Trey Nielsen / Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos

The right-hander, in just his third year on the mound, had an up and down 2016 at Springfield.

The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2017 continues with a Double-A starter at #44 who encountered periods of success and turbulence last season, finishing in the bullpen. Details for TCN members.

2016 rank Pos. DOB Signed Round
28 RHS 09 01 91 2013 30th

Selected 2016 stats

Mem 1 0 1.69 6.91 1 1 0 5.1 2 1 1 4 4 0.125 1.00 0.091
Spr 8 8 3.84 4.37 23 19 1 122 131 52 13 38 81 0.279 1.10 0.306
Tot 9 8 3.75   24 20 1 127.1 133 53 14 42 85 0.274 1.10  

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (52): After ending up as the 25th best prospect on the 2016 community list, Trey Nielsen nose-dived to #52 in this year's vote despite a pretty productive year. In the 2017 community list, Nielsen did not register with anyone until desmetlax12 pulled the trigger with his vote at #40.

Desmetlax12 justified the vote saying that Nielsen, only in his third year of pitching after playing the field most of his college career, should continue to improve after posting 2.5 ERA’s in his first two years of pro-ball. He also pointed out that Nielsen is a ground ball and low walk rate pitcher, which allows for plenty of success despite a low strike out rate and that Nielsen could get a spot start next year. - Jeremy Byrd


Derek Shore (48): Nielsen's stock slipped after ranking as our #28 prospect last winter. The righty's 2016 campaign went much like his first full season, posting a modest 3.75 ERA through 24 games (20 starts) before ending it as a reliever likely as part of limiting him due to fatigue issues in August.

Nielsen, 25, started off slowly in perhaps his biggest test in Double-A, pitching to a 5.95 ERA for the month of April. As he began to learn the importance of spotting his sinker at the knees, the former 30th rounder caught up to the Texas League, finishing the first half with a 3.38 mark and was voted a mid-season All-Star by his peers, but declined due to what he called "personal things."

"He came up into a league right away where he realized he had better get the ball down," Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi said. "That was the biggest adjustment he couldn't get away from being in the Florida State League."

"That was the biggest focus - getting the ball down and getting some more athletic looking movements towards home plate instead of being more mechanical. His mechanics are pretty sound, but he was a little more robotic at the beginning of the season and then looked more fluid."

As up-and-down as a first half can get, the league figured out Nielsen in July (5.52 ERA, five starts) before he missed the majority of August due to fatigue. As mentioned, Nielsen ended his season as a reliever for the second straight season.

"The hitters are a little more polished," Nielsen said during an interview in May. "They play at a higher level. There are more polished hitters, and they make you make more adjustments at this level than High-A. Being able to read hitters and adjust per at-bat has been different this year just because the hitters are so polished."

When he keeps the ball down, his sinker plays well.  I asked Springfield manager Dann Bilardello what he feels Trey accomplished this past year.

"Well, I think that he needs to know when to keep the ball down and trust his stuff,” the manager said. “He's learned that. He needs to learn to be sharper with his secondary pitches. When he's down in the zone, and his secondary pitches are working, he's a pretty good pitcher."

Stuff-wise, Nielsen controls the zone with a high 80s to low 90s sinker-changeup mix. His primary goal is to change speeds, throw hitters' timing off, and get them to pound the ball on the ground. That's said, Nielsen's margin of error will always be thin due to his inconsistent command and fringy secondary offerings (breaking ball/change). When his pitches are elevated, his stuff is eliminated by advanced hitters.

Scouts see Nielsen as a middle reliever to a spot-starter.


Brian Walton (32): Perhaps I have been too slow to move Nielsen down in the Cardinals pitching pecking order, as my 2017 ranking for him is substantially more aggressive than the other voters.

After Nielsen's first-time invitation to MLB spring training camp, I accept his rough start to 2016 as adapting to a much more difficult new league. The fatigue issue that he encountered in July and August was a bit more concerning, but as noted above, he still has only about 300 career innings on the mound as an amateur and professional. With just two years of full-season ball under his belt, I think there is still growth opportunity ahead.

It should be noted that Nielsen’s biggest break to date immediately preceded his most difficult downturn this past summer.

With top prospect Alex Reyes off to the MLB Futures Game, the Cardinals promoted Nielsen to Memphis for a spot start on July 9. The right-hander performed most admirably in his Triple-A debut, holding Round Rock to just two hits and one earned run over 5 2/3 innings. Things were looking up.

Just afterward, however, his problems mounted. Over his next four July starts for Springfield, Nielsen allowed 16 runs in 26 innings for a 5.54 ERA. As August opened, instead of getting a recall to Memphis to help backfill for the promotions of Reyes and Luke Weaver to St. Louis, he was placed on the disabled list.

After almost four weeks on the shelf, Nielsen was able to execute a partial recovery and close his season on a positive note. Upon his late-season return, he appeared in six games out of the Double-A bullpen. Nielsen yielded four runs in 14 innings, a 2.57 ERA, with 12 strikeouts and just four walks. To me, that was encouraging.

Again, perhaps too optimistically, I had listed Nielsen as the one of four “high” odds Rule 5 protection candidates from the Cardinals this fall. I say “too optimistically,” because he was the only one of the quartet who ended up not being added to the 40-man roster. I still think he is the kind of pitcher, not unlike Matt Bowman the year before, who could be given a shot at the back of some MLB team’s bullpen next spring. If 26-man rosters are enacted for 2017, it could increase the odds of Nielsen leaving via the Rule 5 Draft.

As noted, Nielsen does not have dominating stuff like a Reyes, making a smaller room for error and a lower ceiling. Yet, if he remains with the Cardinals and can get back to his prior ground ball ways, he can earn a spot in the Memphis rotation for his age 25 season in 2017 and position himself to be ready to help St. Louis, likely out of the bullpen.

TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)


Our 2017 top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!


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