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Ryne Nelson Gets the Call

While he isn’t the arm many were expecting would be the next to get the call, another of Arizona’s top-10 prospects will be making his MLB debut Monday night.

Frisco RoughRiders v Amarillo Sod Poodles Photo by John E. Moore III/Getty Images

Welcome to the Majors, Ryne Nelson.

Some Quick Basics

Ryne Nelson is a 24-year-old right-handed starter out of the University of Oregon. He was selected by the Diamondbacks in the second round of the 2019 draft, going 56th overall. He was actually the team’s fourth overall pick that year, with Corbin Carroll being their first, followed by Brennan Malone (since traded to the Pirates) and then Drey Jameson (currently in AA Amarillo). The team’s first selection after Nelson was Tommy Henry.

It is September, 2022. Despite losing a season or more of development due to COVID, injuries, and other fiascos (both major and minor), the class of 2019 is making a big showing for the Snakes down the stretch. When he makes his debut on Monday, there will likely be quite the Nelson contingent in the house as Ryne Nelson hails from nearby Henderson, Nevada (yes, that Henderson).

The Scouting Report

Age: 24
Height: 6’3”
Weight: 184
B/T: R/R

Fastball 60, Curveball 50, Slider 60, Change-Up 45, Command 50, Overall 50

While playing for Oregon, Nelson spent time as a two-way player, splitting his time between shortstop and being the team’s closer. During the “lost 2020”, Nelson dealt with an eye condition that wound up requiring surgery to strengthen the collagen fibers within his cornea. In addition to the surgery, he spent 2020 working diligently on cleaning up his somewhat fringy mechanics. These health and mechanical improvements transformed Nelson from a borderline starter/reliever prospect into a full-fledged starting prospect. With the adjustments made, Nelson’s wayward command was found and harnessed, going from below average to slightly above average.

In 2021, Nelson took a big step forward. He spent most of the season in AA Amarillo. There, he struck out over 12 batters per nine and dropped his walk rate to just 3.04. His Achille’s heel, if he had one, was that he gave up a good many home runs. However, as time has shown, Amarillo is a homer happy environment. That sort of dominance earned him a promotion to AAA Reno for 2022.

Nelson has spent the entirety of the season in Reno. His results have not been quite as dominant as they were in the lower levels, but they have been somewhat consistent, indicating it is likely time for him to move up in order to create a new set of challenges for him to develop around. He continues to keep the walks under control. Home runs are still his nemesis. His strikeout rate has dropped to 8.47/9 IP, but that is still a strong number that puts him in good company.

Nelson is almost the textbook definition of a “grip it and rip it” pitcher. He lives and dies by his plus-grade fastball which sits comfortably in the mid-90s. When he reaches back, Nelson can still reach triple digits as he did when he was closing for the Ducks. Nelson uses his fastball for an astounding 65% of his pitches. However, he doesn’t move side to side using the black. Instead, Nelson lives in the upper third of the strike zone, challenging hitters to catch up to his high velocity fastball that features excellent ride. When he is going right, Nelson expands the zone above the top and can get some very silly looking swings and misses there.

Nelson’s two breaking balls are of some interest as well. Nelson throws a slider in the mid-80s. The pitch tunnels nicely off the fastball and gets low in the zone, usually diving out of it. The pitch is good at changing the eye level of the hitter. His curveball is a mid-70s offering which he can throw for strikes in the zone with relatively good effect.

Nelson also offers a changeup which he throws in the mid-80s. While he uses the offering about the same as he does his two breaking pitches, the change clearly lags behind the others in terms of development and refinement. However, despite his lack of fine control of the pitch, it still helps to speed up his impressive fastball when he picks his spots to throw it and is able to execute.

What to Expect

It remains to be seen just how big a cup of coffee the Diamondbacks are going to give Nelson this September. This alteration to the rotation is coming in advance of a tough stretch of games later this month, a stretch that includes five games in four days against the Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. At the very least, this call-up creates a temporary six-man rotation situation, pushing all the starters back a day, giving them some extra rest and working towards lining the staff up for that series of games. Between this move and the ability of the club to bring an extra pitcher to the double header, the club should be in a position to work their way through that stretch of games without exhausting the bullpen entirely. As for now, Nelson has been added to the taxi squad in advance of his Monday activation. No corresponding roster move has yet been announced.

Expect Nelson to get a full start, not to be used as an opener. We can also assume he will have a modest pitch limit, likely around 95 pitches. The organization has never really been one to throw young talent out to the mound without a pitch count safety net. There is no reason to expect that to change now. While Nelson may get two or three starts, they may be curtailed somewhat, depending on how hard Nelson labours through MLB lineups. In 2021, his first full season throwing pitches as a professional, Nelson reached 116.1 IP Nelson joins the Diamondbacks having already thrown a career-high 136 innings in the pitcher-hating environment of Reno. Another 24 innings (3-5 starts) would give him a comfortable 160 IP, an ideal place to shut Nelson down to begin offseason recovery.

If Nelson is able to hold his own for a few turns through the expanded rotation, fans should expect him to be a front-runner for a rotation slot coming out of spring training in 2023, as one of the growing number of options to fill in slots behind Zac Gallen, Merrill, Kelly, and (unfortunately) Madison Bumgarner.