The transition from amateur baseball to the professional level is never easy and Nick Nelson's debut season was a mixed bag. He was able to pitch himself out of trouble rather consistently but at the same time he realizes it was he himself who put him in those troubling spots in the first place.
"I thought I did good," Nelson said. "It was definitely different than my last year in college. It was definitely a big change. I felt I did good but I could have done better. For my first professional season it wasn't that bad.
"I know my fastball command wasn't always there. I just didn't have fastball command. I walked too many guys. I couldn't control my fastball. If I had done that I think I would have had more success. I would just try to overthrow or something like that and couldn't command it."
The end result was 22 walks in 21.1 innings, not a good line by anyone's standards. However, like in most areas of life, there was a silver lining. He learned how to pitch around trouble on the strength of his plus fastball-plus curveball combination, and did so with essentially just a two-pitch arsenal. Nelson really didn't have a third pitch to go to and it was one of the bigger things he went to Instructs to work on last month.
"I did develop a changeup actually down there at Instructs," he noted. "I'm pretty excited about that going into Spring Training this upcoming season.
"I'm actually really excited because even this past year at my junior college I didn't have a changeup but I still had pretty good success. I'm actually really excited now to throw that third pitch in there and see if it helps me. I never really had that third pitch to go to, I just normally had my fastball and curveball."
He didn't have that third pitch in college and he didn't have it in Pulaski for the most part either. He had one he rarely threw in games, one which he worked on sometimes behind the scenes, but one that wasn't very reliable, at least not to the point where it stands now one short Instructional League season later.
"I'd say it's about ten times better," he said emphatically about his changeup. "We really worked on my changeup -- I worked on it some in Pulaski but wasn't that hard on it -- but there at Instructs we worked on it a good bit and oh man, it started getting better and better. I figured out how to locate it and where to start it but it's a lot better."
Currently sitting in the 88-92 mph range, Nelson still has to learn how to slow down his changeup more going forward to make it a true changeup but it does have some splitter-like action and movement, enough to at least give him another option against batters, and that is progress.
"With the grip it's kind of just like a splitter. Instead of using my pointer finger I use my middle and my ring finger. It's just like a splitter but I just need to learn how to slow it down."
He wasn't just there to work on his changeup, however. Again, with the walks as high as they were, the Yankees went to work on Nelson's mechanics too in an effort to get him some more control over his 92-96 mph fastball and Nelson believes they fixed the biggest culprit.
Most of his shortcomings were coming out of the stretch, a position he found himself in quite a lot after walking so many batters in 2016, and it's an area Nelson himself believes was corrected.
"When I'm in the set position and I go to the plate I'd normally just go. I didn't really have a load. They got me a little load in there and now I'm throwing harder from the stretch and I can command my fastball [better].
"It is different but I feel like I got a lot accomplished. They worked with my mechanics and they got a lot better, I was able to command the fastball a lot better, and then my changeup got a whole lot better too. We worked on my curveball too. [Instructs] was good, I enjoyed it."
The Yankees, notorious for letting their new first-year pitchers get some repetitions in before going to work on mechanics, finally got to work with Nelson and the quick turnaround at Instructs has everyone very excited about what Nelson can do in first full season next year, including Nelson himself. In fact, he was one of the players who didn't want Instructs to end.
"Oh yeah, I'm definitely confident going into next season," he exclaimed. "I'm super excited. I have a lot of confidence going into next season.
"I was getting a lot of work done. I was having a good time over there. I learned a lot and I feel like I'm going to be a lot better pitcher [next year] than I was in Pulaski," he concluded.