Juan Nicasio, now in his third season in the big leagues has basically acquired a full-season's worth of starts with 32. He offers tantalizingly good stuff and seems to give you just enough to believe that he is turning the corner only to regress in his next outing.
In fairness, Nicasio has youth on his side at age 26 and it's not uncommon for a young starting pitcher to take a bit of time to figure things out. He also has been set back by various injuries and the fact that he is even pitching after breaking his neck is a miracle in and of itself. So, how do we evaluate Nicasio? Do we just need to be patient and trust that he will develop? Does he need a minor league stint? Is he better suited in the pen?
I am of the opinion that Nicasio is best suited as a reliever with his ceiling being either as a setup man or closer. He has an overpowering fastball and a pretty good slider. The problem is he still hasn't developed a third pitch that he can throw with any consistency whatsoever. Nicasio is throwing his fastball 72% of the time, his slider 20%, and his changeup 6%.
Just to give you an idea what that means; Nicasio ranks 3rd among starting pitchers in FA%. What that means is there are only two starting pitchers in all of baseball that throw their fastballs more often. Those two starters are Tony Cingrani and Shelby Miller. Rockies fans have seen what Shelby Miller can do throwing primarily fastballs, so why can't that work for Nicasio? One reason could be that Miller's second most used pitch is his curveball. A curveball has a far greater velocity difference from a fastball then a fastball to a slider, in Nicasio's case not having a big enough velocity difference allows a hitter to time him better.
There are plenty of big names in the top 25 of starting pitchers that all throw primarily their fastball on average. These names include, Jordan Zimmerman, Lance Lynn, Clayton Kershaw, Matt Harvey, Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and Brandon Morrow. But, all of those hurlers throw their secondary pitches at least 40% of the time, whether it's a changeup curveball or slider, compared to Nicasio's 30% (I'm doing some rounding here, but the numbers are close). Nicasio's fastball is electric, but without better, and more frequent use of his secondary pitches he will likely continue to struggle as a starter.
Therefore, a move to the pen would be warranted where having a third pitch isn't essential. Starters need more variance in their pitches because the second and third time through a lineup the hitters start timing the hard stuff better. That's where a good secondary pitches keep them off balance. In the bullpen guys are typically only pitching an inning or two and they don't have to worry about a guy being able to time them in their second or third at bat
However, there really isn't room for Nicasio in the bullpen given the outstanding overall performance of the current relievers. In such a case as this, a minor league stint to work on his secondary pitches might not be the worst idea. Pomeranz certainly seems ready to step in and Nicasio hasn't even been in Triple-A before, so, giving him more time to develop down there might not be a bad idea. It seemed to work for Chatwood and it looks like it's working for Pomeranz. The Rockies are going to compete this year and that means they can't afford to let Nicasio work it out at the big league level.