- Full name Jeffrey Warren Niemann
- Born 02/28/1983 in Houston, TX
- Profile Ht.: 6'9" / Wt.: 285 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- School Rice
- Debut 04/13/2008
Drafted in the 1st round (4th overall) by the Tampa Bay Rays in 2004 (signed for $3,200,000).
View Draft ReportThough Niemann was one of three players the Padres were considering for the No. 1 overall pick in mid-May, he really hadn't been at 100 percent this season. After tying an NCAA Division I record by going 17-0 in 2003 as Rice won the College World Series, Niemann had arthroscopic surgery last fall to clean out inflamed tissue in his elbow. He also strained his groin in mid-April, sidelining him for a month, and he had made two relief appearances and two relatively ineffective starts since returning. In his first outing back, Niemann showed exactly why he could be the top choice. His fastball registered 92-97 mph, and his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame allowed him to drive the ball down in the zone and make it that much more difficult to hit. His slider, the best breaking pitch in the draft, hit 87 mph. Niemann has exceptional body control and strike-throwing ability for his size, the result of working diligently on his mechanics. He also has a spike curveball and a changeup but hasn't needed them very often in college. Even at less than his best, Niemann had struck out 83 in 70 innings and held hitters to a .219 average. If he can regain his 2003 form in the three weeks before the draft, San Diego could opt for him over Long Beach State righthander Jered Weaver and Florida State shortstop Stephen Drew.
Organization Prospect Rankings
The fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Niemann has yet to find a role in Tampa Bay but had another solid season in the minors. He limited the Orioles to one run over six innings in his big league debut on April 13, yet was sidelined two weeks with shoulder stiffness upon returning to the minors. He rejoined the Rays as a reliever in September but didn't make the postseason roster. Niemann possesses two above-average pitches, a fastball that sits in the low 90s and tops out at 95 mph and a hard curveball that acts much like a slider on occasion. He has developed a splitter to use as a changeup and looked more comfortable throwing it in 2008. He's an intimidating presence with his size and extended delivery toward the plate. Niemann gets in trouble when he leaves his pitches up in the strike zone. Getting ahead in the count with his fastball and maintaining its command down in the zone would make his secondary stuff play up. He's easy to run on and requires more time than most pitchers to get loose, both of which could preclude using him as a reliever. Niemann will enter the 2009 season with little left to prove in the minors. If the Rays don't have an opening for him, he figures to become a prime trade candidate.
For the first time since signing a $5.2 million big league contract as the fourth overall pick in the 2004 draft, Niemann turned in a completely healthy season. He worked 131 innings after totaling just 108 in his first two years, and he drew the start for the U.S. team in the Futures Game. After ranking third in the International League with 12 victories, he won two more games in the playoffs. At 6-foot-9, Niemann has an intimidating presence on the mound. His long body and arms, plus the length of his stride, gives hitters little time to decide whether they want to swing. He pounds the strike zone with his 91-94 mph fastball, and he mixes it well with an above-average power curveball that has hard downward break. He's intelligent and does a solid job of keeping batters off balance. Niemann is a slow worker who has little deception. He tends to leave pitches up in the strike zone when he stabs in the back of his delivery. He added a splitter last season that he uses a changeup, but it's still a fringy pitch. He still has to prove that he's durable after having arthroscopic elbow surgery in 2003 and a minor shoulder operation in 2006. He pitched through some shoulder pain last August and had a small bone spur removed after the season. The Rays aren't worried about Niemann's shoulder, and they'll give him the chance to make their rotation in spring training. He still has the stuff to be a No. 2 or 3 starter, even if he has developed more slowly than Tampa Bay hoped.
Niemann might have gone No. 1 overall in 2004 if he hadn't been recovering from arthroscopic elbow surgery and battling a groin strain, and he has fought physical problems since signing a $5.2 million big league contract. He pitched just 31 innings in his 2005 pro debut because of shoulder tenderness and more groin problems, and spent the first half of 2006 in extended spring training after surgery to shave the joint between his collarbone and shoulder. Niemann is a monster on the mound with a 92-96 mph fastball and an intimidating presence. He mixes the heater with a low-80s slider and does a good job of working both sides of the plate with both offerings. His curveball and changeup showed improvement in 2006, and they give hitters a different look. All five pitchers drafted in the first round out of Rice this decade have needed surgery, and health is the biggest concern with Niemann. Physical setbacks have limited him to 108 pro innings, yet he dominated at times in Double-A and isn't far from being big league-ready. His top priority on the mound is to command the strike zone better with all of his pitches. Niemann has all the stuff and intangibles to be a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. The Rays want him to spend at least part of 2007 in Triple-A, though an impressive spring could accelerate his timetable.
