- Full name Fernando Alexis Nieve
- Born 07/15/1982 in Puerto Cabello, Venezuela
- Profile Ht.: 6'0" / Wt.: 220 / Bats: R / Throws: R
- Debut 04/04/2006
Organization Prospect Rankings
After signing in 1999, Nieve didn't make it past low Class A until his sixth pro season. A Texas League all-star in 2005, he spent the second half in Triple-A and might have earned a September callup if his appendix hadn't ruptured. Nieve has two plus pitches, a 93-95 mph fastball with good riding life that managers rated the best in the Texas League, and a hard slider that's not as consistent. Despite being just 6 feet tall, he pitches on a good downward plane. He repeats his delivery well, enhancing his ability to throw strikes. Nieve's arm action is long, allowing lefthanders to get a good look at his pitches. They batted .273 against him in 2005, and he's working on a splitter to combat them. A changeup would help, but he doesn't have faith in the pitch. He can lose his focus and pitch backwards, and at times he'll use a curveball to the detriment of his slider. Nieve is close to helping the Astros. Some scouts envision him becoming a No. 3 starter, while others see him as a late-innings reliever in the mold of Ugueth Urbina.
Though Nieve has pitched just 17 innings above Class A in six pro seasons, his upside has led the Astros to carry him on their 40-man roster since the end of the 2003 season. He dominated the Venezuelan League last winter, but didn't enjoy the same success there this offseason. Nieve pitches off his electric 91-97 mph fastball. He gets heavy sink on his two-seamer, likes to challenge hitters up with a four-seamer and mixes in some cutters. He throws both a curveball and a slider, and they can be strikeout pitches at times. He has a strong body and resilient arm. Nieve lacks consistent feel for a changeup because he prefers to throw hard. For that same reason, he can fall in love with his straight four-seamer, and doesn't always locate it where he wants. He can get caught in between his two breaking balls, resulting in a slurve. If his secondary pitches don't improve, Nieve could become a power reliever in the mold of Guillermo Mota. He competed well in Double-A at the end of 2004 and will pitch in the rotation there this season.
Though Nieve had pitched just three innings above Rookie ball, the Astros fretted about possibly losing him in the 2002 Rule 5 draft. They're glad they didn't after watching him mature as a pitcher and a person and lead Houston farmhands with 14 victories. He has continued to build on that success by dominating in the Venezuelan League (4-1, 1.88). He doesn't have the highest radar-gun readings, but Nieve's fastball is the best in the system because it combines velocity (91-95 mph) with heavy sink and boring action that rides in on righthanders. His curveball improved dramatically in 2003, as did his approach. He's now a pitcher rather than a thrower who believes he can survive on fastballs alone. Nieve still is learning to throw a changeup and doesn't throw it often. He'll need that pitch and possibly a four-seamer to combat lefthanders at higher levels. He has trouble pitching lefties inside because his two-seamer tends to run back over the plate. Nieve's progress was the farm system's most pleasant development in 2003. Ticketed for high Class A Salem, he's at least two years away from Minute Maid Park.
Though he has pitched just one game above Rookie ball, the Astros nearly protected Nieve on their 40-man roster and felt fortunate not to lose him in the Rule 5 draft. He ranked second among Appalachian League starters in opponent average (.185) last year and made progress in instructional league. With an easy arm action, Nieve tops out in the mid-90s and pitches at 91-93. His slider ranges from sharp to slurvy, while his offspeed curveball and changeup are works in progress. He needs to maintain his arm slot in order to have command and crispness on his pitches. Nieve is too passive, at times acting like all he needs to do is light up the radar guns. Houston will look for him to mature this year in low Class A.
Minor League Top Prospects
Just 22 when he joined Round Rock, Nieve found Triple-A challenging but coped with it well. Though inconsistent, he threw a pair of complete-game shutouts and finished the season with 11 strikeouts in his final start. His arm is as good as Astacio's. Nieve's fastball sits at 93-94 mph and reaches 97, and he usually pitches on a good downward plane despite being just 6 feet tall. Nieve's slider can be dominating when he stays on top of it, and he also throws a curveball. He can change the speed, look and shape of his breaking balls, making him deceptive. Nieve still needs an offspeed pitch. He's working on a changeup and learning to trust it. He likes to try to blow the ball by hitters up in the strike zone, which may not work as well in the majors.
Though the Astros signed him in 1999, Nieve had just three Double-A starts coming into the season. He needed only 14 more before earning a promotion to Triple-A, and he could compete for a big league job next spring. Nieve dominated hitters with a mid-90s fastball and a good slider. His changeup has improved but isn't on par with his other pitches. Though he has pitched well as a starter, a relief role is a possibility if he can't refine and offspeed pitch, and Kennedy compared Nieve's build and stuff to fellow Venezuelan Ugueth Urbina. "I could have seen him in the big leagues this year as a middle guy, throwing 98 for six outs," Gamboa said. "He has such pure arm action."
While he doesn't have the highest readings on radar guns with a fastball in the 91-95 mph range, Nieve's heater is the best in the system because it combines velocity with heavy sink and boring action that rides in on righthanders. Still, there are questions about Nieve's strikeout numbers for someone who's supposed to be a power pitcher. "He's a power pitcher with good stuff, but his fastball has the tendency to flatten out, making him very hittable," an AL scout said. "He just needs to be able to repeat his pitches more consistently."
Nieve was barely on the prospect radar last summer, after he spent his second year in the Appalachian League and his fourth straight in Rookie ball. But he asserted himself this season and conjured comparisons to another Astros find from Venezuela, Freddy Garcia. Nieve bumped his fastball up a notch and pitched between 89-95 mph with improved secondary offerings. "His comfort zone is at 91-92 and his curveball has a chance to be a plus," the NL scout said. "He projects as a middle-of-the-rotation guy, a high ceiling with some risk. He flashed three average to occasional plus pitches. His command and intensity were a little bit of a concern for me."
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Pitching Prospect in the Texas League in 2005
- Rated Best Fastball in the Texas League in 2005