It will be up to Nesbitt to ensure that this doesn't happen.
Stats and projections
Nesbitt's stellar 2014 season made him one of the darlings of the Tigers prospect community heading into 2015. He was voted our #14 prospect, and I had already tabbed him as someone who could see some innings at the major league level.
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.
Nesbitt's fastball command will be key, as his heater had a tendency to flatten out and become more hitable when he was in the lower minors. If he can maintain the consistency with his fastball and offspeed offerings in 2014, he should one of the first players in line for a call-up in 2015.