HOOVER, Ala. -- Coming into the game against Arkansas in a quarterfinal matchup for LSU in this SEC tournament, Aaron Nola took the mound and impressed.
For weeks and months scouts and analysts have been scouting and analyzing the prospect that Nola is. He’s been labeled as a future top-10 pick and a surefire starter at the Major League level. He has been compared to the likes of Mike Leake -- who I personally believe he has a much higher ceiling than -- and other solid starters around the MLB and for good reason.
"The first time I saw Aaron I thought he was special," said LSU Coach Paul Mainieri. "He looks like, when he’s throwing the ball, he is handing it to the catcher, wherever the catcher is. He always hits the glove and his command is just extraordinary and I remember seeing that the first time I saw him pitch at Catholic High School."
Tonight showed every reason why Nola can fulfill all those expectations and more.
Nola took the mound and struggled a bit finding his command early, but after a blunder by LSU catcher Tyler Moore in the first inning, Nola settled in and made it look like the Nola that was Aaron should be nicknamed "The Big Easy" rather than the city itself.
From the 2nd inning to his departure in the 8th, Nola gave up 4 hits and had 5 three up, three down innings. He struck out 4 batters looking, and seemed to shock even them with the late-breaking curveball and the high-hitting fastball. For the majority of the night, Nola’s fastball stayed in at around 94-96 mph and his curveball also came in at a consistent 77-81 mph.
For Nola to have an outing like this in front of several scouts at the Met was extremely impressive. He doesn’t seem to overpower people with his stuff, but his command is second to none when it comes to pitchers in the SEC and that explains why he was projected the 6th pick by the Mariners by MLB.com’s Jim Callis:
There are some obvious similarities between Leake and Nola. Neither is extremely physical, and both stand out for their ability to command their pitches rather than any particular plus offering. Leake was the eight overall pick in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, and Nola will go in the same range this year. Leake was the first player from his Draft class to get to the big leagues, and Nola is a good bet to do the same.
Leake, the most recent player to begin his professional career in the Majors, has been steady in four-plus seasons with the Reds. He has gone 44-32 with a 3.95 ERA in 121 games (116 starts) and won a career-high 14 games in 2013. Leake is a quality No. 4-caliber starter.
Nola has more upside than that. Leake doesn’t have a consistently above-average pitch, while Nola has two potential plus offerings in his fastball and changeup. He has what it take to be a good No. 3 starter, a notch above what Leake is.
And although many fans and most everyone at the Hoover met had to have enjoyed watching Nola pitch tonight, Arkansas’s Coach, Dave Van Horn agreed he was talented, but said he couldn’t wait for his time to be done: "He [Nola] usually gets around 10 strikeouts no matter who he’s playing against. It could be the number one team or any other team and his stats should be most of the same. He’s awfully good and I can’t wait until he leaves the league."
This LSU win paves the way to the semi’s which will take place on Saturday on ESPN News between the winner of Ole Miss and Arkansas, and the Tigers hope to keep it going in hopes to host a regional in the NCAA tournament.