Baseball, especially minor league baseball, is full of surprises. Sometimes, top draft picks perform terribly as flaws in their game are exposed, while lesser known prospects dominate and show that they were overlooked by scouts and front offices. Others put up huge numbers in A + or AAA, only to flounder at upper levels as what was working for them doesn’t work in more advanced competition.
Then, there are weird stories like Vidal Nuno. Nuno was drafted in the 48th round (a round that doesn’t even exist anymore) in the 2009 draft by the Cleveland Indians. After predictable mediocrity in lower levels of the system, he was released after the 2010 season and found himself in Independent ball. After 6 solid starts, he was signed by the Yankees. Since then, he has pitched out of his mind with a 2.06 FIP and 3.03 SIERA in several different levels He has most recently been pitching in AA, where he has a solid 3.26 FIP and 3.66 SIERA (league average SIERA is 4.18) in 13 starts.
Of course, this doesn’t make him a prospect. When I asked Kevin Goldstein about him, he said “Older, undersized indy ball guy doing well. Move along..”
He is short. The lefty is listed at 5-11, and with it comes a weird arm action that isn’t quite side-armed, but may provide him some deception. Size in pitchers is usually considered important as it makes it easier for them to throw on a downward plane and more often than not provides some durability (unless they are too tall).
Nuno being old is disputable. He is 25 an the average pitcher in the Eastern League (the AA league he is a part of) is 24.8. So he is slightly older than league average. Prospects, especially the top ones, are almost always younger than their league, but it is not as if Nuno is a 27 year old dominating 20 year olds (or even a college guy dominating high school players in the Arizona Summer League).
So what does Nuno feature as a left handed pitcher that is leading to this success? The fastball is unimpressive but perhaps adequate at 89-91 MPH. He can locate it pretty well, working it both in and away with lefties, and mainly away to righties. He also has solid off-speed pitches he can throw in the dirt. This includes a good changeup with some pretty solid movement. This is what gives you some hope he can retire righties, at least in a relief level in the big leagues. His other breaking pitch is almost a slurve that goes into right handed hitters. When I saw him, this pitch made righties look awful. It is a slow pitch without real sharp break, so it may be fair to question whether or not he could get right handed batters out with it in the big leagues, especially when he doesn’t locate it perfectly. However, he has good command of all his pitches, keeping the breaking pitches down consistently. He was missing a lot of bats when I saw him. He would get ahead with the mediocre fastball an then follow with breaking pitches out of the zone. I would like to see him work backwards more often and throw the fastball down low in the zone more often. This way he wouldn’t be as predictable.
Outside of a couple Danny Hultzen outings and a Tony Cingrani outing (ton of strikeouts) against Jackson, it was the most dominating AA outing I’ve seen all year (I struggle to think of such dominating outings in other other levels that were much better) in the first few innings. I’m not talking about the pitching line, as some bad luck makes it look mediocre. I am talking about the reaction from the hitters. He didn’t give up a real hard hit ball until the 6th when a hanging curveball was lofted over the fence. I really think he can be a big league reliever. His stuff isn’t great, especially on paper, but it looks like he has the stuff to be deceptive and miss bats when he only has to face hitters once. His platoon splits would most likely become enornmous in the later innings of starts, but the deception (especially when you look at guys like Josh Collmenter, who has been okay as a starter this year but tremendous as a reliever) could really play well against hitters that only get to face him once. David P. (@YankeeSource), a scout who pays special attention to the Yankees, believes that he is solid and not too far from the Majors. Not bad for a 48th rounder who was released and signed out of independent ball.