Lucky No. 7.
The Philadelphia Phillies selected Aaron Nola with the seventh pick in the MLB draft Thursday night, quickly ending any suspense for LSU’s All-America hurler.
Nola, a Baton Rouge native, became just the 16th LSU player chosen in the first round. Pitcher Kevin Gausman, in 2012, is the most recent member of that group.
Projected as a top-10 pick, Nola gathered with more than 200 family, friends and teammates in the players lounge of Alex Box Stadium to watch the draft unfold on MLB Network. About 40 minutes in, his name was called and the room exploded with cheers.
“My heart’s never beat so fast in my life,” Nola said.
In jeans and a white button-down shirt, Nola slowly lifted himself off a leather couch upon the announcement and embraced his mother, father and coach Paul Mainieri.
About a minute before the announcement on television, Nola received a text message from his draft advisor.
“Congratulations, you’re a Philly,” it said.
“It’s surreal for me,” said A.J. Nola, Aaron’s father. “Words can’t describe it right now. Still trying to soak it all in.”
The bonus allotted for the seventh pick is $3.3 million, but a team isn’t restricted to that number. No matter what, though, Nola is a millionaire.
“It’s going to be pretty good,” a smiling Aaron Nola said.
Most major league analysts and scouts believe Nola will make the quickest jump to the majors out of all of the 2014 pitchers drafted. It’s easy to see why.
Nola’s three seasons at LSU were arguably the best of any pitcher in the program’s illustrious history. Former coach Skip Bertman said he’s one of the best LSU pitchers ever, and Mainieri said Nola is the best pitcher he has ever coached.
“He constantly met the challenges. He gave it everything he had. The talent is obvious. He threw hard, had a good curveball, good changeup. Best control of any pitcher I’ve ever been around,” Mainieri said. “He also has the intangibles. In Louisiana, we call it lagniappe.”
Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever said Nola “probably” will start his pro career with the Clearwater Threshers, the Phillies’ High A farm team in Florida.
Nola’s fastball ultimately sold the Phillies.
“The real selling point to me with Aaron Nola was the command of his fastball, which was well above average,” Wolever said. “He can command his fastball, and he can throw to both sides of plate.”
The numbers back it all up.
The former Catholic High star capped his career with his best season yet in 2014. He finished with an ERA of 1.47, his lowest at LSU. He threw 116 innings, had 134 strikeouts and walked just 27. Nola was 11-1 on the mound, and he finished his career recording wins in his past 17 home starts, a span that covers his sophomore and junior seasons.
Nola is in LSU’s record books in a host of spots. His career ERA of 2.09 is the fifth-best all-time, and he has the best ERA of any LSU pitcher who has thrown more than 300 innings.
His ERAs in 2013 (1.57) and 2014 (1.47) are ninth and 10th on the school’s top-10 all-time list. He joins Rick Farizo (1968-70) as the only pitcher with two seasons in the top 10.
He’s the only pitcher in the top 10 to throw more than 100 innings — and he did it in 2013 and 2014.
For his career, Nola struck out 105 more batters than he allowed hits. He threw just four wild pitches in 332 innings and walked 52.
His command and precision led Mainieri to say this about him earlier this year: “He could knock a gnat off of a bull from 60 feet.”
Against Nola, opponents finished with a batting average of .201.
“We can talk all we want about what his ceiling is: Is he a No. 1 starter? Is he an all-star?” Mainieri said. “That kid’s going to go to the big leagues, he’s going to pitch for a long time and he’s going to be very successful.”
LSU’s draft watching doesn’t end with Nola.
Lefty pitcher Mac Marshall, the headliner of the Tigers’ 2014 signing class, was projected to be selected as one of the 74 picks Thursday, but he was not chosen.
That greatly improves his chances of coming to Baton Rouge. Marshall said recently that only a first-round selection might keep him from coming to LSU, something that may have scared off teams from choosing him in the second round and supplemental rounds.
It’s not over yet, though.
Mainieri said Friday will be “a long day” for the LSU coaching staff. At least six of LSU’s 12 signees could be drafted Friday, the third through 10th rounds. Current LSU draft-eligible players Tyler Moore, Joe Broussard, Jared Foster and Mark Laird also may hear their names.
Moore and Broussard are “50-50” on signing, the coach said. He expects Foster to leave and Laird to return.
Most signees in the 2014 signing class are expected to scrap signing with a pro team and come to LSU. Of the 12 signees, six are pitchers and about half of those are hard-throwing guys needed on a staff that lacked depth and power this season.
“Hopefully these six pitching recruits that we’ve signed are all going to come to school, beginning with Mac,” Mainieri said. “If they do, it’s going to make a significant impact to the quality of our staff.”