Late in the season, Nick Nelson crossed the 45-day threshold for service time, which ended his time as a Yankees prospect. Formally the Yankees’ 17th -ranked prospect on MLB Pipeline, he pitched well enough in his rookie season to earn a spot on the Yankees postseason roster.
Let’s take a look at Nelson’s path to the major leagues and what his expectations are following a couple months in the Yankee bullpen. Also, Nelson’s graduation from prospect status has opened a spot for young outfielder Ryder Green to enter as the Yankees new 30th-ranked prospect.
Nelson joined the Yankees as their fourth-round pick in 2016 out of Gulf Coast Community College. Known as much or more for his hitting as an amateur, Nelson led his junior college team in both innings pitched and at-bats. A Florida native, Nelson had committed to the University of Florida prior to being drafted by the Yankees, but did not hesitate to begin his professional career.
The Yankees assigned Nelson to Rookie-Advanced Pulaski after the draft and he has made steady progress since. By 2018, he had climbed all the way to Double-A Trenton after earning multiple promotions during the season. He also saw his strikeout numbers rise to 10.7 K/9, though he still battled some control issues that saw him register 4.7 BB/9.
Nelson overcame a sore shoulder that cost him over a month of the 2019 season to earn a late season promotion to Triple-A Scranton. On the year he pitched to a 2.81 ERA, with 11.4 K/9 with most of his work at Double-A and Triple-A. He was added to the Yankees’ 40-man roster over the winter and figured to start the year with Triple-A.
Overshadowed by fellow prospects Deivi García and Clarke Schmidt during summer camp, it was Nelson who received the call to the big leagues following the Yankees’ second game of 2020. He spoke with Pinstripe Alley in a two-part interview several days after that debut outing, which you can read here, and here. His debut slowed down, as the Yankees immediately had games delayed by the Miami Marlins COVID-19 outbreak and the far reaching consequences on their scheduled opponents. When he finally got the call in relief against Boston, he was electric with a three-inning, four-strikeout K, no-hit outing.
What Nelson was not able to overcome in a shortened season was his second outing, which was largely responsible for his 4.79 ERA on the year. In that outing he was pounded for seven runs, six earned, in just 1.2 innings against Philadelphia. In his other 10 appearance on the season he pitched to a 2.37 ERA, with 18 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Heading into 2020 the Yankees will have an interesting choice with Nelson. If they want to continue developing him as a starting pitcher then he is likely headed back to Triple-A Scranton, where he can build up his workload and regain the feel for going deep into a game.
The Yankees could also choose to use Nelson as a relief pitcher next season. With a fastball in the high 90’s and the potential to record a lot of strikeouts while working in short relief, Nelson could develop into a solid bullpen weapon for the Yankees next season. Plenty of scouting reports have indicated that Nelson is destined for a spot in the bullpen over the long term. No matter what role the Yankees choose for Nelson, he will have to refine his control, as he owns a matching 4.8 BB/9 rate for his minor league and major league career.
Nelson’s graduation from the prospect ranks opens a spot in the ranking for outfield Ryder Green. The Yankees’ third-round pick in 2018 was ticketed for a Vanderbilt University team that won the College World Series the next season before the Yankees signed him after the draft. Green has a strong arm, good range and profiles as a quality right fielder down the road. He struggled with strikeouts during his debut summer, but improved his numbers across the board in 2019 while playing for Rookie-Advanced Pulaski. He is likely to start with Low-A Charleston next season.
Nick Nelson earned the Yankees’ trust enough to stay on the roster for most of the season in 2020. Used mostly in low-leverage situations, Nelson proved valuable with his ability to throw multiple innings of relief. The Yankees now face a choice of asking Nelson to move back into a starting role, or pushing forward as a potential impact reliever down the road. Nelson’s graduation from the ranks of prospects opens the door for a look at a solid young outfielder who will be looking to climb the system next season and take the next step in his professional career.