Position: Left-handed Pitcher
When the Tigers picked Nelson in the 10th round last June, it was the second time he was selected in the amateur draft. In 2009, the Tampa Bay Rays picked Nelson in the 45th round but were unable to come to an agreement with him. The Tigers were able to ink Nelson with a $90,000 signing bonus.
Debuting in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Nelson was nearly unhittable as an experienced college product against much rawer and less-refined competition. In seven games, including one start, Cole posted a minute 0.57 ERA with only 11 hits allowed in 15 1/3 innings. He topped off his dominating performance in the GCL by fanning 27 hitters, giving almost two whiffs every inning he took the mound.
When promotions necessitated Nelson get moved along a little more quickly, the Tigers pushed him across the parking lot to the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers. Nelson made two starts for the LFT and amazingly allowed only one hit in 12 innings. He carried his weight in a game where the Tigers held the opposition hitless for over 14 innings.
Reports coming out of college had Nelson topping out at 92 mph with his fastball, and sitting at 89-90 most of the time, while also losing a bit of that from the stretch.
Immediately upon arriving in Lakeland the Tigers started working to make some tweaks to his delivery. By lengthening his stride to extend his landing point, the Tigers were able to coax a little more velocity out of Nelson. During his brief pro debut and the Fall Instructional League, Nelson sat consistently at 92-93 in the windup and reached 95 regularly in short stints. His velocity still dipped some in the stretch, but it wasn't the dip scouts had seen in the past.
With the tweak to his delivery, Nelson's curveball (some scouts call it a slider) showed a little more bite at times, but still lacked the consistency to be considered a second plus offering.
Command of both the fastball and slider were still a work in progress as he adjusted to the new mechanics, but he could get to a point where he commands the ball at an average level.
Nelson has a limited profile as a starter because he lacks any sort of a reliable change-up, but he could fit in as a durable back of the rotation type if he refines his "new" game. He will have to make it as a starter, as his trouble maintaining velocity with runners on would keep him off the relief radar long term.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG R
Nelson has a well-built, durable frame and a clean arm action. He uses his legs well in a drop and drive fashion and there is little visible/noticeable stress on his arm.
Nelson could start the 2011 season back in the Lakeland rotation, or the Tigers could take it a little slower and send him down to West Michigan for some experience and polish. Either way, the Tigers won't be afraid to push him at an accelerated rate.
If he can somehow improve his ability to pitch in a relief role, he could be in line for a 2013 arrival in the big leagues. As a starter, he could take a year longer. Nelson isn't a high-end prospect with a high ceiling, but he has a very good shot at a big league opportunity.
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