Nathan Baker was drafted in the fifth round of the 2009 draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates went heavy on prep pitchers in the 2009 draft, but Baker was the only college pitcher selected in the top ten, outside of first round supplemental pick Victor Black. While surrounding prep pitchers Zack Dodson (4th round), Zack Von Rosenberg (6th), Trent Stevenson (7th), and Colton Cain (8th) received over-slot deals, Baker signed for $176,000, which was just below slot.
The left hander was the second best pitcher in the Mississippi rotation in 2009, falling only behind 2010 MLB first rounder Drew Pomeranz. He got off to a nice start in his career in 2010, with a 2.99 ERA in 87.1 innings in West Virginia, along with a 6.5 K/9 and a 2.1 BB/9 ratio. Baker was moved up to Bradenton at the end of the year, where he had a 3.02 ERA in 44.2 innings, along with a 6.2 K/9 and a 3.4 BB/9 ratio. He did see his home run totals increase, with a 1.2 HR/9 ratio, compared to 0.3 in West Virginia.
Baker returned to high-A to start the 2011 season. Things didn’t go so well in his first two outings. He combined to allow ten earned runs in 10.1 innings, with eight strikeouts and four walks. From that point forward, Baker settled down. He has allowed a 3.30 ERA since his bad start to the season, with a 6.1 K/9, a 3.3 BB/9 and a 0.4 HR/9 in 109 innings. The one downside has been his walk rate. His walk totals aren’t horrible, but they’re also not ideal for a college left hander who isn’t putting up dominant strikeout numbers in high-A.
Baker throws an 88-92 MPH fastball that has touched 94 in the past. He also throws an average slider and an average changeup. He profiles more as a strong reliever, and maybe a back of the rotation starter at best. His results have been good this year, but they do come with the asterisk that he came from the college ranks, and is a left hander who can throw in the low 90s, both of which are a big help in A-ball. He started to see improvement with his strikeout numbers, with a 7.0 K/9 in May, and an 8.0 K/9 in June, but saw those numbers drop to a 3.7 K/9 in July. In his last three starts he has a 7.6 K/9, so he’s starting to bounce back. He should be a candidate to jump to the AA level, where we will start to get a better idea about his potential as a major league player.