As each MLB draft tends to come and go, the big bats and promising starters tend to absorb all of the hype around the game. But when it comes down to the view on most college relievers, that hype is rather hard to find. Many elite college relievers get the opportunity to start in the lower minors, and those who don’t are often forgotten about because of an either small repertoire or troubling mechanics.
Stephen Nogosek is a 2016 MLB draftee, who was selected 176th-overall in the sixth round by the Boston Red Sox and has served solely as a reliever since 2015. He may not have carried the most hype behind his name before being selected last June, but he has the potential to be the first 2016 Red Sox' draftee to make an appearance at the big league level.
Nogosek was a college junior in 2016, and his performance in the closer role for the Oregon Ducks was dominant. In 29 games and 40 and 2/3 innings, the righty posted a strong 1.11 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with a 9.96 K/9. Stephen displayed a strong two-pitch mix, which included a fastball that sat 92-94 mph and a power slider that featured horizontal break at 85-87 mph. He also has a changeup that sits in the 84-86 mph range, but it projects as a below-average offering and it’s only used to steal a strike here and there. Part of Nogosek’s current success is a max effort delivery, that offers deception and a quick windup. This whole package of tools has given Nogosek the ability to be highly effective in short bursts.
Unlike the other college closers the Red Sox drafted like Shaun Anderson and Matthew Gorst, Nogosek has true reliever pedigree. His stuff didn’t scream lockdown closer by any means, but it did show the ability to be successful if placed in the right role. Despite the ceiling being rather unexciting, it was the floor that was appealing. Any arm that could possibly be pushed through the minors aggressively and impact the major league club, is beneficial with how important bullpens have become in the sport.
After signing for $250,000 and forgoing his senior year, Nogosek reported to Short-Season Lowell at the end of June as a 22-year old. In his first taste of professional baseball, he would post a promising 2.01 ERA in 13 and 1/3 innings. Nogosek continued to display his ability to miss bats, as he racked up 19 strikeouts during this period.
Unfortunately, his control faltered a bit after the transition from college ball. This resulted in a lackluster WHIP of 1.20 that caused Stephen to consistently work with trouble brewing. Nogosek successfully battled through these issues though, which earned him a promotion to Low-A Greenville in early August.
The results for the sixth-round pick at this new level ended up being a different story. Across a total of 14 innings, Nogosek gave up 17 hits and registered an ERA of 5.14 with a WHIP of 1.43. He would collect two saves during this period, and continued to miss bats with a 7.76 K/9, but his inability to limit big innings completely inflated his stat line.
Even though the stats were not exciting on the surface, Nogosek was continuing to display his tools against better competition. The slightly more advanced bats were definitely a new challenge, but he didn’t look lost while attempting to make an impact on the mound. This led to the reliever being ranked as the 25th-best prospect in Boston's farm system, according to SoxProspects.com.
Since the Red Sox farm system has weakened after a couple of trades for pitching this offseason, it feels like there’s a negative consensus around most of the prospects left over. It’s important to remember, different pieces of a farm system are used to help fill out an entire 25-man MLB roster. Not everyone drafted is going to be a huge breakthrough star and become a franchise cornerstone.
There’s small roles on any team that need to come together to collectively succeed. A player like Stephen Nogosek has legitimate value. It may not be that of an exciting 6-8 WAR player, but contributing a WAR in the 1-2 range has the ability to make a noticeable impact throughout the course of an entire season.
At the moment, Boston has a rather crowded bullpen at the major league level and the upper-minors. But it is almost impossible to have too many arms. If Stephen Nogosek can continue to make strides and find consistently in minor league bullpens, it won’t be too long before he’s a name that will be in the conversation for a possible call-up. If Stephen Nogosek is pushed quickly like some have theorized, he could find himself flying through the minors like fellow 2016 draftee Zack Burdi.
Pitchers with an advanced feel aren’t forced to slowly climb the ladder anymore. If an organization has a need, they are willing to push the envelope in order to better the bullpen and help lock down games.