Having Long Island, N.Y., as a territory is not exactly prime real estate when it comes to scouting amateurs.
It’s not California or Florida.
Yet the Blue Jays did fine with a No. 1 pick in Billy Koch of Rockville Center, N.Y., on the island in 1996.
Koch pitched in 193 games for the Jays, saved 100, struck out 172 hitters in 2112/3 innings and brought triple digits to the radar gun at the SkyDome for the first time.
Now the Jays have another Long Islander on the way in lefty Sean Nolin, who is not to be confused with Dunedin infielder Kevin Nolan.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Nolin is from Seaford, N.Y., 20 minutes from Koch country.
Nolin is 5-0 with a 2.31 ERA and has fanned 53 in his first 502/3 innings with Dunedin. Like other young Jays arms, Nolin is on a pitch count and innings count, which he only discovered last month.
“I knew I was only allowed to go 90 pitches,” Nolin said this week from the Dunedin clubhouse, using outfielder Michael Crouse’s cellphone and minutes.
“I went 61/3 against Tampa and Darold Knowles (pitching coach) told me later than I was only supposed to go six. It’s six innings or 90 pitches, whatever comes first. If I can only go six, I’m fine with that.”
Nolin, 22, allowed two hits and one run in 61/3 innings, a 6-1 win against Tampa, his final outing of April.
Two starts ago, Nolin needed only 75 pitches and his work day was done after six.
A year ago, Nolin was 4-4 with a 3.49 ERA in 25 games, making 21 starts at Lansing and whiffing 113 in 1081/3 innings.
This year, he’s dominating at a higher level. “The hitters are good, they might be more selective than last year,” Nolin said. “Phillies hitters jump at you right away ... swinging at the first pitch.
“(Clearwater) lead-off man (Albert Cartwright) hit a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence for a home run. I threw more change-ups and curves.”
Nolin retired the next 10 Clearwater hitters in order.
“I’ve located better, I’m down in the zone more this year,” said Nolin.
The rest of the Dunedin rotation currently consists of John Stilson, 21 (0-0, 2.88, 341/3 innings in nine starts), Asher Wojciechowski, 23 (2-1, 5.53, 402/3 innings in nine starts), Casey Lawrence, 24 (3-0, 3.44, 34 innings in five starts), Egan Smith, 23 (5-2, 2.68, 37 innings in three starts) and Nolin.
Dunedin starter Sam Dyson, 24, and Randy Boone, 27, have been promoted to New Hampshire.
Nolin, who has allowed three runs in his previous 18 innings against Fort Myers, Clearwater and Bradenton, is one of those rare players drafted three consecutive Junes, going to the Milwaukee Brewers in the 50th round in 2008, the only Long Island high schooler drafted that year, he said.
“I was out for dinner with my parents when I heard,” said Nolin, who went in the 48th round to the Seattle Mariners the next year after splitting the season closing and starting for the San Jacinto College Gators near Houston.
The Mariners called Nolin in either “the 20th or 24th round,” but the two sides didn’t come to agreement.
“At San Jac they brought me in as a closer, I had some intensity, showed a closer mentality and closed out a game,” he said. “Then they moved me to the rotation. If I pitched with that attitude as a starter, I’d be done in the third.”
That year, he was playing hoops with his pals when draft news came.
After going 13-0 with 84 strikeouts and a 1.98 ERA while earning all-conference honours in 2010, he knew he’d be going earlier. Jays scouting director Andrew Tinnish chose him in the sixth round and scout Aaron Jersild gave him a $175,000 US bonus.
Nolin credits pitching coach Jamie Adams, who he had from middle school to Grade 12, for teaching him his change-up, and coach Mike Malano. Nolin said both always talked “about showing up for every game, about giving your best.”
His parents, Patricia and Edward Nolin, and grandparents Gloria and Pasguale Boccio were supportive on his road to playing sandlot ball, college and the minors.
“My grandparents had never watched a game until I played, now they haven’t missed a New York Yankees game in 10 years,” Nolin said.
Nolin hopes to change the allegiance of his grandparents within a couple of years.
DOWN ON THE FARM
There’s a saying in the minors how “if the big team isn’t watching, maybe 29 other teams are.” With Jays director of minor league operations Charlie Wilson watching, catcher Travis d’Arnaud homered twice, centre fielder Anthony Gose tripled, doubled and threw out a runner at the plate, while shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria and first baseman David Cooper each had a homer and two RBIs in a 9-6 loss to Memphis.
First baseman Gabe Jacobo, acquired from the Los Angeles Angels in the minor-league portion of the Rule V draft after three years in L.A.’s system, is hitting .284 with one homer and 13 RBIs at Dunedin. Right-hander Javier Avendano, scooped from the Cardinals after four years there, is 1-2 with a 1.80 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 20 innings at Lansing.
Justin Nicolino and Aaron Sanchez each pitched four innings and Ajay Meyer picked up his 15th save in a 2-0 Lansing win over Lake County on Sunday. Nicolino’s ERA dipped to 1.16, while Sanchez’s mark is now at 0.58. Carlos Perez and Andrew Burns each hit solo homers.
Joel Carreno allowed two runs on three hits and two walks as he took the loss in an 8-3 loss to Trenton as catcher Sean Ochinko homered.
One evaluator’s look at the top five prospects in the Blue Jays system:
1. C Travis d’Arnaud
(.294 AVG., 7 HR, 21 RBIs, .858 OPS in 37 games at Vegas)
“He’s going to hit a whole bunch of doubles and home runs. Some nights you watch him, you may question his throwing ability, but everything else is solid. He’ll catch better than J.P. Arencibia.’
2. SS Adeiny Hechavarria
(.315 AVG., 4 HR, 26 RBIs, .826 OPS, 43 games at Vegas)
“The more you see him, the better he gets with the bat. He’s starting to fill out a little. Sometimes with the Cuban guys, when they’re out waiting for visas, it takes a while for them to get everything back.”
3. RHP Aaron Sanchez (5-0, 0.58, 38 Ks, 31 innings, 9 games at Lansing)
“I can’t tell you how many guys wanted this guy on draft day, but Toronto picked him (34th overall) because they had so many picks. He’s a 6-foot-4 stud. I saw him once in the spring. That was enough to convince me.”
4. CF Jake Marisnick
(.261, 3 HR, 25 RBIs, .771 OPS, 43 games at Dunedin)
“He’s a five-tool guy, he has power and can run. He’s built a little like Tim Salmon, but with more speed. Do you hit him third or let him lead off?”
5. RHP Noah Syndergaard
(3-0, 1.88, 38 Ks, 28.2 innings at Lansing)
“He has big-time velocity, throws a heavy ball and creates a pretty good angle. My 5A would be Asher Wojciechowski at Dunedin. With names like that, you need big shoulders for names on the back of the jersey — these two have got ’em.”