Why Ryne Nelson could have a breakout 2024 campaign

Ryne Nelson's improved stuff could lead to a breakout 2024 campaign.

Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Ryne Nelson throws to the San Diego Padres in the first inning
Arizona Diamondbacks starting pitcher Ryne Nelson throws to the San Diego Padres in the first inning / Rob Schumacher/The Republic / USA TODAY

The Arizona Diamondbacks drafted Ryne Nelson in the second round of the 2019 draft, but his rookie season was unimpressive at best. He pitched 144 innings, working to a 5.31 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and 1.42 WHIP. His 7.4% walk rate was the only positive of note, as he had a 15.5% strikeout rate, 1.5 HR/9, and below the tenth percentile of exit velocity (90.8 MPH) and barrel rate (11.6%). But he’s made some improvements in Spring Training that could make him a great starting pitcher in 2024.

Spring Training stats aren’t a good indicator of future success, but it’s nice to see someone do well, especially after a rough season. Nelson has pitched 11.2 innings in preseason, only allowing four earned runs, striking out 14 batters and letting up two free passes. His groundball rate thus far is over 60% at 62.5%.

Nelson is throwing a lot harder in Spring. His cutter velo is currently sitting at 87.6 MPH, a massive 2.2 MPH uptick from 2023. He’s also added about three MPH to his curveball. It is sitting at 79.3 MPH in Spring compared to 76.5 MPH during the 2023 regular season. His slider, as well as his change-up, have also seen about a 1.5 MPH uptick in velocity. Funnily enough, even though four of his offerings have gained a noticeable amount of velocity, his fastball is still sitting about 94-95 MPH.

This added velocity is only better once you consider the fact he has great release point extension. At seven feet, he’s adding about 1.5 MPH of velocity to his stuff. The 79.3 MPH curveball might look more like an 81 MPH curveball to the batter, and the 87.6 MPH cutter will reach home plate at the same rate as an 89-90 MPH cutter. The added velocity will certainly help some of his pitches, like his slider, which had above-average movement last season.

Nelson is currently competing for the final rotation spot in Spring Training, and if I were to guess, he has the lead in the competition. He has the lowest ERA of any D-Backs pitcher with three or more starts this Spring and the most strikeouts by four. He’s also allowed fewer walks than Tommy Henry (who is also competing for the fifth starter role), Zac Gallen, and Eduardo Rodriguez.

He and Brandon Pfaadt could have massive breakout campaigns. Pfaadt had a solid second half and an outstanding Postseason. Nelson is showing off a ton of potential in Spring Training. It’s only Spring Training and just 11.2 innings, but Nelson throwing a lot harder with more swings and misses could make him the 5th starter to open the 2024 season.