On Sunday the Cincinnati Reds picked up left handed pitcher Justin Nicolino off of waivers from the Miami Marlins. The 26-year-old has been in the Major Leagues for part of the last three seasons. His ERA has gotten worse with each season, going from 4.01 to 4.99 to 5.06 last season. He’s spent more time in the rotation than he has in the bullpen, but, in 2017 he made 20 appearances and only eight of those games were as a starter.
Unless I am missing out on something, it would appear that Justin Nicolino is out of options. He was added to the 40-man after the 2014 season, and was optioned at different points in each of the 2015, 2016 and 2017 seasons. That would mean that the Reds have two options they could choose from: Add him to the 25-man roster when the season begins, or they can place him on waivers themselves and hope he clears them, then outright him to Triple-A.
On the surface, it’s not an easy fit to have Justin Nicolino on the 25-man roster. His ERA last season was 5.09 in a large ballpark in Miami, and he gave up a bunch of home runs (eight in 48 innings). He also walked nearly as many batters as he struck out, with 20 walks and just 26 strikeouts. Nicolino has never really missed many bats, even in the minors. He’s also not a big ground ball pitcher, which would allow some leeway with the low strikeout rate.
As a left hander, perhaps you could throw him in the bullpen as a LOOGY. The problem there is that Justin Nicolino can’t get out left handed hitters. Last season between Triple-A and MLB lefties hit .329 against him. In the Major Leagues it was even worse. In 2016 they hit .285 against him between the two levels.
He’s not a hard thrower, averaging just over 90 MPH on his fastball. Where he has found success in the Major Leagues, though, is his offspeed stuff. According to Fangraphs, his curveball and change up both have played as above-average offerings for the last two seasons. The issue has been that his fastball has been crushed. In theory he could throw his fastball less and try to mitigate the damage against it, and use his more successful offerings. But, he already throws the fastball at a low rate – just 53% last season. So, he may be at the point where if he goes away from it even more that it’s going to make the offspeed stuff less successful.
What will the Reds do with Justin Nicolino?
It will be interesting to see what the Reds do in this situation. As stated above, it’s just tough to see how Justin Nicolino fits in on the big league club right now. He’s a lefty who hasn’t gotten lefties out. And he’s not exactly set the world on fire against right handers either. But, he’s also out of options. We will find out soon enough, but I would be surprised if this were a situation similar to that of Kennys Vargas and the organization has already placed him on waivers to try and get him through so that they can send him to Triple-A.