New place, new faces, different voices in his ear. Spring Training No. 1 with the Miami Marlins could've been an uncomfortable spot for Justin Nicolino, acquired in Miami's controversial deal with Toronto in the offseason.
The pressure to curb criticism placed on Marlins' owner Jeffrey Loria for the firesale is shared among Nicolino, who will start the year with the Jupiter Hammerheads of the Florida State League, and the youngsters traded with him -- namely Jake Marisnick and Adeiny Hechavarria.
Discomfort never found the Marlins No. 4 prospect this spring, though. Instead, the left-hander was right at home at the Marlins' Jupiter, Fla., complex. Coaches and front office staffers were welcoming. They inquired on his past routines and practices and told him to keep doing much of the same. Miami knew what it was getting with Nicolino -- a 21-year-old heavy on polish and with the potential to be a solid MLB starter.
"I was at a Nordstrom Rack in Tampa," Nicolino said. "I saw I had an unknown number calling. I heard the voicemail and I could kind of just tell by [LaCava's] voice that something was going down.
"The two years I spent with [the Blue Jays] were great. They treated me right. I have no complaints, I loved it. But now I'm in a new chapter with a new opportunity for my career."
Chapter Two finds Nicolino thriving in a new environment. Miami pitching coordinator Wayne Rosenthal told Nicolino to come to camp ready to log innings, and Nicolino did just that. So impressive was his work in Minor League camp, the team called him up to start in a Grapefruit League game against St. Louis on March 28.
Nicolino shined, completing five innings of one-run ball with six hits, three strikeouts and no walks. The outing required just 67 pitches.
"Going into it was kind of surreal," MLB.com's No. 72 prospect said. "I was scheduled for five innings but told to just do what I could do. If I could only go three, that was great, but I was most proud that I got through five innings and handled myself well."
That his parents, Dale and Cheri Nicolino, were able to make the trek from Orlando made the outing that much more special.
Nearly as pleased as the Nicolino family was Marlins skipper Mike Redmond, who managed the young hurler with the Lansing Lugnuts in 2011.
"One of the things I was impressed with was how mature he was," Redmond said of Nicolino in Lansing. "I was very impressed with him and his poise and the way he conducted himself. He has good stuff. He's obviously a left-handed pitcher, and he's able to locate his fastball with some deception. He has a very nice changeup and is working on his curveball, and he knows how to pitch for a young kid."
Redmond's presence is one of the biggest reasons Nicolino quickly found comfort in the Marlins' organization. The 21-year-old hurler describes Redmond as "passionate" and said the long-time MLB catcher's insights at Lansing still form part of the backbone of Nicolino's approach on the hill.
Beyond that, Redmond's been a welcoming presence. After Nicolino's milestone outing, Redmond sat and chatted with the left-hander, and then insisted on going with Nicolino to greet his parents after the game.
"It definitely meant something that he was willing to go out of his way to give me that opportunity and then to want to talk to and meet my parents after," Nicolino said.
The Florida State League will bring some intriguing challenges for Nicolino. For one, he'll no longer be throwing in a rotation alongside heralded prospects Aaron Sanchez and Noah Syndergaard. Sanchez will be with the Blue Jays' Dunedin squad, while Syndergaard, traded to the Mets in the offseason for R.A. Dickey, will be throwing for St. Lucie.
The trio had a "friendly competition" as members of the Blue Jays' organization. As opponents, the rivalry won't go anywhere, but neither will their collective willingness to aid each other's quests for Major League rotation spots.
"If one of us faces a team another guy hasn't faced yet, we'll maybe get some scouting reports and help each other out like that," Nicolino said. "But we're still going to go out and compete against each other. We all want the same thing: to be in the big leagues."
The other adjustment for Nicolino will be an expected innings spike. In the Blue Jays' system, he had worked in a piggy-backing system with the team's other starters to control his innings.
With Jupiter, the kid gloves are off, and it'll be on Nicolino to log five or six innings right from the start.
"You get to a point in your career where you want to see how far you can take it with however many pitches you have," he said. "You want to see how your stuff competes late in a game. I've mentally prepared for that the last few months. Now I'm looking forward to see what that'll be like."