Jimmy Nelson was labeled a fantasy “breakout” candidate last year. He did not breakout. Now he gets downgraded to the less dignified “sleeper” label. I’m cutthroat like that. He must pay for his mediocrity! Which is exactly how he pitched last year. Nelson finished the 2015 season for the Milwaukee Brewers with a 4.11 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 148 K’s in 177.1 IP. At certain points during the year, he looked like a top 15 fantasy starter. At others, he looked unrosterable. It was that inconsistency which makes him an intriguing fantasy sleeper for 2016, because nobody wants someone who is consistently mediocre. You hear that kids! Be awesome, or be awful. People will think you are full of potential!
Nelson does have real potential though. He throws a 93-94 MPH fastball, a nasty slider, and a knuckle curveball that he added to his arsenal prior to last season. The knuckle curve graded out as an average pitch in his first year of using it. With continued refinement, it can become a deadly weapon combined with his big fastball and plus slider.
Nelson has also been a pillar of health throughout his entire professional career. He pitched 146 innings in 2011, 127.1 innings in 2012, 152.1 innings in 2013, 180.1 innings in 2014, and 177.1 innings in 2015. His 6’6’’, 243-pound build is tailor made to be an innings eating, workhorse starter. The strikeout potential is there too. Nelson struck out 549 batters in 563.1 IP in his minor league career. In 2014, he struck out 114 batters in 111 IP while pitching in the PCL, a league that is death on pitchers. In his first 256.2 IP in the majors, he struck out a respectable 213 batters.
Nelson will still have to pitch in the launching pad that is Miller Park, which does cap his upside a bit. For 2016, I will give Nelson the projection of 3.51/1.25/178 in 192 IP. The 26-year-old holds even more value in dynasty/keeper leagues.
By Michael Halpern