2014 Draft Report Cards: Reviewing The Draft Classes
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Jeff Niemann, rhp, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
From the 2005 Baseball America Prospect Handbook
Niemann made history in 2003, tying an NCAA Division I record by going 17-0 and leading Rice to the College World Series championship, setting himself up as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft. Though the Padres considered him with the first choice, they ultimately passed because he rarely was 100 percent as a junior. He had arthroscopic surgery in the fall of 2003 to clean out inflamed tissue in his elbow, then strained his groin in mid-April. Neither is a long-term concern, but his physical setbacks allowed the Devil Rays to get him with the fourth overall pick. It took them seven months to sign Niemann, who received a five-year major league contract worth a guaranteed $5.2 million, including a $3.2 million bonus. Tampa Bay has had little luck developing its own pitchers, so Niemann won't have to do much become the best homegrown arm in club history. He's equipped with the stuff to be a No. 1 starter, starting with a 92-97 mph fastball and a slider that ranked as the best breaking pitch in the 2004 draft. He's intimidating at 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds, and he uses his large frame to drive the ball deep down in the strike zone. He has exceptional body control and pitchability for his size. Niemann also throws a spike curveball and a changeup, but didn't have to go to them very often in college. Now that he's fully healthy again, he should rush through the minors. He'll probably begin his pro career in high Class A or Double-A.