Scouting Mets Prospect #6: Jon Niese

Niese is working his way back into the rotation

Jon Niese's development has been a steady process since he was drafted in the seventh round of the 2005 draft. The left-hander was to play an important role in New York this summer, but saw his season end due to a devastating hamstring injury. So far the signs point to a spring return date for Niese who could once again have a significant role in the big league rotation.

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Vital Statistics
Name: Jonathon Niese
DOB: October 27, 1986
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 215
Throws: Left
Bats: Left
Status: 7th Round (2005) – Defiance HS (OH)

Coming into the 2009 season, there was no doubt if Jon Niese would help the Mets at some point during the season, it was a matter of when. Niese made three September starts with the Mets in 2008, but return to the minors after he just missed out on the 25-man roster during spring training.

Niese was excellent in Triple-A, with then-affiliate New Orleans in 2008, but the results were vastly different when he opened with the Mets new club in Buffalo. Simply put, it was ugly. Niese lost his first four decisions and saw his ERA balloon to 7.95 while the opposition hit nearly .340 off him. It was not the start he or his coaches envisioned following a strong camp season.

"I think early in the year, he got a little bit away from what he does well," said Mets pitching coordinator Rick Waits. "He got away from two things that are big for him, specifically pitching down and away and using his cutter. The main thing for any pitcher is to always stay with what you do best. I think early in the year, he just got away from that."

When Niese got back to pitching aggressively with the cutter and regained feel for his changeup, he took off. He allowed just six earned runs on 40 hits over his last 56 1/3 innings pitched with Buffalo, and won his final five decisions. Waits acknowledged the importance of Niese using all of his pitches at a higher frequency.

"I think he's realizing how important the cutter and changeup are, and when combined with his curveball, how they can all make his fastball better," said Waits. "I think early in the year he threw too many fastballs, 75-80 percent fastballs, and it wasn't working. Coming back mentally, I think he'll be even stronger."

It was after that scorching stretch that Niese got the call to New York. This time, however, the promotion came in late July and presented the left-hander with the opportunity to get two months of big league innings under his belt. He was very strong in his first outing on July 25 when he surrendered only one earned run over seven innings. He hung tough in his second start five days later (4 ER in 6 1/3 IP), but then came his third and final start when disaster struck.

The sight of Niese collapsing in pain on the Citi Field mound with a torn hamstring was one of the most vivid moments of the Mets' season, but the Mets will be reliant on Niese's contributions when he returns. Waits knows his southpaw will be up to doing his part.

"That was a pretty bad tear and it was a very unusual tear," he said. "But all indications are that he'll be healthy enough to have a full season. The thing with him is that he is a very hard, dedicated worker who is self-motivating and I'm confident that whatever return date he is given, he'll be back before it and ready to work."

Year

Team

W-L

IP

Hits

BB

K

ERA

2009

New York

1-1

25.2

27

9

18

4.21

2009

Buffalo

5-6

94.1

95

26

82

3.82

2008

New York

1-1

14.0

20

8

11

7.07

2008

New Orleans

5-1

39.2

34

14

32

3.40

2008

Binghamton

6-7

124.1

118

44

112

3.04

2007

St. Lucie

11-7

134.1

151

31

110

4.29

2006

St. Lucie

0-2

10.0

8

5

10

4.50

2006

Hagerstown

11-9

123.2

121

62

132

3.93

2005

GCL

1-0

24.2

23

10

24

3.65



Repertoire: Fastball, Curveball, Changeup

Fastball: Niese expanded the use of his fastball when he adopted a cutter early in the season. His four-seam fastball sat 90-92 MPH during his time with Buffalo, but lacks the movement to attack the inside corner to right-handers. That is why Niese turned to the cutter, which he throws with the same velocity, so he can pitch with movement to right-handers. It also allows him to bust in on left-handers with movement. The cutter was vital in adding depth Niese's repertoire. It allowed him to mix in more pitches when he was otherwise a predominant fastball pitcher. He uses either edition of his fastball to set up his secondary pitches as he lacks the velocity to use his fastball as a true put away pitch.

Other Pitches: Niese's best pitch is a plus overhand curveball which he can drop through the strike zone and has wipe out potential with properly command. It has true 12-to-6 break that can buckle knees and draw many over the top swings. He can generate two types of spin with it. One is a tighter grip that creates harder, late bite and the other is the more looping curveball with Barry Zito-like break. He fills out his repertoire with a strong changeup, throwing in the mid to high-70s with good arm speed and tempo. Greater repetition early this season improved his command and a more effective changeup made his fastball stronger—a pivotal aspect of his development.

Pitching: Pitchability and sequencing is the biggest ingredient to Niese's success and he made important strides in those areas this season. Limiting the amount of fastballs thrown and relying on his secondary pitches earlier in the count cut down his walk totals, and maintained his strikeout ratio while still in the minors. He does not use one pitch to overpower. He relies on movement with the impetus to get ahead early in the count. He pitches to the corners with his fastball with the plan to finish down with the curveball, but needs greater trust in his stuff to limit his walks.

Projection: Niese's projection has not changed over the last year. There is a very outside shot of him becoming a number two starter if his changeup turns into a plus pitch, but he will ultimately be a number three starter. The Mets know what they are getting with Niese. Now it is a matter of him staying healthy and logging big league innings.

ETA: N/A. Niese made five more starts in 2009, his second stint in New York, before going down with the hamstring injury. He will be in competition for an Opening Day rotation spot if his projected return date holds true. If not the big league roster, Niese will return to Buffalo and ascend to New York when a slot opens up for him or he pitches his way into the rotation.

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