25. Mike Nikorak (187 points, 27 ballots)
Mike Nikorak hasn’t had a lot of wins as a professional baseball player. After all, the 21-year-old righty starter infamously walked 32 batters in 17 2⁄3 innings in 2015. In his repeat campaign in Grand Junction in 2016, Nikorak reduced his walk rate to 5.8/9 over 291⁄3 frames of 3.68 ERA ball but seemed to have lost the stuff that had made him a highly regarded prospect in the first place. Then Nikorak suffered an injury that required Tommy John surgery in Spring Training, making 2017 a lost year.
Okay, that’s a lot of bad stuff. The reason Nikorak remains on this list is tied to where he began his professional career and where he was right before his TJ surgery. He began his career as a first round draft pick with a $2.3 million signing bonus that ended up in top 100 prospect conversations with potential top-of-rotation stuff. Reports from Spring Training before the injury indicated that Nikorak had shown marked improvements to his delivery and stuff, putting him on the path to regaining his prospect shine.
In short, if Nikorak gets right he’s got sky-high upside and you can’t expect much more from your No. 25 prospect.
In February of 2017, 2080 Baseball’s Nick Faleris and Dave DeFreitas gave a run-down on Nikorak’s state just before the injury:
Nikorak has struggled to rediscover his mid- to upper-90s velocity and plus breaking ball ... generally showing softer and less consistent stuff throughout his time in the Rockies’ organization. After reworking his mechanics to try and clean up his arm action some and help him to maintain a more consistent tempo to the plate, Nikorak was finally starting to show signs of more fluid and consistent motion during his most recent run through fall instructs.
At present, the fastball is working mostly in the 89-to-93 mph range on a solid downhill plane. The curveball is coming with more consistent shape than he displayed a year ago, but the breaking ball still lacks the bite flashed during his one- and two-inning outings on the high school showcase circuit ... He has the size and quality of stuff arm to develop into a quality rotation piece, while the fastball and curveball could perhaps help him fit into a solid seventh- or eighth-inning role should the Rockies be forced to shift him to the pen over the few seasons.
When Nikorak can keep his delivery together, he can sit in the low 90s with sink on his two-seam fastball, reach 97 mph with his four-seamer, spin a hammer curveball in the low 80s and flash a plus changeup. But he has trouble repeating his mechanics and sometimes pitches tentatively, resulting in heaters sitting around 90 mph and diminished secondary stuff.
If Nikorak can repeat his delivery, maintain a consistent arm slot and recapture the arsenal he has shown in the past, he still could become a frontline starter. The Rockies saw positive signs during instructional league and early in Spring Training, which offers hope that he’ll figure it out, as do his youth and the athleticism that made him an all-conference quarterback in high school.
Here’s some video of Nikorak courtesy of Purple Row’s own YouTube channel:
Nikorak has some very serious issues to overcome given his performance as a professional so far and now TJ surgery. And yet, some believe there’s still a major league starter in there somewhere ready to be unleashed. I think it would be unwise to write Nikorak off after just over 47 innings as a professional, but I think his MLB timeline (a very uncertain proposition to be sure) now pushes into 2021 at the earliest.
The profile is still tantalizing enough for me to give Nikorak a 40+ Future Value as a back-end major-league starter or set-up reliever and rank him 20th on my ballot, but if I told you I wasn’t worried, I’d be lying. I just hope that this time next year he’s made it successfully into full season ball.