Oakland A's Prospect Report: Sean Nolin

In need of more upper-level minor league starting pitching depth, the Oakland A's acquired two pitchers as part of the package of players they received for Josh Donaldson. Learn more about one of those pitchers: left-hander Sean Nolin.

Name: Sean Nolin
Position: LHP
Height/Weight: 6’4’’, 230
Age: 24
Originally Signed: 6th-round pick in 2010 (TOR)

With the recent graduations of Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Sonny Gray and the trades of Dan Straily and Tommy Milone, the Oakland A’s began the off-season very thin on major-league ready starting pitching at the Triple-A level. When they traded Josh Donaldson to the Toronto Blue Jays, the A’s acquired two starters with Triple-A experience that they hope will be able to step into their rotation at some point this season. We profiled Kendall Graveman earlier this week. Sean Nolin is the other pitcher in the package and he could join an A’s rotation that already includes two left-handers – Scott Kazmir and Drew Pomeranz.

The Blue Jays selected Nolin in the sixth round of the 2010 draft out of junior college powerhouse San Jacinto. As a sophomore at the school, Nolin struck-out 84 in 82 innings and posted a 1.98 ERA. He also went 13-0 and helped lead the Gators to a second-place finish in the Junior College World Series. Nolin was named the JUCO World Series Most Outstanding Pitcher.

After signing with the Jays, Nolin made seven starts for the Jays’ short-season clubs. He posted a 5.48 ERA with 26 strike-outs and 10 walks in 21.1 innings. The next year Nolin pitched exclusively for Low-A Lansing in the Midwest League. The left-hander posted a 3.49 ERA while striking out 113 and walking just 31 in 108.1 innings. He allowed nine homeruns.

In 2012, Nolin made a big move forward with the Jays. He pitched most of the season with High-A Dunedin, earning mid-season All-Star honors with the Blue Jays. In 86.1 innings at Dunedin, Nolin had a 2.19 ERA and a 90:21 K:BB. He also went a perfect 9-0. Nolin made three starts for Double-A New Hampshire, as well, and established he had no trouble pitching at that level. In 15 innings, he allowed just two earned runs. Nolin struck-out 18 and walked six.

Nolin missed the first month of the 2013 season while dealing with a groin injury. Once he was healthy, he returned to Double-A and continued to pitch well at that level. In 17 starts, he had a 3.01 ERA and a 103:25 K:BB in 92.2 innings. He also made a spot start for the Blue Jays that May, although he was roughed up to the tune of seven runs allowed in 1.1 innings. Nolin finished the year with Triple-A Buffalo, where he had a 1.53 ERA in 17.2 innings, although his K:BB was 13:10.

Groin strains impacted Nolin again in 2014. He had two early season stints on the disabled list while dealing with the groin problems. The injuries cost him a third of the season and limited him to less than 100 innings during the regular season. Nolin spent the majority of the year with Triple-A Buffalo, where he had a 3.50 ERA in 87.1 innings. His K:BB was 74:35. Nolin’s command wasn’t quite as good as it usually is early in the season, perhaps because of his injury issues. However, his walk rate returned to its normal levels during the final six weeks of the season. Nolin would make one September relief appearance for the Jays, allowing a run in one inning of work.

Because of the time he missed on the disabled list, Nolin was sent to the Arizona Fall League to make up for those lost innings. There he teamed up with A’s prospects on the Mesa Solar Sox club. Nolin caught the eye of the A’s brass during the AFL season. He averaged roughly 92 MPH on his fastball during the AFL, according to MLBFarm.com, and he struck-out 24 in 22.1 innings pitched. Nolin had a 4.03 ERA and walked six while allowing two homeruns.

Nolin isn’t a power pitcher in terms of raw velocity, but he isn’t a nibbler, either. The left-hander is aggressive in the strike-zone with his fastball, which sits anywhere from 89-93 and gets natural tailing action on it. Nolin uses his fastball to set-up his three secondary pitches – a hard slider, a change-up and a curveball. He has good command of all of his pitches and mixes his offerings well.

Nolin has a similar build to current A’s left-hander Pomeranz and shouldn’t have any issue handling a starter’s work load. Although he has missed significant time due to injuries each of the last two seasons, all of those injuries were to his legs and not his arm, so they shouldn’t impact him longterm. Nolin struggled in his two brief major league outings, but he hasn’t had any trouble adjusting to new levels during his minor league career.

A lot of comparisons were made between Nolin and former A’s starter Milone when Nolin was acquired, in large part because they were both left-handers known more for their command than their pure stuff. Both are flyball pitchers who struck-out more than three times as many batters as they walked during their minor league careers.

Nolin’s fastball has more velocity and movement than Milone’s and, at 6’4’’, Nolin gets more leverage and can hide the ball longer than Milone can at 6’1’’. Pitchers like Milone who throw strikes and command the ball well have generally found success with the A’s over the past few years, and Nolin fits into that mold well. He should get an opportunity to compete for a spot in the A’s rotation this spring. If he makes the A’s roster out of spring training, Nolin will be the same age Milone was when he made the A’s roster at the start of the 2012 season.

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