The Brewers farm system has been constantly criticized for a lack of quality prospects. Ever since the big group of prospects from the early 2000s (Rickie Weeks, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart, etc.) passed through the system and then through the majors, the system has been consistently ranked among the bottom. Despite this, the Brewers have managed to find some players to play key roles on the team (Jonathan Lucroy, Wily Peralta, Scooter Gennett, Khris Davis). The next player to join that group may be Jimmy Nelson.
After being drafted in the second round of the 2010 draft, Jimmy Nelson has been on a steady path up through the minors. He started off in rookie ball, stepped up to Single-A in 2011, split time between High-A and Double-A in 2012, and then between Double-A and Triple-A in 2013. Nelson got his first taste of the majors in September 2013, where he was called up to pitch in the bullpen and make a start at the end of the season. It was a successful start for him, posting a 0.90 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 10 innings that year.
With a full rotation entering 2014, Jimmy Nelson began the year in Nashville and was just dominant. Over 17 "starts" (one didn't count as a start but basically was a start), he posted a 1.46 ERA and 2.97 FIP, striking out 114 and walking just 32 in 111 innings pitched. Despite pitching only 3/5 of the season in Triple-A, he was named PCL Pitcher of the Year because of how dominant he was, as well as the Brewers' minor-league pitcher of the year.
Nelson got his first shot at the majors in 2014 in May, when he was called up to fill a spot start for Yovani Gallardo (see below for more on that start). He went back to Nashville after that, but was then called up for good just prior to the all-star break to take Marco Estrada's spot in the rotation. His success didn't carry over to the majors as well, and he ended up posting a 4.76 ERA and 3.82 FIP in 12 major league starts covering 68 innings. His strikeout rate dropped a little (9.24 K/9 to 7.40 K/9), but his walk rate remained about the same (2.59 BB/9 to 2.47 BB/9). His stats show a history of struggling each time he steps up a level, before settling in and improving. Hopefully that will eventually carry over to the majors as he continues to pitch for the Brewers. He ended up being bumped to the bullpen when Matt Garza returned from the DL, though only made 2 appearances before one spot start to finish the season.
Jimmy Nelson's role for 2015 is currently unknown. With the rotation basically set for 2015, the two possibilities for Nelson are either starting the season in the Brewers bullpen or heading to Colorado Springs to stay stretched out as a starter. He will contribute to the Brewers in 2015, but we will have to wait and see how it will happen.
Jimmy Nelson didn't have many great outings, but his first one may have been his best. Called up to fill a spot start for an injured Yovani Gallardo, he pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits and three walks with six strikeouts, earning his first major league win. Here are highlights from the game:
With under a full year of MLB service time accumulated, Jimmy Nelson will make the major-league minimum next season. He is currently projected to reach arbitration for the 2018 season and become a free agent for the 2021 season. However, should he spend most of next season in the minors, those dates could be pushed back.