Determining if These Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects Are Starters or Relievers

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Pittsburgh Pirates
BRADENTON, FLORIDA – MARCH 16: Kyle Nicolas #95 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a picture during the 2022 Photo Day at LECOM Park on March 16, 2022 in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images) /

Kyle Nicolas

The Pittsburgh Pirates acquired Kyle Nicolas this past offseason as part of the three-player package for Jacob Stallings. Nicolas was a second-round pick by the Miami Marlins in 2020. Nicolas came with risk, and the Bucs knew that when they got him. But are those risks too much for him to be a starting pitcher?

After his 6 strong innings Wednesday night, Nicolas has a 3.89 ERA, 4.18 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. He has a healthy 27.6% strikeout rate with a 10.9% walk rate. His 1.04 HR/9 rate isn’t great, but it deserves more context. Of the eight home runs he’s given up, four came in just one outing, where he gave up eight earned runs in just two innings. Outside of that short, clunker outing, he has a .53 HR/9 and 2.94 ERA. His ERA goes down by nearly a run, and his HR/9 is cut in half.

Nicolas has a big fastball that averages out in the mid-90s but can regularly hit the upper-90s. Not only does he have considerable velocity, but his fastball has above-average spin with an average of 2400 RPM. That spin helps it carry through the top of the zone and depth low in the zone. His slider also has good velocity, sitting in the upper-80s. Nicolas’s primary breaking ball has sharp break, making it a highly reliable offering.

But his curveball and change-up are the biggest reasons why there are questions surrounding his long-term ability. His curveball has the best chance to be a decent offering. MLB Pipeline projects it as a 50-grade pitch, giving him three average or better offerings. FanGraphs isn’t so bullish, putting it as a 45-grade offering. However, neither have kind words to say about his change.

Nicolas already has two plus-plus offerings. His third pitch has an average ceiling, and his change-up is a pitch he’ll barely throw. But there are four distinct pitches here, even if one is far from reliable.