Ht: 6-3 | Wt: 184 | B-T: R-R
Previously a two-way player for Oregon who played shortstop and also served as the Ducks’ closer, Nelson transitioned into a full-time pitching role this spring and attempted to start in his first four games. That experiment didn’t go well, and Nelson quickly returned to a relief role. He has one of the most electric arms in the country, with a 70-grade fastball that has reached the 99-100 mph range at its best. However, the pitch hasn’t played to that level this spring, and he gets hit more than scouts would expect given the premium velocity. He also has a three-year track record of being a below-average strike-thrower in the Pac-12. Despite those knocks, Nelson pairs his fastball with an above-average slider that flashes plus with the potential to a be a true out-pitch. He also throws a fringe-average curveball and changeup. Nelson entered the season with huge stuff and the hope that he could showcase a viable path to starting, but he’s most likely a long-term reliever. As a plus athlete with a 6-foot-3, 184-pound frame, teams might still want to gamble on his pure stuff early on Day 2 of the draft. He hasn’t focused exclusively on pitching for much time at all, and pro player development might be able to make the tweaks necessary for Nelson to become a shutdown reliever at the next level, but there is plenty of work to be done to reach that level.
James’ Takeaway: Having watched this young man pitch many times, I can attest to the fact that he has a knack for stepping up when the pressure gets high. He has been used as a starter by Oregon this season and there is no reason the Diamondbacks should feel pressure to move him off of that right away. However, his overall mechanics and his offerings make him a much more likely bullpen arm in the future. Nelson throws hard, touching 99 more than once in games. If the Diamondbacks decide to move on from him as a starter early, he could reach the majors relatively quickly as a high leverage reliever.
Last year, the Diamondbacks selected power arm Matt Mercer from Oregon in the 5th round. They followed up the next season by drafting his replacement in the Oregon rotation in Ryne Nelson. Nelson is a power arm that can hit upper 90s with the heater, although he has an inconsistent slider and change-up. He’s likely another underslot arm to help spread out the bonus pool.
Nelson profiles as a reliever long term, although he’ll get a couple years to prove he can start. Nelson has a projectable 6’3” 184 frame and could afford to add some muscle to his frame. His fastball reaches up to 99, so he can be a power arm late in the game. The development of the curveball, cutter, and change-up will determine if he can remain as a starter. As a reliever, he profiles well as a potential opener (similar pitching profile to Ryne Stanek) or closer.
The big issues are long term projectability: is he a starter or a reliever? I believe in stockpiling power arms regardless of potential role anyway, so I don’t mind this pick. Nelson will need to bulk up to 205 early in his development. Despite being a college arm, Nelson will need 4+ years to develop as a starter. If starting doesn’t work out, he can quickly shoot up the system as a reliever.
Nelson will get an opportunity to start early in his pro career, so he’ll be given a chance to develop his secondaries. It will take him only two years to fly up the system as a reliever, so I see him getting two years to develop as a starter. He’ll start this season pitching as a potential piggy-back arm with Hillsboro before getting time at Kane County next season. The raw stuff is intriguing as in a critical game against Oregon State, Nelson was able to blow away #1 overall pick Adley Ruschmann.