Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE – All things considered, former LSU pitcher Aaron Nola would rather be in Omaha, but he will settle for Philadelphia eventually after some minor league stops.
“It’s here. Ready or not, I’m ready,” Nola said after being picked with the seventh selection of the first round of the Major League Baseball Draft by the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday night. “It’s going to be cold. I’ve never been to Philadelphia.”
Nola, a 6-foot-1 junior from Catholic High in Baton Rouge, was 30-6 in three seasons at LSU with a 2.09 ERA. He was 11-1 this season with a 1.47 ERA after beating Houston on Saturday to put LSU at 2-0 in the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional, but the Tigers lost their next two to the Cougars and will not host a Super Regional this weekend with an opportunity to reach Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series.
“I thank everybody for making it so special for me,” Nola said outside the players’ lounge in Alex Box Stadium where family, friends, coaches and teammates gathered to watch the draft on the MLB Network.
“My time here has been unbelievable,” Nola said. “It’s been the best three years of my life. My teammates, they’ve been so good to me. Such great guys. I wouldn’t have picked anywhere else to go. I’m glad I came to college. The coaching staff has helped me so much since I’ve been here. We have a great relationship.”
Nola was picked in the 22nd round of the 2011 MLB Draft after going 7-1 with a 1.00 ERA in his senior year at Catholic and 21-2 for his prep career. Draft analysts on the MLB Network said Nola could be pitching in the Majors very quickly – as soon as next season.
“He’s the most Major League ready pitcher in the entire draft,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “He’s going to pitch for a long time. And I tell you what, anybody who messes with him (as far as his pitching mechanics), will be making a big mistake. Just leave him alone, and tell him to go pitch.”
Nola had impeccable control throughout his LSU career as he walked only 52 in 332 innings in three seasons with 345 strikeouts, which is No. 3 on LSU’s career list. He consistently threw strikes with fastballs on both sides of the plate and has an effective curve.
“As fine a pitcher as I’ve ever coached in 31 years,” said Mainieri, who saw LSU pitcher Kevin Gausman go as the fourth pick of the first round to Baltimore two years ago after former ace Anthony Ranaudo became a supplemental first round pick in 2010.
Mainieri also coached first round pitchers Brad Lidge and Aaron Heilman at Notre Dame before they reached the Majors.
“Aaron is everything you want in a pitcher,” Mainieri said. “He continually outdid his previous performance week after week. Every time you don’t think he can do better, he does better the next time. And you’re thinking, ‘How does he do that?’”
Nola is the first player in Southeastern Conference history to be named the league pitcher of the year twice.
“It’s been a blessing to be at LSU,” Nola said.
Nola will have to re-learn another craft, though. He is going to the National League, where pitchers bat.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “I haven’t faced a pitcher since high school.”
Nola conceivably could turn down several million dollars from the Phillies and pitch his senior year at LSU. He started laughing when asked that.
“I think we all know the answer to that question,” Mainieri said with a smile as he departed his office. “How do you replace a guy like that? It’s impossible. We’re all going to watch him in the Majors with a great deal of pride.”