The Colorado Rockies seem to have cornered the market for high upside Latin American arms. 24 year old rookie Juan Nicasio tossed seven shutout innings, limiting the high octane Milwaukee Brewers offense to just four hits. Nicasio struck out four and did not surrender a walk in the game, earning his fourth win in six decisions.
Nicasio made the jump from AA Tulsa in late May after left-hander Jorge de la Rosa went down with a season ending shoulder injury. In that time, the 6-3 200 lb. righty has had flashes of brilliance (8 scoreless innings against KC on July 1st), amidst poor outings (5 ER 7 hits 3 BB over 2.1 IP against ATL on July 7th).
There is no question about Nicasio’s stuff. His fastball generally sits in the mid-90′s but has been clocked as high as 100 MPH in Tulsa this season. His secondary pitch is an above average slider, and he has a curveball and changeup that he will throw on occasion. Nicasio’s command has been historically very good at each minor league stop he has made. Last year in the California League, Nicasio had a 31 BB/171 K ratio in 177 innings of work, and this year at AA Tulsa, Nicasio walked just 10 in 56 innings while striking out 63.
The main source of Juan Nicasio’s struggles, both current and historically, has been his splits against left-handed hitters. Since being called up by the Rockies, Nicasio has allowed lefty hitters to bat .319 off of him with a 10 BB/19 K ratio, while righties are hitting and even .200 with a much more demure 3 BB/20 K’s. Curiously, lefty hitters have a higher GO/FO ratio against Nicasio (1.95 vs. 1.37 for righties). Perhaps this is due to the tendency to see more changeups from him.
On to the cards.
Nicasio’s first year cards are in the 2011 Bowman set. There are no autos of his yet, but I would imagine that they could be coming soon. The demand for his Bowman Chrome cards is still very quiet, as Nicasio has yet to have a string of quality starts or dominant outings to make him stand out. Also, the Colorado Rockies at 45-48 are rapidly slipping away from the Giants and Diamondbacks in the N.L. West pennant race.
Nicasio’s chrome cards can be had in the $.50-1.00 range, which are nice to grab in bulk. The real gems, however, can be found in his serial numbered refractor cards. I’ve seen some blue refractors (#/250) selling for under $5 recently and some refractors (#/999) have ended in the $2.50-3.00 range.
I like Nicasio’s outlook long term as a solid #3 or 4 starter who can repeatedly toss 200 innings per year. If he can sharpen up his changeup or curveball to the level of his excellent fastball and slider, he could very well even out his lefty/righty splits and become a dominant frontline pitcher in the mold of fellow teammate Jhoulys Chacin. That being said, even a pitcher as good as Chacin doesn’t get near the amount of love he deserves in collecting circles. It could well be that Nicasio, for all his potential, suffers the same fate.
If you plan on investing, do so in the short term with some bargain basement buys on his refractors and hope that he can put together a string of quality outings before Bowman, or some other Topps product comes out with his first autos.