Rookie southpaw not concerned with Mets' offseason moves
by ANTHONY DiCOMO, MLB.com
-- He has spent this winter as a footnote, a minor detail in a rather elaborate offseason plan. And even that status is fading. The more the Mets spend and the more the Mets scheme, the less likely it becomes that Jonathon Niese
will remain a part of their most immediate plans.
Yet with three big league outings to his credit, Niese is currently the team's fourth starter. And with no resolution expected soon regarding free agents Derek Lowe
, Oliver Perez
or Randy Wolf
, Niese is apt to retain his footing for at least the near future.
He could linger even longer. Common sense and finite wallets have suggested that the Mets are unlikely to sign both Lowe and Perez, the top free-agent starters remaining on the market, and therefore are unlikely to seriously undermine Niese's chances of making the rotation. So far, in fact, the Mets have done just the opposite, telling their top pitching prospect to come to Spring Training prepared to battle for the fifth starter's role.
"I feel good about my situation,"
Niese said this week from his home in Defiance, Ohio. "I'm going into camp fighting for a job, and that's basically all I'm worried about."
Yet he's well aware of where he stands. Should the Mets sign Lowe -- and the majority of this offseason's white noise has indicated that they will -- Niese will fall from fourth on the rotational depth chart into a battle with fellow rookie Bobby Parnell
Should the club also sign Wolf, Tim Redding
or Pedro Martinez
, Niese will have a few more -- and more experienced and more expensive -- counterparts to battle. And should the Mets throw any additional starters into the mix, Niese's task will grow more difficult still.
"So my competition," Niese said, ignoring all that, "basically is myself."
He's just happy to have an opportunity, however undefined it may be. Invited to Spring Training last season as filler for the roster, Niese impressed his superiors enough to earn a ride on the Minor League fast track, which landed him in the Majors by the first week of September.
Two poor starts and one outstanding start later, his season ended amidst rumors that he might have to take the ball in a critical game down the stretch -- an assignment that ultimately went to Johan Santana
on short rest. And Niese will enter this season as one of the team's most valued young assets, ranking just behind outfielder Fernando Martinez
in terms of pure prospect hype.
Unlike Martinez, however, Niese now has big league experience. Three whole starts tend to hold weight in a game of fractions, regardless of their quality. And the quality of that one good one -- eight innings, no runs, seven strikeouts and a victory -- has given Niese reason to believe that he may fulfill his rotational aspirations sooner rather than later.
"I picked up a lot of confidence with that win, actually knowing that I can do that -- knowing that I belong,"
Who else belongs? Lowe, perhaps. Perez, perhaps. Others, perhaps, as well. It's tough to see the future at this point, so Niese won't bother squinting. He's got his own worries to deal with, including a bow-shooting expedition this weekend and an impending shift in his offseason throwing program -- he's due to start pitching off a mound in the coming days.
Next week, Niese will fly to Virginia for the Players Association's rookie development program, a collection of seminars designed to teach the game's top prospects the ins and outs of being a big leaguer.
He has already learned pieces of that information, gleaned from those three starts last September. And much of it will be of use come April, regardless of whether Niese is spending it in the big leagues.
"I can't really be worried about who is going to be in the rotation and who's not,"
Niese said. "All they told me is to go into camp in shape and looking to fight for a job. Now it's all about just going out there and performing."