After three years at LSU that have drawn plenty of attention, LSU ace Aaron Nola says Friday may be his last regular-season start in Alex Box Stadium as he contemplates professional baseball
Aaron Nola uses the word “probably.”
This will probably be, he says, his final regular season home start for LSU on Friday.
Everyone else in his family doesn’t play coy.
“Thinking about it,” Nola’s mother Stacey said earlier this week, “I get this pit in my stomach.”
“I just told him to enjoy these last games,” said Aaron’s brother, Austin, “because you’ll never get them back.”
It’s no secret: LSU’s ace hurler and former Catholic High star will likely forgo his senior season and join the professional ranks.
It’s not hard to see why.
Nola is No. 7 in Baseball America’s latest rankings of the top 50 prospects eligible for this year’s draft, and multiple other draft projections have him as a first-round selection.
It’s a position that could net multimillions in signing bonus money. Coach Paul Mainieri isn’t crazy.
“There’s a pretty good chance we’re going to lose Aaron Nola, of course,” Mainieri quipped Wednesday.
Nola might don his No. 10 white jersey — worn on home Friday nights — for a final time this Friday in a series-opening game against Alabama, LSU’s final regular-season opponent at Alex Box Stadium.
“I’ll cry,” a watery eyed Stacey Nola said. “I’m already crying thinking about it.”
It’s no lock that Nola will get another home start.
He can help increase those chances, of course. LSU (35-13-1, 13-10-1 Southeastern Conference) is No. 17 in the RPI and fifth overall in the SEC standings, placing the Tigers among a group of teams on the bubble of hosting an NCAA regional.
The top 16 are awarded host sites, set for May 29-June 1.
That’s more of Nola’s focus.
“I hadn’t really thought about the draft really. Got a little more work to do for the Tigers,” he said. “Probably my last home regular season start over here. It kind of hits you pretty hard.”
The big picture, though, is Nola’s future in baseball and the mark he’ll leave at LSU.
The Nolas — A.J. and Stacey — haven’t talked much to their son about making the leap to professional baseball.
They’ve lectured him about finances, already delivering the message that his hefty signing bonus will go into savings, and that he’ll have to live off the modest salary minor leaguers make.
There’s been talk of food, too.
“I say, ‘You’re going to have to learn how to cook,’” Stacey said.
Aaron will shoot back at her: “I know how to cook.”
Stacey’s response: “Yeeeeaaah. More than eggs.”
The parents allow Austin to do more of the advice-giving.
“As any kid who’s about to go to professional baseball, they want to go, and it’s in the back of their mind,” said Austin Nola, the former LSU shortstop now playing for the Jacksonville Suns, the Marlins’ Double-A affiliate. “But they’ve got these games to finish.”
Aaron Nola has done little this season to decrease his value to professional teams.
Nola’s 1.58 ERA is just a notch under last season’s 1.57 mark. He has 102 strikeouts, 12 more than this time last season. He’s allowed four fewer earned runs than he did through 49 games in 2013.
His banner season led Mainieri to proclaim a few weeks ago, “He could knock a gnat off of a bull from 60 feet.”
As Nola career winds down, his numbers in three seasons with the Tigers stack up with some of the best in LSU history.
His career ERA of 2.18 and 313 strikeouts are both good for sixth all-time in the record books. Nola’s 26 career victories puts him two outside of the top 10, and he’s thrown four wild pitches in 301.1 innings.
They don’t keep a stat on that, but if they did …
“He has impeccable control,” Mainieri said. “Amazing command.”
Mainieri will be sweating out draft day. LSU has a host of highly rated signees expected to be picked in the first 10 rounds.
He won’t sweat too much with Nola.
The money — and opportunity — is just too big.
The smallest signing bonus for a first-round pick last year was $1.65 million.
The average for a first-rounder: $2.6 million. Only one player selected in the first round last year did not sign.
One site claims that Nola “could be the first starting pitcher from this year’s draft class to make it to the big leagues.”
The draft is set for June 5. Nola turns 21 on June 4.
And June 6? That’s when super regionals are set to begin.
For now, that’s the focus.
“I told him, ‘Professional baseball will be there,’” Austin said. “He’s in the present. He’s not looking to the future.”