Justin Nicolino posted an uninspiring 4.99 ERA while going 3-6 in 13 starts for the Marlins in 2016, which prompted a demotion to Triple-A New Orleans in July. He pitched somewhat better upon returning to the Marlins in a bullpen role late in the season, allowing just one run in 8.2 September innings. With a fastball that rarely breaks 90 mph, Nicolino is an extreme contact pitcher who put up a paltry 4.2 K/9 in 2016. Unfortunately, hitters also hit .317 on balls in play against him, which along with a 1.46 WHIP helps explains the high ERA. Nicolino hasn't struck out hitters at a rate of even 6.5 K/9 since High-A, so it would be shocking if he posts average strikeout numbers going forward. Even if he returns to the rotation in 2017, Nicolino's complete lack of strikeouts and inability to keep runners off base makes him someone to largely avoid in fantasy.
Nicolino was optioned to Triple-A New Orleans on Tuesday, MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports. He made a late push to open the season in the big-league rotation, but will instead offer depth at Triple-A to start the year. Nicolino has nearly zero fantasy appeal, as he has a career 9.3 percent strikeout rate in the major leagues, which would have ranked dead last by a wide margin among qualified starters last season.
Nicolino could be in the running for the open fifth starter spot with the Marlins after throwing five scoreless innings against the Cardinals on Saturday, Andre Fernandez of the Miami Herald reports. The lefty threw 71 pitches and scattered three hits and a walk while striking out three. After a rough start to the spring, Nicolino has his ERA down to 3.86, although his 6:3 K:BB through 16.1 innings is a reminder of his extremely low strikeout potential. Adam Conley remains the favorite to win the fifth starter job, while Jose Urena is also still in the mix.
Nicolino held the Mets scoreless over three innings, scattering three hits and striking out one, in Wednesday's Grapefruit League game. The left-hander picked a good time to have his best outing of the spring, with Jeff Locke (biceps) looking doubtful for Opening Day and Tom Koehler struggling to get the ball over the plate. Nicolino is still a long shot to win the Marlins' fifth starter spot, and his low strikeout potential would give him limited fantasy value even if he does claim it, but another strong spring start could put him in the conversation.
Nicolino got hammered in his first appearance of the spring Monday against the Tigers, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits and a walk while recording only one out. He was already facing a tough battle to win a spot on the 25-man roster with the Marlins this season, but Nicolino didn't exactly get his Grapefruit League campaign off to a positive start. Expect the soft-tossing lefty to begin 2017 back with Triple-A New Orleans.
Nicolino is a long shot to break camp on the 25-man roster this spring. The Marlins brought in a number of veteran pitchers this offseason, all but locking Nicolino out of a rotation spot, and while they'll have a couple of openings for long relievers in their bullpen, Jose Urena is out of options and should win one spot, while whoever loses out on the fifth starter job will take the other. Nicolino hasn't impressed in either the majors or at Triple-A New Orleans over the last couple of years, and the 25-year-old lefty's inability to miss bats leaves his future role, or indeed whether he'll ever establish himself as a big league arm, in some doubt.