Tall (6'4"), stocky (250 lbs) Sean Nolin was a 6th round pick by Toronto in the 2010 draft, from legendary San Jacinto JC. Nolin had been drafted in the late rounds by the Brewers in 2008, and the Mariners in 2009, but the Long Island, NY native turned them down.
Nolin's draft report from Baseball America was decent, but hardly impressive:
At 6-foot-4 and 250 pounds, Sean Nolin looks like a lefthanded version of Jason Jennings. Nolin's fastball will sit at 86-89 mph in some games and 88-92 in others, and he backs it up with a solid changeup and fringy curveball.Nonetheless, aided especially by that change, he rocketed through the lower levels of the Blue Jays system, striking out more than a batter per inning, reaching AA by 2012. He made his first appearance on the Toronto Top 10 prospects list after that season, but 2012 proved to be the high water mark for his Blue Jays career.
Nolin's 2013 got off to a slow start due to a lingering groin injury, but he was surprisingly added to the 40-man roster in late May, and was rocked for 6 runs in an inning and a third. in his MLB debut against the Orioles. Nolin was sent back to the minors after that start, burning one of his options.
Still, there was plenty to be optimistic about. Fangraphs was still high on Nolin as a back of the rotation innings eater heading into 2014:
Nolin could develop into a solid No. 4 starter with the ability to chew up a ton of innings. The southpaw has good control but is still working to establish consistent fastball command. His heater ranges from the high-80s to the low-90s. His repertoire also includes an above-average changeup and two breaking balls (curveball, slider). Standing 6-5, Nolin needs to do a better job of leveraging his height to create a downward plane on the ball in an effort to work down in the strike zone on a more consistent basis..... the native of New York state has a chance to be a reliable back-of-the-rotation workhorse, and players of that description are harder to come by than you might think — especially ones that throw left-handed. He might be attractive to another organization as a nearly-ready, southpaw hurler should trade discussions turn into something concrete this off-season.Injuries once again derailed Nolin's 2014, limiting him to 100 innings. By this time, not only had he been passed by the likes of Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman, but other prospects like Daniel Norris, Kendall Graveman, Matt Boyd, and Miguel Castro had moved ahead of Nolin in the eyes of the organization. A strong Arizona Fall League campaign redeemed Nolin's status somewhat, but it may have been more to showcase him, as Toronto packaged him in the deal for Josh Donaldson in the November, 2014 deal with Oakland. Again, an inability to stay healthy limited Nolin in 2015, and that, coupled with his lack of remaining options mean that when the Athletics' acquired OF Khris Davis from the Brewers to fill a gap in their lineup yesterday, something had to give in order to create room on the 40-man for Davis. Oakland Designated Nolin for Assignment, meaning they have 10 days to release him, trade him, or place him on waivers, which is the most likely bet - the Athletics haven't necessarily given up on him, but at this point he doesn't fit into their immediate future.
A victim of the numbers game like former fellow Blue Jays farmhand Chad Jenkins, Nolin has demonstrated enough to be an important minor league depth piece, but not enough to continue to occupy a space on a major league roster. His left-handedness and ability to fill up the strike zone will mean that some organization will want him. Oakland knew at the end of the season that he probably didn't fit into their plans for 2016, but hung onto him long enough to make sure that other teams had their rosters full or close to full as spring training approached.
The website SwinginAs.com thought that DFA'ing Nolin was a huge mistake, suggesting that either one-time Blue Jay Felix Doubront, or Aaron Brooks would potentially contribute less than Nolin to the A's rotation. Susan Slusser, who covers the Athletics for the San Francisco Chronicle, was surprised at the move, and wondered if it was made because the club thought they might be able to sneak Nolin through waivers, or because he could bring back some value in a trade.
Either way, Oakland appears to be cutting bait from the Donaldson deal: they do have Franklin Barreto, who is among the top prospects in the game, but now Nolin risks becoming a former A, along with trade-mate Brett Lawrie.