We return to our series of previewing the New York Yankees’ fifth starter candidates after taking Wednesday off. We opened our series by profiling Michael Pineda on Monday, and moving on to David Phelps on Tuesday. Today, we examine candidate number 3 who will be attempting to win the fifth starter job in spring training. Let’s take a closer look at Vidal Nuno.
The California native was originally selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 48th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Baker University in Kansas. Upon starting his minor league career, the young lefty was originally a reliever, and was moved to the starting rotation for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers of the NY-Penn League. He finished his first season in professional baseball with a 2.05 ERA in 64 innings pitched, of which he stated 8 games. Nuno struck out 59 batters and walked only 15.
After his second season in the Indians organization, he was released after a putrid year at Class-A Lake County, in which his ERA skyrocketed to 4.96 in 94 1/3 innings. Nuno found himself looking for work, and eventually settled for pitching in independent baseball in the Frontier League, where he worked on his changeup after the Indians suggested he do so. Only six games into his independent baseball career, the Yankees signed him as a free agent.
Nuno made an immediate impression on the Yankees’ brass after pitching in Staten Island, recording a 5-0 record with a minuscule 0.72 ERA in 25 innings. He was then promoted to Charleston and continued his success with the River Dogs, posting a 2-1 record with a 1.80 ERA in 7 games started, and 40 innings pitched. During 2012, Nuno continued his upward trajectory towards the big leagues, posting a combined 10-6 record with a 2.54 ERA pitching for both Tampa and Trenton. He struck out 126 hitters in 138 1/3 innings pitched. Nuno’s final stop before getting his shot last season, was Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre where he went 2-0 with a 1.44 ERA in 5 games started and 25 innings pitched.
The 26-year-old made his Yankees debut on April 29th, 2013, tossing three scoreless innings, striking out two, and walking none in a Yankees 9-1 defeat at the hands of the Houston Astros. His next handful of appearance came as starts in three of his four showings in 2013. Nuno recorded his first Major League victory by pitching 5 shutout innings against the Cleveland Indians on the road, in a Bombers 1-0 win. Just over a week later, he suffered his first big league loss, as he yielded a walk-off home run to Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nate McLouth in the 10th inning. Nuno showed his ability to have a short memory, as four days later he earned his second victory by beating the Tampa Rays in Tampa, by pitching 6 innings, and only allowing 2 earned runs. His final start of the season came against the Mets, where he notched the loss in a 3-1 Mets victory. Unfortunately for Nuno, a promising rookie year in New York was cut short after being optioned back to Triple-A, he suffered a season-ending groin injury. All in all, he had an impressive tryout with the big club, and that has potential has earned him a spring training invite and a shot at the fifth starter’s job in 2014.
So what makes Vidal Nuno so successful? While he’s not imposing at 5’11” and 195 lbs., he’s left-handed, and throws from a 3/4 arm slot, which puts a natural sink on his fastball, which ranges between 87-92 mph, although he mainly sticks in the high-80s range. His control is pinpoint, and besides an effective and well-spotted fastball, he also has a curveball which acts more like a slurve, and a devastating changeup, which was once his Achilles’ heel. He uses his off-speed pitches to fool both left-handed and right-handed hitters. Against righties, his BAA is .220, and versus lefties, it is .188.
What are Vidal Nuno‘s chances of winning the fifth starter’s job with the Yankees out of spring training? Personally, looking at each of the other candidates, I believe that if front-runner Michael Pineda fails or gets injury, or isn’t ready to complete spring training for whatever reason, Nuno has to be next in line for the gig. I’ve heard people talk about David Phelps all offseason, but Nuno’s results at every level he’s pitched at can’t be ignored, including his brief stint with the Yankees in 2013. Having a second lefty-handed starter in the rotation wouldn’t be a bad thing either, as he and C.C. Sabathia could sandwich Hiroki Kuroda, Masahiro Tanaka, and Ivan Nova. I believe that in the long run, Phelps and Adam Warren are nothing more than long man bullpen arms, while Pineda and Nuno could make up important pieces for the Yankees starting rotation in the near future. In 2014, it’s going to come down to which one of them gives the Yankees the better opportunity to win right now.
Tomorrow, we conclude our week-long series of previewing the Yankees’ fifth starter candidates by taking a look at Adam Warren, a long-shot for the rotation, but a candidate nonetheless.