Kyle Nicolas enters this spring as a top prospect for June’s MLB draft.
The Ball State junior right-handed pitcher experienced little professional interest out of Jackson High School in Ohio during his senior year in 2017. Nicolas wasn’t focused on pro baseball at that time and wanted to attended Ball State, he said.
As a sophomore last year, Nicolas watched Ball State’s No. 1 pitcher Drey Jameson enhance his draft stock, despite the pressure of pitching in front of a plethora of scouts every start.
Nicolas believes watching Jameson, who was a first-round pick, go through the draft process last year has prepared him to handle the attention this spring. Entering this season, Nicolas is projected to go in the first five rounds of June’s draft.
“It was crazy seeing everything that happened with him because not too many people knew about him before the season,” Nicolas said. “After that first weekend, there was like 40 scouts at every game. They followed him from his warmups to the bullpen and down to the game mound.
“It was definitely overwhelming to watch. But it gave me insight in to what I can expect, but maybe not that many people. I’m just trying to learn from him that it didn’t faze him at all and was more focused on his craft.”
In Nicolas’ first two years at Ball State, he has bounced between the starting rotation and bullpen.
Nicolas posted a 5.21 ERA with 55 strikeouts and 44 walks allowed in 57 innings as a freshman in 2018. Last year, Nicolas experienced similar results as a weekend starter and closer, recording a 5.40 ERA with 78 strikeouts and 47 walks allowed in 51 2/3 innings.
Nicolas is a hard-throwing 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-handed pitcher who throws a four-seam fastball, slider, curveball and changeup. His fastball is one of the best in college baseball and sits in the mid-90s as a starter and has touched 100 mph in relief appearances.
His slider is his best secondary pitch. It has a high spin rate and consistently generates swings and misses.
Nicolas will serve as a full-time starter for Ball State this spring.
“My competitiveness on the mound is my biggest strength,” Nicolas said. “Just the confidence I have in my abilities against anybody I face. I’m willing to do anything to go an out and do anything to get a win.”
Nicolas curveball and changeup have room to improve. Nicolas’ curveball flashes potential but isn’t consistent.
His changeup is his least effective pitch and is something he started focusing on while pitching in the Cape Cod League last summer. Although it has made strides over the last six months, Nicolas hopes to develop a better feel and more confidence in his changeup this spring.
“For me, it’s one of the hardest pitches to throw,” Nicolas said. “Finding that feel and finding the right grip is key. I have toyed around with a lot of different grips. I feel like I have one now where I can manipulate the ball and get enough speed differential off of my fastball to where it is at a good spot. Now, it’s just the consistency and getting it in the right zone every time I throw it.”
Ball State enters this season as the second-best team in the Mid-American Conference behind Central Michigan, who eased through the conference season and earned the automatic NCAA Tournament bid last year. After finishing with a 47-14 record last season, Central Michigan returns a bulk of last year’s roster this spring.
Nicolas is motivated to lead Ball State to its first MAC Tournament title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. He believes Ball State has the talent to challenge Central Michigan. He also feels it will be important for him to improve his command this spring, so he can be a dependable starter this spring.
“My first two years I’ve struggled with command, so that was my main focus in the offseason,” Nicolas said. “I feel like I’ve made pretty good strides with that. My main focus with that is being more consistent in the zone with all of my pitches and just making the other team to hit it.”
Read more stories on top 2020 MLB draft prospects here.
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for five years. He’s interviewed 191 of the top draft prospects in that period, including three No. 1 overall picks. Multiple publications, including Baseball America, USA Today and The Arizona Republic, have quoted his work, while he’s appeared on radio stations as a “MLB draft expert.” Follow him on Twitter @DanZielinski3.