Letters of Intent
By Alexis Brudnicki
MESA, Ariz. – Sean Nolin has had a long year.
In terms of innings, the 24-year-old Toronto Blue Jays prospect put up 87 1/3 frames in triple-A Buffalo with the Bisons this season before getting one in the big leagues in September, along with 9 2/3 rehab innings between the rookie-class Gulf Coast League and class-A Dunedin Blue Jays, all before heading to the Arizona Fall League in October. But with two stints on the disabled list, the season stretched even further.
“It’s definitely a long process,” Nolin said. “I got hurt, I was doing well in the beginning, got hurt, just tweaked something and wasn’t feeling good. Then once I was feeling a little better they ended up sending me down to Florida to get my innings back up…
“It’s always a long road and it was definitely a long season but getting back at the end of the year [in] the last month or so [in Toronto], it was good to be able to feel pretty good going out there.”
Sidelined with a groin injury early, the left-hander hasn’t felt 100% all year.
“No, but I felt good,” Nolin said. “I just wasn’t like I was at the beginning of the season feeling-wise, but it’s something I’ve been going through. I’ve been battling a little bit and I guess I’m still battling it now but it’s something I’ve got to keep battling I guess.”
Invited to the prospect-laden loop in Arizona, Nolin was excited to get his chance to continue throwing and join the Mesa Solar Sox roster.
“It’s always definitely a good thing to come here,” the native of Long Island said. “I was supposed to come last year but there were no more spots. Then I went to Dominican. But it’s definitely a good experience. It’s a prospect league and it’s good to see the young talent that baseball has right now.”
And as Nolin keeps working, so far with just over eight innings under his belt in the Fall League, he continues to work within the confines of his plan for a full recovery before next season.
“I mean if something’s wrong, it’s hard to correct if it’s not [done] surgically,” he said. “But if it’s something that needs to be fixed doing all this other stuff in the short term should fix it, if it’s not long-term, it will fix it. So I guess once I make sure everything is good to go then I’ll just do all the corrective stuff for mobility and stretching to get everything right.”
Aside from returning to full strength in Arizona and throughout the off-season, Nolin is also working with the Solar Sox on getting back to what has made him such a successful pitcher.
“Throwing strikes,” he said. “Definitely here in the Arizona Fall League I’ve had a bit of trouble not being aggressive – I’ve been aggressive, but hitting my spots with my fastball. In the past and even early this year I was definitely able to show that I was doing that so that’s what I’m going to be working on for the rest of my time here, hopefully throwing fastballs for strikes.
“But everything else has been pretty good, pretty sharp. I’m getting a lot of swing-and-misses, but I’ve got to get ahead of guys instead of falling behind them. That’s why I’m [throwing] a lot of pitches in a short amount of innings.”
With a repertoire including an impressive slider and changeup, and a curveball that Nolin considers his best secondary pitch, one former scout believes that what Nolin needs to focus on is tempering his emotions out on the mound.
“[Nolin] has limited experience in the big leagues and he’s an emotional guy,” he said. “He likes to compete and sometimes that works really well for him and other times it can work against him. But at the end of the day a left-hander who is up to 95 [miles per hour] with three plus pitches, they don’t grow on trees.”
The southpaw knows that his emotions can get the best of him at times.
“That’s definitely another thing that I’m working on, just to have emotions but in a positive way and not to get me down or to show negative emotion,” Nolin said. “I can get fiery, I can get excited, but I’m just trying to get that other side of emotion out of the way and focus on the positive stuff.”
There are times when the emotional competitive edge aids him out on the hill.
“It definitely helps a lot,” Nolin said. “Especially there are some days you go out there and you might feel a little sluggish – not that I want to – I mean, I do the same stuff, I get my rest, I make sure I’m hydrated, loose, and all that stuff.
“But there are some times legs might feel heavy, head might feel a little heavy, almost a little tired but sometimes all of a sudden in the second or third inning I get that little jolt of the aggressive side of me and my emotions come out in a positive way.
“That’s when it can help me. So I’ve got to be able to focus in on that instead of going the negative way, which I’ve struggled with but it’s definitely gotten better. My last couple starts I’ve tried to change the negative stuff and it’s been pretty good.”
Nolin also believes that the success he’s found previously will start to translate to the big leagues when he begins to get a little more major-league time under his belt, in the rotation and in the bullpen.
“Getting a little more experience and obviously in the big leagues, in both of those situations [will help],” Nolin said. “But going forward we’ll see. I’ll definitely make adjustments because I love baseball and I want to be playing in the big leagues so I’ll make the adjustment, whatever it has to take.”
Transitioning to the major-league level took some adjustments from Nolin, both when he made his debut and when he joined the club for the last month of the season this year. He looks forward to what more he might do as he gets more comfortable.
“It was definitely a big difference, especially going up in September because I was out in the bullpen and I’ve never done that before,” he said. “I kind of treated every day like I was going to pitch even though it took three weeks for me to get in because there weren’t too many situations for me to get in.
“And then I guess I had a lot of energy built up for that one inning. I know it was at the end of the game; we were up 10 runs, but I was a little bit wild.
“I really think once I get more innings under my belt and I get a little more comfortable being out there, not necessarily results but physically being a little more comfortable, the results will hopefully be there.”
Follow Alexis Brudnicki on Twitter @baseballexis