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2016 Spring Training

Opening Day Starter: Should It Be Nola?

NolaNow that Spring Training is officially underway, let’s look ahead to some decisions that the Phillies must make by the start of the regular season. Of course, there are roster questions–this guy makes the 25 man roster, but that guy doesn’t, and so on and so on. One guy who is a virtual lock for the 25 man roster is right-handed starting pitcher Aaron Nola. But where the Baton Rouge native falls in the rotation is a little bit more complicated.

Sure, Nola, the 7th overall selection in the 2014 draft has the potential to be a future top-of-the-rotation guy. And it’s no secret that he’s striving to become the number one starter on the Phillies staff this year. But being the Opening Day starter can be much more than just a place in the rotation. There will be high expectations, especially for a 22-year-old.

Last year, Nola posted a 3.59 ERA over 77 2/3 innings in 13 games at the big league level. That ERA was better than 70% of NL starters (and best on the Phillies) with at least 70 innings pitched. He was in roughly the same area in several other peripherals as well. Now, to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher for a competitive team–which the Phillies are hoping to be in a few years, you have to be better than above average. I understand that. But he’s 22. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to get him some experience as The Guy™ to start the season.

On the flip side, if the Phillies elect to give him the top spot in the rotation after being slightly above average in 2015, maybe that would actually hurt his development. Now, I don’t take Nola to be a guy that’ll stop working his butt off once he gets a career achievement, but I always look at things with an open mind. I can’t exactly rule a scenario like that out. I’ve seen too many top prospects flame out after getting too big of a head too early.

I think no matter what the Phillies do, Nola will respond.  He’s just that type of guy that doesn’t need things to be a certain way for him to develop. I’m not calling him the anti-Domonic Brown, but I’ve seen lots of positives with Nola so far that I haven’t seen from other top prospects in the Phillies organization.

Still, there are both pros and cons to both having him head the rotation and having him earn his spot. If I had to make a decision for the Phillies today, I’d probably make him earn his spot. That’s probably just the Philadelphia sports fan in me, but I think that would help his career progress more than just giving him the spot– even though he is deserving.

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