San Bernardino, California —— Entering play on Sunday night, Arizona Diamondbacks right-handed pitching prospect Nick Baker is 1-2 with a 4.88 ERA over 25 games (four starts) split between the High-A Visalia Rawhide and the Triple-A Reno Aces, with 24 strikeouts against 12 walks and 62 hits over 48.0 innings pitched in 2017. I’ve observed the former 29th round draft pick several times between 2016 and 2017; below is Baseball Census‘ full Nick Baker scouting report, including video.
Nick Baker Scouting Report — Video
Our video of Arizona Diamondbacks right-handed pitching prospect Nick Baker shows his game work on June 5, 2017 against the Inland Empire 66ers on the road in relief:
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Nick Baker Scouting Report — Notes
Non-traditional as far as modern-day relief prospects go, Nick Baker has below-average velocity and stuff and prefers to work backwards against hitters rather than establishing his fastball early in counts. He sits 86-90 mph with his fastball, which has consistent arm-side run, but he doesn’t throw it as much as you’d expect coming out of the bullpen. Instead, he opts to use his 77-81 mph changeup and his 74-77 mph slider quite a bit, and while both pitches rate average at best and are more hittable than what would be ideal out of the bullpen, Baker’s stuff plays up thanks to deception in his mechanics and an ability to consistently command everything down in the zone.
He has a herky-jerky, awkward delivery to the plate, and he’ll double-tap the ball in his glove as he comes to balance before a unique, awkward arm swing. He has a high three-quarters/almost overhand release point, but because of the non-conventional way he gets there his below-average velocity plays up a little bit for hitters trying to follow the ball. Baker gets great extension on both off speed pitches, too, selling them well with identical arm action to his fastball and making them tough to pick up on their way to home plate even though neither one is a true wipeout offering.
The Arizona Diamondbacks prospect does all the little things right, too—namely with his between-pitch pacing, which is exceptional. He walks right back up the mound between pitches and is ready to go immediately after receiving the ball from the catcher. That seems small, but little things like pushing the pace and staying in control during the push can pressure hitters to get out of their rhythm and struggle some.
Nick Baker Scouting Report — Projection
As quirky and deceptive as Nick Baker may be, his below-average velocity and raw stuff should ultimately limit his ceiling moving beyond High-A. He had a sneaky good year last summer: 4-1, 2 saves, and a 1.86 ERA with 73 strikeouts against just 16 walks and 67 hits over 41 appearances (three starts) spanning 77.1 innings pitched for Visalia. The outcomes have betrayed him some this year, but beyond that his ability to miss bats appears to be starting to wane (a .321 opponents’ batting average and only 24 strikeouts in 48.0 innings pitched in 2017). As he reaches longer stints in the upper minors with the Arizona Diamondbacks, it’ll be all the more difficult to consistently miss bats with his stuff, especially if 2017 is the beginning of a trend to that end.
There’s a lot of good in his game, though, most notably his natural ability to immediately add off-speed stuff to any at-bat at any time coming out of the bullpen. Whereas a lot of power pitchers struggle to command their breaking ball immediately upon entering a game and few throw a true third pitch at all, Nick Baker is carving and commanding to both sides of the plate with three different pitches. That screams long relief to me, and any big league projection he may have should be for low-leverage outings in the middle innings. Always a strike thrower, Baker will help himself here with both good control and command. That said, it’s ultimately unlikely he reaches the big leagues, though he may carve out another few years as organizational depth thanks to his ability to fill the zone and pitch to contact with precious few free passes allowed.