Niemann might have gone No. 1 in the 2004 draft had he not been coming off arthroscopic elbow surgery and a groin strain. He went fourth overall and held out until January 2005, when he signed a $5.2 million major league deal. A tender shoulder and more groin problems limited him in his pro debut, and he had minor surgery to shave the joint between his collarbone and shoulder in October. Niemann has great size and mound presence. He's learning how to work off his 92-96 mph fastball. His slider has sharp, cutting action and was deemed the best breaking pitch in the 2004 draft. He has an excellent feel for pitching and good body control. Niemann needs innings and will have to avoid the injuries that have plagued his young career. His changeup and spike curveball need more consistency to give him a complete repertoire. Provided he stays healthy, Niemann should move fast. He may open the season back in Double-A Montgomery, but could receive his first taste of the big leagues later in the year. The Rays envision Niemann joining Scott Kazmir as a potent 1-2 punch.
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 premium pick in the 2004 draft. Though the Padres considered him with the first choice, they 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 the 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 pitchers, so Niemann won't have to do much to 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 feel for pitching for his size. Niemann also throws a spike curveball and a changeup, but didn't have to go to them often in college. Now that he's healthy again, he should rush through the minors. He'll probably begin his pro career in high Class A or Double-A.
Minor League Top Prospects
The fourth overall pick in 2004, Niemann finally made his big league debut in April, pitching well in his first start and poorly in his second before getting optioned back to Durham. Niemann pitched about as well as he had for the Bulls in 2007. The highs were higher--he struck out a career-high 12 in a July 2 complete game--and he proved to be dramatically less hittable. Niemann fills the zone with 90-94 mph fastballs that he delivers with steep plane--he's 6-foot-9--and his long stride significantly reduces the batter's reaction time. He stabs in the back of his delivery, which sometimes prohibits his arm from catching up to his body and results in fastballs left up in the zone. He has improved the consistency of his hard slider, though his slow curveball and splitter (which he uses as a changeup versus lefties) are mostly below average. Because he's a deliberate worker who can't warm up quickly, and because he does not control the running game--just two of 33 basestealers (6 percent) were caught on his watch--Niemann's future is as a starter and not as a reliever. He projects as a No. 3 to 5 starter, and it remains to be seen whether he'll get that chance with Tampa Bay.
No player in the league produced more divergent opinions than Niemann, the fourth overall pick in 2004 who because of elbow, shoulder and groin ailments had thrown just 108 innings in two pro seasons and was making his Triple-A debut. Niemann stayed healthy for the most part, just missing three weeks in August with shoulder soreness. "He gets about two extra feet on his fastball because of his size and length of stride," Indianapolis manager Trent Jewett said. "His ball is heavy, comes out of his hand cleanly and has nice plane to it." Niemann also gets points for his composure on the mound and his ability to pound the strike zone with a 91-94 mph fastball that sits at 93. His power downer curveball also is an above-average offering. On the other hand, "He works so slow that he puts me to sleep, and I don't like the 'Iron Mike' delivery--there's no deception," a scout from a National League team said. "He often rushes his delivery, and he stabs in the back of his arm action, meaning sometimes his arm doesn't get up on top (of the pitch). If anything, his arm is a split-second late, and he can elevate the ball a bit." Niemann's slider grades as average, but he throws the pitch slower than he did in college. His split serves as his changeup, and it's a fringe-average offering. He still projects as at least a mid-rotation starter, however.
Until June, Niemann spent more time rehabbing an assortment of injuries than he did on the mound as a pro. Once he returned from minor shoulder surgery in the offseason, he began to show the frontline starter potential that made him the No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft. It all starts with intimidation, as the 6-foot-9, 260-pound righthander exudes attitude on the hill, unleashing 92-96 mph fastballs from an extreme downward angle. Scouts compared Niemann to a bigger version of former big league pitcher Jeff Juden, with one referring to him as a "lumberjack throwing cheddar." In addition to his plus fastball, Niemann flashed a devastating slider with cut action, plus a curveball with big spin. His changeup is still a work in progress, though it came on with more depth later in the year.
Top 100 Rankings
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Slider in the Tampa Bay Rays in 2007
- Rated Best Slider in the Tampa Bay Rays in 2006