JUAN NICASIO, RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: August 31, 1986
Signed: International Free Agent, 2006 (Rockies)
How Acquired: Free Agent
Country: Dominican Republic
Agent: World Sports Agency
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Nicasio is a live-armed pitcher whose career got derailed shortly after he reached the majors. Colorado called him up after he got off to a fast start in his first AA stint, so he reached the majors permanently after just nine starts in AA. Nicasio got off to a good start in the majors as well, but after eleven outings he went out for the rest of the season (two months) with a fractured vertebra that occurred when he took a line drive off the head. He then missed most of the next season with a knee injury and continued to struggle until he moved to the bullpen in 2014. As a starter, Nicasio threw 90-94 (sometimes averaging at the upper end of that range), with a slider and change. As a reliever, he averages in the mid-90s and sometimes sits as high as 97. He uses the slider as his second pitch, but it’s not a strong pitch. Nicasio also throws a change that isn’t effective at all. The increase in velocity was accompanied by a spike in his walk rate in 2015. He has a moderate platoon split for his major league career, allowing left-handed batters an OPS of .839 and right-handed batters .764. He’s a groundball pitcher, with a career groundball percentage of 44.5. The Pirates signed Nicasio as a free agent to a $3M contract.
Nicasio had a good debut at age 19 in the DSL.
Nicasio found advanced rookie ball a little harder, with his K rate dropping off.
The Rockies used Nicasio as a starter in short season ball. His ERA wasn’t good, but his other numbers were. He held opposing hitters to a 229/304/308 line and fanned well over a batter an inning, with good control.
Nicasio had a breakout season in his shot at full season ball. The Rockies nevertheless limited his workload, as his innings total was more than double his previous high. He held opponents to a .644 OPS and had excellent walk and K rates. Baseball America rated him the 15th best prospect in the Rockies’ system. Colorado added him to the 40-man roster to avoid losing him in the Rule 5 draft.
Nicasio pitched well in the high-offense California League while also greatly increasing his innings total. He continued to put up excellent BB and K rates. BA rated him the team’s 8th best prospect after the season.
Nicasio dominated through nine starts in AA, leading the Rockies to call him up. He pitched very well in the toxic (to pitchers) environs of Coors Field, with continued good BB and K rates. He missed the season’s last two months due to a fractured vertebra in his neck.
The Rockies opened the season with Nicasio in their rotation, but he struggled through 11 starts, allowing a 313/374/487 line. He then missed the last four months of the season with a strained left knee.
Nicasio made 31 starts for Colorado and mostly struggled. His walk and K rates both were career worsts.
Nicasio started the season in the Rockies’ rotation and got hammered, with an ERA of 5.92 in mid-June. The Rockies sent him to AAA at that point, but he didn’t pitch all that well there, seeing time both as a starter and reliever. In early August, the Rockies recalled him. The used him in relief the rest of the season He was much better as a reliever, holding opponents to a .675 OPS, compared to .907 as a starter. His velocity as a reliever was about two mph better. Even so, on the season he gave up a slugging average of .516 and allowed a HR every five innings. After the season, the Rockies designated Nicasio for assignment, then traded him to the Dodgers for minimal return.
Except for one start, the Dodgers used Nicasio in relief and he had a solid season. The main thing that held him back was a spike in his walk rate. He didn’t dominate, as opponents hit .260 against him, but his BABIP was .360, so he probably pitched in a fair amount of bad luck. His fastball velocity increased to 95, and steadily increased as the season went along. After Nicasio returned from missing two weeks in August with a strained left abdominal, his velocity averaged 95-97. He became a free agent after the season when the Dodgers non-tendered him, and signed with the Pirates.
When they signed Nicasio, the Pirates said they expected him to pitch in relief, but thought he might be a possibility as a starter. He had an outstanding spring, though, allowing no runs and striking out 24 in 15 innings. That combined with Ryan Vogelsong’s poor spring won Nicasio a rotation spot, but that didn’t go well. In a dozen starts he had a 5.05 ERA and 1.41 WHIP. He had problems with gopher balls, allowing 11 in 62.1 IP as a starter. The lack of a useful changeup was undoubtedly a major part of the problem, as left-handed hitters destroyed him with a 291/366/568 batting line. By contrast, he held right-handed hitters to 235/304/333. The Pirates finally moved Nicasio to the bullpen in June. He was much more effective without being outstanding in relief. Opponents had a 255/328/387 line against him. NL average is 254/322/412, so Nicasio was roughly an average pitcher as a reliever. He missed a lot of bats — he had a 12.1 K/9 in relief — and improved his control over 2015, although he still had occasional control lapses.
Nicasio is very tough against right-handed hitters, but his career-long problems with left-handed hitters limit his usefulness. He’ll be in his third season of arbitration eligibility, so he’ll be guaranteed a raise, possibly well above the $3M he earned in 2016. It’s doubtful whether the Pirates should be willing to pay a salary that high to a league-average pitcher who’s limited to middle relief. If he was used as a right-handed specialist, Nicasio might be much more effective, but Clint Hurdle pays little attention to the platoon advantage with his relievers.
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2006
MLB Debut: 5/28/2011
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2017
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/09
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2010, 2011, 2014)
MLB Service Time: 5.084
|August 21, 2006: Signed as an international free agent with the Colorado Rockies.
November 20, 2009: Contract purchased by the Colorado Rockies.
November 20, 2014: Designated for assignment by the Colorado Rockies.
November 24, 2014: Traded by the Colorado Rockies to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Noel Cuevas.
December 2, 2015: Non-tendered by the Los Angeles Dodgers.
December 10, 2015: Signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Pirates.