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A 20-year-old (DOB: December 29, 1996) second-year pro out of Cotui in the Dominican Republic, St. Louis Cardinals right-handed pitching prospect Winston Nicacio made his stateside debut in 2017 with the rookie-level GCL Cardinals of the Gulf Coast League and, for a two-game cameo, the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League. In 13 games (eight starts) across those two levels, the St. Louis Cardinals prospect threw 57.2 innings and finished 4-4 with a 2.81 ERA. He allowed 61 hits and 20 walks in that time, while striking out 45 hitters. For his efforts in the GCL, The Cardinal Nation named Winston Nicacio their 2017 GCL Cardinals Starting Pitcher of the Year.

Add that to Nicacio’s debut summer in the Dominican Summer League in 2016, and you have a productive young pitcher here a few months before his 21st birthday who may yet turn into a fringe rotation prospect. In 2016, in the DSL, Nicacio finished 3-3 with a  4.80 ERA in 14 games/10 starts, in which he threw 54.1 innings and allowed 54 hits and 36 walks against 53 strikeouts. Below, we have a game video of Winston Nicacio taken during a late July start in the GCL, as well as our full scouting report and tool-by-tool breakdown and grade-out of the St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect.

Winston Nicacio — 2017 Scouting Report

Dates observed in 2017: July 25

Four-Seam Fastball (55)
Good feel for the bottom of the zone, though control is a few steps ahead of command at this point. Release point can vary and elbow will drop, which occasionally flattens out the fastball, but Nicacio is usually on top with good downward plane from his 6’2″ frame. Goes to the four-seamer early and often with free, easy release. Has the raw arm strength to easily run it up to 94 when he wants, but rarely chose to do so in my look. Working velocity should continue to come in time as he grows into his body and smooths out mechanics (more on that below). Velocity: 89-91, T 94.

Two-Seam Fastball (45)
Good change of pace from his four-seamer, the two-seam shows noticeable arm-side run and sink. It’ll get away from him arm-side at times, though, and control and command both lag relative to the four-seam. Two-seam is inconsistent to lefties especially, where Nicacio struggles to stay closed with the pitch, often getting too rotational and leaving it arm-side off the plate. He’ll learn how to better manipulate the pitch as he grows, but there is raw life here with decent pitchability relative to his age and level to induce weak ground ball contact. Velocity: 87-89, T 90.

Changeup (50)
Of his two off-speed pitches, this was Nicacio’s better one by far in my July look. Appears to be a circle change coming out of his hand, with good tumble and some arm-side life. Does well to keep it down in the zone and, like the fastball, Nicacio has enough control of the changeup to aim low middle and let it work. Arm action and arm speed are generally consistent, though command will have to improve as he moves up. Nevertheless, it’s a legitimate ground ball weapon, especially to lefties, and a good wrinkle to use the second and third time through the lineup. Velocity: 79-82, T 83.

Slider (40)
Sweeping 10-to-4 break. Far more a slurve than a slider at this point; needs to be thrown about five miles per hour harder. Nicacio tends to get around the pitch, and he sacrifices downward break because of it. In turn, he struggles to miss bats and often lets hitters off the hook with two-strike contact by being unable to put them away. He has definite strike zone feel for the pitch, and he can throw it to multiple spots, but it lacks bite and must be significantly harder if it’s to be effective against better hitters. Well below-average right now, but his strong frame and good raw arm strength leave the hope that he’ll quickly learn to trust his grip and throw it hard. Velocity: 76-80, T 81.

Works quickly; conventional high three-quarters release with moderate spine tilt. Low effort guy with repeatable arm action and release, but gets long in the back and will show the ball early, especially to lefties. Repeatable mechanics and delivery through the first parts of his motion, but he steps quite closed off to the plate and throws across his body. Without question, that accounts for the good life on his sinking fastball and changeup, but it also leaves his release point inconsistent. Long levers and lean frame; should add weight and power that’ll benefit his stuff as more innings iron out his mechanics.

Winston Nicacio, St. Louis Cardinals — 2017 Game Video

Winston Nicacio Scouting Report — Notes & Analysis

Consider this Winston Nicacio scouting report to be the product of our extensive video library (which you should subscribe to here), because I walked away from the righty’s July 25th start somewhat unimpressed; it was only after I really bore down on my notes and that video a few weeks later that I started to piece together the puzzle and see a few things I liked. Not flashy or toolsy, the St. Louis Cardinals prospect nevertheless has the makings of a guy who could become a workhorse-type pitcher: good control, decent command (that will improve), a feel for the strike zone with everything he throws, the ability to work quick, and the desire to challenge every single hitter in every situation. What he lacks in an ability to miss bats, he’ll make up for in pitching to weaker contact thanks to downward life in his arsenal and he doesn’t shy away from filling up the zone.

The St. Louis Cardinals evidently thought enough of Nicacio—on two separate occasions this summer—to send him across the complex for spot relief work in the Florida State League. That’s a small thing (and a benefit of having two affiliates on one site!), but it speaks a lot of Nicacio’s relative maturity and consistency in being chosen twice to make that transition as an emergency fill-in. He’s not afraid of hitters and doesn’t shy away from pitching to contact, and that’ll continue to benefit him in the coming years as he further understands how to better manipulate his stuff. So long as he can significantly improve his breaking ball alongside the inevitable growth of his fastball and changeup, Winston Nicacio has a shot to be a fringe rotation prospect over the next few years.

Winston Nicacio Scouting Report — Future Projection

There may be significantly more power in his arsenal that will eventually push Nicacio into the bullpen, but at least over the next few seasons, the St. Louis Cardinals would do well to keep him as a rotation arm. There are significant problems with his breaking ball that must be markedly, quickly improved, but decent feel for a changeup and the ability attack the bottom of the zone will continue to serve him well as he grows. Just as it was with me initially unimpressed only to appreciate him later, so may it go for Winston Nicacio over the next few years: underrated pitchability without flashy power stuff, but a consistent (if decidedly un-sexy) plan to attack the zone and draw weak contact. Take that several steps down the line, and there’s a shot for the righty to become a serviceable back-end rotation arm.

Overall Future Potential (Future Value): Back-end rotation arm; likely #5 starter or perhaps swingman/long reliever (45)

MLB ETA: 2021


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Bobby DeMuro

Bobby DeMuro is the founder of Baseball Census. A former college and independent league baseball player, he now watches more than 200 games a year working full time for the site. You can follow him on Twitter @BobbyDeMuro for more.

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