School: University of Utah
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (25): Trey Nielsen improved upon his 2015 prospect ranking substantially in the community vote. After being tabbed as the #56th best prospect in the system by the site readers a year ago, Nielsen was voted the #25th prospect this year. Oddly, he began receiving support during the early 20’s, and quickly secured enough votes to justify being included in that grouping.
That being said, there wasn’t a lot of discussion about Nielsen during the voting thread, but what did stand out was Desmetlax12’s astute observation that Nielsen is only in his second year pitching in the organization and should continue to improve after posting 2.5 ERAs in his first two years of professional baseball. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (30): First drafted in 42nd round out of high school by Chicago Cubs, Nielsen opted to join the Utah Utes as a two-way player. His first two years, he worked exclusively in the infield before returning to the mound his junior year, where regained his form and surpassed his prior results. However, his pitching career took a downward turn when Nielsen strained his ulnar collateral ligament a week before the college season.
Cardinals scouts had seen him the prior fall and the organization gave him a shot as their 30th rounder in 2013. The 24-year old has since pitched his way up High-A ball with a terrific showing in his first full season despite limited mound time in collegiate ball, very little track record as a pitcher, and having not given full focus to pitching over playing in the field until recently.
There are positives and negatives when it comes to Nielsen. The positives are he has fewer miles on his arm than a typical 24-year old. He is a Tommy John survivor, pitching runs in his genes and his fastball can touch 95 mph with heavy sink. The negatives are he is a 24-year old who has yet to face advanced competition, he lacks the size of a workhorse starter, and his secondary offerings (slider/change) are fringy with room to improve.
His development will certainly be interesting as he is different than the older prospects of the world, lacking much professional and pitching experience, including none in the upper levels.
Nielsen is a sleeper pick for me if he can continue to start, but given how fresh his arm is, a move to the bullpen might result in an immediate velocity jump. With the sink, he could profile similar to Seth Maness as a ground-ball machine with lesser control. Then again, Nielsen does not seem to have Maness's ability to pound the bottom of the strike zone on an every pitch basis. That could ruin his value, altogether.
I was convinced Nielsen needed a Double-A test in July 2015. He shall get that in 2016 with a full-season slate against Texas League hitters.
Brian Walton (24): Perhaps part of the reason Nielsen is intriguing is his unique back story. Then again, the reason that he is here, making his first top 40 after a Best of the Rest notation last year, is because of his results.
Sure, his secondary pitches need work, as they pretty much do for all pitchers still in A-ball. Granted, his physical age (he pitched all season at 23) seems older than many, yet he was just the eighth-oldest pitcher on the season-ending 2015 Palm Beach Cardinals roster.
More importantly, as noted above, his pitching age is by far the youngest of any of the Cardinals hurlers at his level. There is plenty of room for growth.
Derek mentioned above that he would have liked to see Nielsen reach Double-A in 2015. There were two interrelated things working against him – his lower amount of experience and an innings-pitched limit that was pretty much burned up by end of July.
To his credit, one reason that occurred was that he was pitching so deep into games. This season, Nielsen went six or more innings in half of his starts, nine of 18. Again, given his experience, that was especially impressive. I also like his ground ball rate of better than two to one.
At the start of August, Nielsen was shifted to the Palm Beach bullpen, from where he made seven more appearances during August and early September. It certainly was not a performance issue. So I asked his manager, Oliver Marmol, what was behind the move.
“At that point of the season, you are watching innings and making sure that you stay within the limit that they have,” Marmol said. “And Trey was approaching that, so we wanted to make sure we kept him as part of the team. And the best way stay in that limit was to put him in the pen and he did a good job there, as well. It wasn’t the first time. He did a little of that (relieving) down in State College (in 2014).
“Trey did a very nice job for us,” his skipper concluded.
2016 will be a big year for Nielsen. If he continues to progress in a tougher pitching environment at Springfield, the Cardinals may have something here. If not, as noted above, a relief role could still mean value ahead for the organization and potentially a faster path upward.
Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.
Not yet a member? Join today for as little as $7.95 after our seven-day free trial and be able to read all of our exclusive St. Louis Cardinals major and minor league content year-round.
© 2015 The Cardinal Nation, thecardinalnation.com and stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.