Kyle Nicolas should join a list of Ball State players drafted that includes Zach Plesac, who was taken in 2016, and Drey Jameson who was taken 34th overall in 2019. The school has produced several major leaguers in recent years despite not being a major program. Plesac pitched in 2019 and outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker was playing the majors as recently as 2017.
Nicolas is listed as the 60th-best prospect on MLB.com’s big board. He is a right-handed pitcher listed at 6’4″, 225-pounds. He joined the Ball State program after a successful career at Jackson High in Ohio, where he won a state title as a senior pitcher with current Ohio State catcher Dillon Dingler. This will be Nicolas’ first time in the amateur draft pool since graduating high school.
Nicolas throws one of the best fastballs in the entire draft. It is currently graded as a 70/80 with velocities consistently in the mid-90s and touching 100 mph on occasion. He also has an above-average slider in the upper-80s with an average curveball and underdeveloped changeup. It’s an effective mix that should work in the professional ranks after some development.
The 21-year-old was off to a strong start before the NCAA cancelled the remainder of the collegiate baseball season. Nicolas threw 23 innings with a 2.74 ERA, 0.957 WHIP and 37 strikeouts against just seven walks. Those numbers represent a dramatic improvement over his sophomore year that featured a 6.02 ERA, 82 strikeouts and 51 walks. Most of the sophomore year came in relief but he graduated to starter in 2020 and was highly effective. The decrease in walk rate from 8.3 per nine to under three is the most encouraging sign of Nicolas’ development.
Nicolas’ best game came in his final start against Sacred Heart University. He pitched seven strong innings and allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out 17 in a brutal 1-0 loss. Some will look at that game as an outlier; Nicolas had tougher outings against Houston Baptist University and the University of Kansas, but teams might look at the more recent Sacred Heart game as the true indicator of his potential.
There are real concerns surrounding Nicolas despite his velocity. He will need to refine his control to have a chance to progress through the professional ranks. He was vastly improved on the mound, but his career walk numbers are not what teams want to see in their prospects.
Nicolas could end up as a reliever if his walk issues return. That would potentially limit the number of free passes while letting Nicolas focus on his fastball/slider combination to overpower batters.
An interesting comp for Nicolas is the Atlanta Braves‘ Kyle Wright. Wright is a similarly built power righty who averaged almost 95 mph on his fastball in 2019. He also threw a slider in the upper-80s and a curveball around 80 MPH.
Wright had a rough 2019 with 19 2/3 innings pitched and an 8.69 ERA, but his stuff is electric and gives him a chance to start long-term. Wright threw 267 1/3 innings in the minors after Atlanta selected him in 2017. Nicolas could follow a similar path and reach the majors quickly if the control he demonstrated in 2020 continues.
Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images