#4 – LHP Jon Niese

Bats/Throws: L/L

Height/Weight: 6’4”/215 lbs

Acquired: 7th rd 2005

Born: 10/27/86 (Lima, OH)

2009 Rank: #4

Why Ranked Here: There’s a very real chance that Jon Niese will be the Mets second-best starter in 2010.  His signature pitch is his big overhand curveball, which could be better than any off-speed pitch thrown by any other Mets starter not named “Johan.”  In addition to his four-seam fastball, which sits 89-91, and has some natural cutting action, Niese has added two more fastball variants in the last year: a two-seamer he can use to produce ground balls, and a cutter that he can use to get inside to righties.  These pitches, when mixed with his other offerings, help to keep hitters just off balance enough.  He also learned to trust his changeup, which has improved more in 2009.

Niese proved in the second-half of 2009 that he was done with AAA, and he was ready for the big leagues.  Now penciled in for a rotation spot, the Mets will need Niese to provide quality innings immediately if the team is to contend in the NL East. 

2009: Jon Niese had two 2009s: a terrible April and May and then a strong June and July, before his season ended in a heap on the Citi Field mound with a torn hamstring on August 5.

Niese, the Buffalo Bisons Opening Day starter, lasted just two innings that night in April, and struggled all the way through April and May. When the Mets needed a starter on May 8, they called up Niese, who was 0-2 with a 6.55 ERA with Buffalo. Niese lasted two starts in the MLB rotation, firing six good innings against Pittsburgh, but yielding five runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings in his second outing against Atlanta that got him bounced from the starting rotation and back down to Buffalo.

Returned to Buffalo after his two MLB starts, Niese got lit up over his next three outings, giving up a combined 20 runs on 26 hits in 16 innings in three losses.  After his start with Buffalo on June 1, Niese had given up 47 runs in 48.2 innings in AAA and the big leagues combined.  He had given up 69 hits.  And yet, his peripherals were strong, he was striking out nearly a batter an inning, and owned a k/bb ratio of 3.1.  Still, it was time for a change.

Niese, to his credit, made the change with the help of Buffalo pitching coach Ricky Bones, who also coached Niese in AA the year before.  Niese insists that he did not make a major mechanical tweak, but simply focused on commanding his offerings and on mixing his pitches more.

The results were fairly stunning.  Niese’s last eight starts in AAA were just as good as the first eight were bad, or maybe even better.  In his final 56.1 innings with the Bisons, Niese was sported a 0.96 ERA (6 ER/56.1 IP) with just 40 hits allowed (.228 AVG against) and a K/BB of 3.5 (46 K/13 BB).  It’s hard to pitch better than Niese did for a month and a half: four times he threw at least seven shutout innings, and gave up more than one earned run just twice in six weeks.   Riding this wave of success, Niese returned to the big leagues with seven innings of one-run ball at the end of July in a win over Houston.  He completed just one more start before his season ended in a gruesome way on August 5.

Dr. Pangloss Says: Rookie of the Year Candidate on the way to a fixture at #2 in the Mets rotation.

Debbie Downer Says: More fringy back-end starter, who hangs around and then gets wildly overpaid.

Projected 2010 Start: Very soon in the big leagues.

MLB Arrival: 2009.  For real now.

08 AA – EL 3.04 22/22 124.1 118 53 42 5 44 112 2.5 3.2 8.1 53.0 3.84
08 AAA – PCL 3.40 7/7 39.2 34 15 15 4 14 32 2.3 3.2 7.3 54.2 3.44
08 MLB – NL 7.07 3/3 14 20 11 11 2 8 11 1.4 5.1 7.1 43.8 7.07
09 AAA 3.82 16/16 94.1 95 47 40 7 26 82 3.2 2.5 7.8 54.3 4.50
09 MLB 4.21 5/5 25.2 27 12 12 1 9 18 2.0 3.2 6.4 48.1 4.29

There are 8 comments

    1. theperfectgame

      Don’t sweat it. As I always say, ytpos happen

      But speaking of the incredibly well known Yohan Almonte, I was surprised he didn’t make the back end of the Top 41, especially over Angel Cuan. Almonte’s 6 months younger and actually outperformed Cuan at Kingsport last summer (statistically speaking, at least, although I know that at this level stats aren’t nearly as telling as they are at the upper levels):

      Cuan: 1-3, 4.83 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 0.92 GB/FB, 1.51 WHIP
      Almonte: 3-1, 4.40 ERA, 7.7 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 1.64 GB/FB, 1.26 WHIP

      I don’t mean to nitpick, especially because so many of these guys at the back end of the list and off the list are pretty close to interchangeable, but was there something about Cuan outside the numbers that led to his inclusion and/or something about Almonte that kept him off? Did people who you talked to that had seen both guys pitch come away more impressed by Cuan’s stuff? Or does it basically just come down to: the guys are very similar, but Cuan’s a lefty and Almonte’s a righty, so advantage Cuan?

      1. Toby Hyde

        Yeah, it was mostly a L/R thing. At this point I might flip Almonte and Cuan, but on February 1, when I locked my rankings in, I had Cuan ahead… The last 10 spots on the 41 and the first 15 off are really fairly rough.

      2. theperfectgame

        Definitely. It’s impressive nonetheless that you go 41 deep. But yeah, differentiating those last few spots must be a nightmare, especially when you’re comparing an upper-level prospect with a very low ceiling (say, Roy Merritt) to a very raw, low level guy whose ceiling is virtually unknown (a la Almonte or Cuan). I mean, the cup of coffee Tobi Stoner got last September is more MLB action than most guys on the back half of this list are gonna see in their careers.

        Anyway, the top 3 are very, very close, so I’m looking forward to seeing how that shakes out. FWIW, I’ve got Martinez at #1, followed by Davis and Mejia at 2 and 3, respectively. But on my very non-scientific, amateur scale, each one was within a single point of the next, and I think that any order for those 3 guys is completely justifiable. And IMO, Niese isn’t much farther behind them, though a distinct 4th.

      3. WC

        I’d be shocked if Mejia wasn’t #1 at this point. As much relative upside as Fernando with slightly fewer concerns.

        Davis is clearly 3.

  1. mistermet

    So Toby–do you really think Niese has a shot at being a good #2 starter? The highest I’ve heard is #3 starter and some others have said he’s just a back of the rotation guy (this is typically from those who are not in the know, though).

    I’d certainly be happy if he settled in as a strong #3 guy.

    1. Toby Hyde

      Dr. Pangloss is the best of all possible worlds. I think the most likely “good” scenario for him is a strong #3 type on a pennant caliber team.

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