In the lead-up to the 2015 draft, the Rockies were known to be a possible landing place for Mike Nikorak -- as a potential third overall draft pick. That would have been seen as a slight reach at one point, but many considered the 18-year-old Nikorak a top 10 talent entering June.
The 6'5" right-handed starting pitcher from Stroudsburg, Pa. struggled somewhat in his final high school season, but he was still considered by some industry experts to be the top high school pitcher in the draft class, full stop (he was ranked 16th overall pre-draft by Baseball America and fifth by David Hood).
Therefore, many in baseball thought the Rockies got a steal when Nikorak fell into their lap with the 27th pick in the draft. Colorado quickly signed him for a slightly overslot bonus of $2.3 million. MLB.com's decision to put Nikorak in its top 100 prospect list (at No. 84), seventh in Colorado's system, shows the kind of love Nikorak gets from the prospect community:
Nikorak started raising his profile with his performance at the Perfect Game National Showcase at the beginning of the summer before his senior season. When the eastern Pennsylvania native came out this spring once it thawed in the Northeast with the same 94-97 mph fastball he showed the previous summer, he cemented himself as a first-rounder.
Though he struggled a bit with command and lost a tick or two as the spring wore one, he was still effective with his fastball thanks to plenty of run and sink. He shows the makings of a plus curveball at times and also flashes at least a solid changeup.
An all-conference quarterback before he decided to focus on baseball, Nikorak is extremely athletic and has a lot of projection remaining in his lean 6-foot-5 frame.
If Nikorak had not thrown a professional pitch, he'd have been in the conversation for a top 10 PuRP slot this time around. Unfortunately, the results of his professional debut season in rookie ball Grand Junction went about as poorly as one could have feared (non-injury department), despite the Rockies handling Nikorak very carefully - with a strict innings and pitch count limit. In 17 2/3 innings over eight starts, Nikorak had an unseemly 11.72 (!!) ERA, 9.07 FIP, 3.28 (!!!) WHIP, and walked 32 ($&#&!) hitters while striking out 14. It's a small sample size against hitters that are over three years older on average, but yeesh, those are terrible numbers.
Despite that awful debut, I definitely have bought in to the combination of stuff, pedigree, and potential that Nikorak brings to the table. It's only the extreme depth of the system that pushed him to 13th on my personal ballot as a top 15 value who Colorado wisely pounced on at the end of the first round and a potential top 100 prospect in baseball.
We'll see if the Rockies decide to give Nikorak a taste of full-season ball next year right off the bat or if they continue bringing him along more slowly with an extended spring training stint and then a short-season ball repeat. My take is that the Rockies should assign Nikorak to Asheville after a winter/spring of development work to take stock of their investment, then pull back if necessary, similar to how they treated Kevin Padlo in 2015.