When you think of who will be getting the highest leverage innings in 2024, David Bednar, Carmen Mlodzinski, and Colin Holderman are probably the first names that come to mind. Even then, Dauri Moreta and Ryan Borcuki may even be thought of before rookie right-hander Kyle Nicolas. Nicolas made his debut in late September. While he only appeared in a few games, Nicolas may have the second-best stuff in the Pirate bullpen, only surpassed by the Renegade.
Nicolas’ first big league game unfortunately went horribly wrong. He faced 17 batters, five of which reached base via three base hits and two walks. One of the hits he allowed was a home run. He managed to induce just a single out. But after that game, Nicolas settled down. Nicolas would pitch five more innings and face 19 more batters, striking out seven, allowing two more free passes, and a single earned run. None of the four hits he gave up were home runs, either.
The hard-throwing right-hander worked as a starting pitcher, both in 2022 and in the first half of 2023. However, he struggled at Triple-A in 2023 as a starting pitcher and was moved to the bullpen. Through his final 22 innings at Indy, Nicolas owned a 2.05 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, and 4.16 FIP. While Nicolas had a 1.23 HR/9 and 11.5% walk rate, he also struck out 35.3% of the batters he faced. Ten of his final dozen outings were scoreless as well.
Nicolas’ stuff is great. He averaged out around 97 MPH with his four-seam fastball while sitting at 2409 RPM. On top of that, the pitch had immense carry through the strike zone with a 97% active spin rate. The best comparison to Nicolas’ fastball is Gerrit Cole’s four-seamer. Cole also averaged out around 97 MPH with 2412 RPM and an active spin rate of 94%. But Nicolas’s fastball dropped less and had more horizontal movement.
While Nicolas’ fastball has elite potential, his slider is also great. With an upper-80s/low-90s pitch with about 2500 RPM, he throws his slider with a low active spin, giving it a football-like spiral. Then there’s his curveball, which is another pitch with plus attributes, however, he did not use it all that often in the majors. He threw it just eight times, but it looked like an excellent third pitch.
Nicolas has a real chance of gunning for a set-up-man role next year. He honestly has some of the best stuff from a reliever the Pirates have seen in a while. Nicolas will likely open the year in the Pirates’ bullpen, but I would not be surprised if he earns himself a greater role by summer, based on how well he did in Triple-A and how good his offerings were at the Majors.