Nolan Gannon: The Rays’ Next Top Pitching Prospect?
By Robbie Knopf
Pitchers like Nolan Gannon are always interesting to follow in the Tampa Bay Rays’ system. Gannon, selected in the fourth of the 2012 MLB Draft, stood out not just for the potential he had shown on the mound, but how much room he had to add velocity. At 6’5″, 195, Gannon had already touched 92 MPH, and once he had filled out his frame, the dream was that he would be hitting the mid-90’s consistently.
The primary question on my mind when I went to the Hudson Valley Renegades press box on Sunday was where Gannon’s velocity would be in his start. Even if he wasn’t throwing any harder than before, though, his numbers on the season inspired confidence that he might be making up for the wait in his velocity coming along by adding polish. He entered the game having gone 5-1 with a 2.79 ERA, striking out 41 while walking just 4 in 42 innings pitched. He had even added 10 pounds, with the Renegades now listing him at 6’5″, 205. Was the 20 year old right-hander beginning to cement his place as one of the most talented pitchers in the Rays organization? After seeing him, it is clear that the potential is there, but we will have to continue waiting to see if he can be a top prospect, let alone an impact major league pitcher.
On the day, Gannon went 5 innings allowing 1 run on 6 hits, striking out 2 while walking 1. He was not as overpowering as he had been in previous outings, but overall, he pitched well and kept the Renegades and yet another of his starts. Even while doing so, however, his inconsistency was evident.
Gannon ranged from 86 to 91 MPH with his fastball, falling into the lower edge of that range as his outing went on before reaching back for more when he found himself in trouble. At the beginning of his outing, Gannon will able to use his high three-quarters release point to get good sink and run away from right-handed batters, and force weak contact on the ground. He was not able to get his optimal movement consistently, but he was able to get at least some movement on every pitch and do a decent job pitching down in the zone. By the end of the outing, however, he was releasing the ball too early and failing to get on top of his pitches, leading to a series of straight fastballs waist-high. He was throwing strikes, as he had done all year, but after the first couple of innings, he rarely threw quality strikes with the pitch. As a pitcher who isn’t yet throwing hard yet, Gannon has to find a way to get his mechanics in sync more frequently and get the excellent run and sink throughout games if he is going to continue finding success once he heads to full-season ball.
Nolan Gannon’s curveball gives him a second pitch with promise, but another one that still needs plenty of work. At its best, it featured sharp 11-to-5 break in the 75 to 79 MPH range, and when everything was working, he showed the ability to both locate it for called strikes and use it as a chase pitch down in the zone. Five times, it was a nasty pitch that looked like a potential plus offering. Far too often, though, it didn’t break at all and stayed up in the zone. Sometimes he simply couldn’t get his release point right and hanged it, and at other times, he overthrew it with disastrous results. He was able to throw a couple of solid breaking balls in the lower-80’s, but for the most part, when he threw it 80 MPH or harder, the hitter could take an excellent hack. Getting Gannon to not overthrow his curveball should be a relatively simple task for the Rays, but getting his release point correct more consistently is going to be an ongoing process.
Finally, I counted three changeups thrown by Gannon, and two of them were actually fine. One was a straight change that had a hitter way out in front for a weak flyball. The other was even better, mirroring his fastball’s arm action and looking like a strike all the way before featuring nasty late movement down-and-away for a whiff. The pitch is just in its infancy, but if Gannon can get anything like that last pitch on a regular basis, it would give him a third intriguing offering.
On the whole, Nolan Gannon’s upside is still has impressive as it was when he was drafted. The 20 year old right-hander is slowly progressing, and if he can harness his arsenal a higher proportion of the time to go along with added velocity, he may have number two starter potential. That being said, his fastball is the same range that it has been for years, and he has plenty of work to do finding more stable movement on all of his pitches. For now, Gannon’s promise makes him a name to file away in the Rays system, but he is far from a top prospect at this point. Do not expect anything from him quite yet.