Position: Right-handed Pitcher
Nickerson joined the Tigers as a 7th round choice in the 2006 draft, immediately after helping lead his Oregon State Beavers to a College World Series Championship. Prior to joining OSU, Nickerson completed an extremely successful high school career that included being named a 2-time 1st Team All-State, 3-time 1st Team All-League, and his league's Co-MVP during his senior season.
As a sophomore, Jonah burst on the national scene with a 2.13 ERA and a 9-2 record that led to 1st Team Pac-10 and 2nd Team All-American honors. Nickerson was also named as the Bill Coyle's Award winner as the Beavers top pitcher in 2005. After a successful summer pitching for Team USA (2.00/1.17), Nickerson returned to OSU and experienced another highly successful season. With high expectations – including several Pre-Season All-American nods – Nickerson continued to perform well; posting a 10-4 record including 3 complete games, and a 2.67/1.19 line.
Nickerson saw limited action with the Oneonta Tigers after signing; being watched closely because of his heavy workload during the collegiate season. In five relief appearances for Oneonta, he notched a 2.77 ERA and twelve strikeouts in thirteen innings. The Tigers promoted Nickerson to West Michigan for the 2007 season, where he started off slowly, but turned it on in a big way during the season's second half. His second half surge was highlighted by a 4-0 record and 1.09 ERA in five July starts. For his efforts, Nickerson was named MiLB.com Pitcher of the Week for the week of July 23rd, and TigsTown's West Michigan Pitcher of the Month. In total, Jonah's eleven wins were good enough to tie for 6th in the Midwest League, while his two complete games and one shutout were good enough to tie for first in the circuit.
Moving up another level in 2008, Nickerson enjoyed another successful season with Lakeland. Despite the presence of top prospects like Rick Porcello and Luis Marte in the rotation, Nickerson managed to earn TigsTown's Lakeland Pitcher of the Month award in both May and June. On top of those honors, Jonah finished ranked first in the Florida State League in wins (12) and games started (26); while also finishing in the top ten in innings (146.2), strikeouts (114), and WHIP (1.23).
Nickerson brings four pitches that range from barely average, to a tick above average; with none of them having the potential to develop into plus offerings. His fastball and cutter are his top two pitches, both of which he controls well to both sides of the plate. His fastball previously sat in the 90-92 range, but has since dipped to the 86-88 range on a regular basis. He varies the speed on his fastball well, and can keep hitters off balance. The fastball-cutter combination are spotted to all parts of the zone, and can be worked up and down in the zone with ease.
Nickerson compliments his hard stuff with a curve and change combination that is just good enough to offer a change of pace. Neither pitch has swing-and-miss potential, but they should be enough to get hitters out in front, and drive it into the turf. His makeup is exceptional, with a bulldog mentality that forces him to remain competitive in all situations. Nickerson is an average athlete who fields his position fairly well. He profiles as a #4/5 starter down the line, and he'll have to see progress with either his curve or change to maintain that projection.
Performance Level Team W-L ERA G GS SV SO BB IP AVG A+
Nickerson's arm appears to be one of freakish ability to remain healthy. He never seems to be excessively sore, even after being worked hard during his college career. Nickerson again handled a heavy workload with ease in 2008, and is quickly establishing himself as a durable, work horse style pitcher.
Nickerson's first major test will come in 2009, as he gets his first exposure to Double-A hitters who are often more advanced and refined in their approach. He is precisely the type of pitcher that frequently struggles with this big step in competition, but his competitiveness and intelligence on the mound could help him a adapt a little more smoothly.
Jonah will be 24 when the season begins, and if there are rotation struggles in Detroit, he could see a spot start here or there if he is pitching well. He's simply a durable arm that can eat quality innings and keep his team in the game; a commodity that is often under-valued at the minor league level, but is a highly valuable Major League resource. With a successful season at Erie in 2009, Nickerson could make his Major League debut in 2010.
Mark Anderson is TigsTown's Managing Editor and feature Minor League writer. He can be reached at Mark@TigsTown.com.