In this business, a lot depends on perspective. But there is no way to look at what Mike Nikorak has done in his professional debut and call it a success. After last night -- another outing in which he failed to get out of the second inning -- Nikorak sits at 32 walks in 17⅔ innings. That amounts to a 16.3 BB/9 ratio. Ouch.
He also hasn't been especially successful limiting contact, as his 3.28 WHIP and 11.72 ERA suggest.
There are only three silver linings here, as far as I see: First, Nikorak still doesn't turn 19 for another week; second, 17 ⅔ innings is not a definitive sample size; and third, he is striking out 7.13 batters per nine innings.
Nikorak is from a small Pennsylvania town, and more than a few people have suggested to me that such a large jump has played a role in his struggles.
"The tools are there," says pitching coach Ryan Kibler.
"He's got a big arm and a big fastball. He's going to have a swing-and-miss curveball, but he's still raw. He only pitched in 29 innings in high school this year. He needs to learn to trust himself," Kibler added.
It is easy to see the tools, though I was surprised to see him topping out at 93 mph Sunday night and sitting on 91 mph. He looked completely overwhelmed -- missing by feet or even yards, and not inches. Every once in a while he would throw an unhittable pitch, and I think he fooled the umpire once or twice, but when every fifth pitch is going to the backstop none of that matters.
It's way too early to give up on Nikorak, but early signs are about as bad as they could be.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Grand Junction has a recent history of turning out poor pitching performances from guys who still popped at the next levels. Sam Howard, Harrison Musgrave, and Carlos Estevez are all guys who put up mediocre to bad numbers in Grand Junction but have taken leaps in their progress since.
But considering recent second-picks like Forrest Wall and Ryan McMahon, it's hard not to be extremely disappointed in what we've seen from Mike Nikorak so far.
It appears the new direction of drafting a ton of high school pitchers is going to require some patience.