As a child, you’re taught to aim high in most facets of life, but there are some exceptions.
What about gas prices? Cholesterol levels? Time spent in traffic?
It tends to make people happy when these things are low.
The same applies for a pitcher’s earned run average (ERA). The lower their ERA, the better the pitcher is considered to be and vice versa. An ERA under 4.00 is seen as good.
So, from an outsider’s perspective, it may seem curious why Ball State Baseball head coach Rich Maloney thinks his most talented pitcher is someone who had a 5.21 ERA in 2018.
It’s especially puzzling because Maloney said the team has two draft-worthy pitchers in sophomore Drey Jameson and junior John Baker. In 2018, Jameson had a 3.88 ERA, and Baker’s was 3.68.
When you take a closer look, however, you’ll understand why sophomore Kyle Nicolas is held in such high regard. The right-hander is 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds and touched 100 mph on the radar gun earlier this year.
“Kyle just has all the things that the pro teams are looking for,” Maloney said. “He’s got the size, he’s got the physicality, he’s got the big league body. He just has that look.”
Nicolas has been inconsistent so far in 2019, walking 27 batters in as many innings with an ERA of 4.88. He has also shown flashes of potential. His best outing came against Notre Dame. In three innings of work, he held the Irish scoreless while striking out seven to record the save.
Maloney said Nicolas has the potential to be a first-round draft pick. Nicolas has helped Ball State to a 21-11 record, good for third in the Mid-American Conference.
“I just want to be one of those guys that the team can lean on,” Nicolas said. “I want to be the guy that everybody feels comfortable with on the mound.”
Both Maloney and fellow pitcher junior Luke Jaksich have faith in the Massillon, Ohio, native.
“I trust him a lot,” Maloney said.
Jaksich echoed that statement: “I trust him with everything I have. I’m fully confident he’s always going to get the job done.”
Nicolas said he realizes he still has a lot of work to do to reach his full potential.
“I definitely have to home in on my command,” Nicolas said. “Drey and John are both great pitchers. I feel like they’re more polished than I am right now.”
Jameson was a 2018 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and was named to the 2018 All-Mid-American Conference First Team. Baker was a 2017 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American and was named to the 2018 All-Mid-American Conference Second Team.
To become more polished, Nicolas completes a 30- to 45-minute throwing routine every day with Jameson. They practice fundamentals like mechanics and pre-pitch routine. Nicolas’ hard work doesn’t go unnoticed by his teammates.
“It’s awesome that he works as hard as he does,” Jaksich said. “If [the coaches] say, ‘Jump,’ he’ll say, ‘How high?’ … The best thing about Kyle is he’s not a bighead. He’s basically like a 12-year-old.”
Jaksich suffered a torn labrum and hip impingement during a prospect league game last summer. His initial recovery time was four to six months, putting his 2019 season in jeopardy. With motivation from Nicolas, he completed physical therapy every day and returned in just three months.
“Kyle’s been an inspiration to me,” Jaksich said. “I’ll admit I’ve never worked that hard before.”
Jaksich believes the key to success for Nicolas is as simple as having a good time.
“When he stays loose and has fun, he’s unhittable,” Jaksich said. “He keeps getting better every time I see him.”