Ryne Nelson wasn’t highly recruited out of Basic High School in Henderson, Nevada. He posted impressive numbers as a two-way player but didn’t draw the attention he had hoped to receive from Division I programs.
He signed a national letter of intent with the University of Oregon as a senior in 2015. He wanted to live in a new city and believed Oregon was his best opportunity to succeed at the college level, he said.
The lack of attention throughout the recruiting process motivated Nelson. He’s in the midst of his junior season at Oregon and on the radar of professional scouts as they prepare for June’s MLB draft.
“It’s made me humble and take advantage of every opportunity I’ve been able to get,” Nelson said. “I am never thinking I’ve made it and am striving to do more.”
Nelson spent his first two years at Oregon as a shortstop and reliever. He experienced better results on the mound and is focusing solely on pitching this season. Oregon moved the right-handed pitcher into the starting rotation, which has caused scouts to keep a close eye on him.
He is a potential early-round selection for this year’s draft and could vault into the first round with a strong spring.
“The draft attention doesn’t really bother me, honestly,” Nelson said. “I feel like that’s really out of my hands. All I can focus on is getting better each week and playing for the team.”
Nelson played sparingly as a freshman in 2017. He recorded a 4.72 ERA in 13 1/3 innings while hitting .167 in 24 at-bats.
He had an expanded role as a sophomore. He made 16 relief appearances and posted a 3.86 ERA with four saves, 37 strikeouts and 14 walks in 23 1/3 innings. He struggled at shortstop, tallying a .171 batting average with one home runs and seven RBIs in 152 at-bats.
In the Cape Cod League last summer, he worked exclusively as a pitcher and notched a 2.64 ERA, 26 strikeouts and nine walks in 17 regular-season innings.
Nelson, a 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander, is solely a starting pitcher this season. He has a four-pitch mix, featuring a fastball, changeup, curveball and cutter.
He has an electric arm and clean delivery. His fastball is his best offering and sits in the high-90s.
“My competitive nature is my biggest strength,” he said. “I love being on the mound and competing.”
Prior to this season, Nelson incorporated a curveball and cutter into his repertoire. He used to throw a slider but switched to the curveball because it has a sharper break and changes the eye level of hitters, he said.
Nelson previously tried throwing a cutter but never developed a strong feel for the pitch until last fall. He worked on the pitch during the Cape Cod League before returning to Oregon and dedicating time to refining the offering with his pitching coaches.
“I had (one of our assistant pitching coaches) show me the grip and it was a grip I had never seen before,” Nelson said. “I was messing around with it, and he was really into working on it with me. We worked on it for a couple weeks, and I realized I had feel for it and it was working.”
Nelson has struggled in his first three starts this season. He has a 6.06 ERA with 22 strikeouts and nine walks allowed in 16 1/3 innings. He surrendered seven runs against Texas Tech and four runs against Loyola Marymount.
He said he’s felt comfortable in his first three starts but needs to throw his off-speed pitches more consistently to keep hitters off balanced.
“I’ve been a fastball-dominate pitcher,” Nelson said. “I think to become a well-rounded pitcher, I need to throw my curveball when I need to and get people to swing at my changeup. I need to develop more as a pitcher, instead of just being someone who throws hard.”
Dan Zielinski III has covered the MLB draft for four years. He’s interviewed 133 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.