I had the pleasure of chatting with minor league hurler Eric Niesen. Niesen began his professional career by being selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 MLB amateur draft by the Mets out of Wake Forest Academy. The now 25-year old Michigan native was first assigned to the Brooklyn Cyclones and was making his way through the ranks, making the FSL All-Star Team in 2009, until about mid-2010 when he “hit-the-wall” if you will. Niesen has since been assigned to Single-A about a month ago after struggling with the Binghamton Mets in 2011, where he has recently began to find his stride.
In my interview with Eric, we discussed his struggles, what it is like to deal with them, and also how to bust out of those struggles, and working on beating them. Here are the highlights of our conversation:
Eric, back in 2007, how did it feel to be drafted by a major league team after years of hard work and dedication?
Hey Clayton thanks for the interview. The feeling of being drafted was exciting to say the least. It had been years and years of always pushing through doubt, struggle,learning curves, and hard-work. it was truly very humbling not just for me, but for my family as well. To come from a small town, as a small kid with a dream and being giving and opportunity to achieve that dream was and still is a great cherished blessing.
Did you ever have a baseball player who you idolized or saw as a role model growing up? Did you have a favorite team?
I was always a fan of Randy Johnson growing up. I had a few favorite teams as a child mainly the tigers due to living right in their back yard, but was always a New York fan due to the audience they always got. It would truly be awesome to play in front of a city like that.
Have you noticed any differences between the way the minor leagues have been run by Sandy Alderson’s regime in comparison to Omar Minaya’s?
Truthfully, we do not see to much of the inner workings of the system. My job is to play baseball to the best of my ability and thats all i want to do to be honest. I will let the other people deal with things outside of my control. Baseball is always baseball no one will change that.
In the past few seasons you have struggled quite a bit, how do you deal with a prolonged slump such as this day-in and day-out?
Struggles come and go. They also form, and mold you into something better as well. No, one in life can go through a career with out a time or times of struggles. My faith In Christ as always made me realize how struggles create better character, sharpen skills, and make me a better player. I deal with them by having an attitude like this and knowing my struggles will lead to what I am truly meant to be.
You’ve had some level of success at the Single-A level but had trouble with the jump to Binghamton. What are the differences that you have noticed between the Single-A and Double-A leagues? Why do you think you have struggled in Double-A?
My first year in Binghamton was a good year, then in 2010 and part of this year my struggles were due to mechanical issues I ran into. Since coming back to St. Lucie i was able to work with Phil Regan who got me back to the mechanics I used this spring (when I had the best spring in my career) and got me to be the pitcher I really am capable of. So it was more of learning myself then struggling with the actual League.
It seems your Achilles Heel has caused control issues, has that always been a problem with your game during your career? How do you plan to improve upon this issue?
Over the last year I would agree with you on the control issues being a problem. I plan every year to get better and better at it, and I believe I have finally found what I needed to achieve that. Over the last month I have really been able to find my true mechanics, and I thank coaches and organization for that because some of us are just late bloomers.
You have been described to have the “stuff” to be successful in the big leagues, you have a 93 MPH fastball and a put away pitch in that of your slider, what do you think is separating you from the show?
Basically, learning myself and learning what my true mechanics were the issue. I say were because I believe that the issues are over now. Just like in the question before the only thing that held me back from the Big Leagues was my command. Due to finding my consistent mechanics, now that they are fixed, and I have the ability to know what works for me now nothing is separating me from the show other then time. God willing it will be a short amount of time before you see that “stuff” helping the big league club win.
How did you handle the transition from starter to full time reliever this season? Was it difficult? Were you upset? Do you still hope to start again in your career?
I have done both my whole career so it only took a little bit to get back in the groove of how your body feels, but not long. I am always happy to be pitching no matter what role. I feel truly blessed to be able to have such a gift.
As a 25-year old reliever in Single-A, do you believe that you can still make it to the show before your playing career in baseball is complete?
Absolutely, I believe God gave me this talent for a reason, and I intend to praise him with it at the highest level. There is no doubt in my mind that through the hard work I have put in and the talent I was blessed with that I will be able to be there helping out the big league club soon. But as proverbs 14:23 says “All hard-work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty”, so I intend to show it in action not just words.
Since your struggles have spanned over two different front offices, how have they helped you in your strides to get back on track? Which regime has been more helpful? In what ways?
I have not noticed a change at all. I know that the Organization has been for good to me the whole time since I have gotten here, and I thank them for all the help along so far in my career.
Is it upsetting or frustrating at all to see young players such as Dillon Gee and Lucas Duda, who came out of the same draft class as you, have success in the majors while you remain in between Double-A and Single-A?
No, its great to see how much success those guys are having in their careers. Everybody learns and achieves things at their own pace. I believe I will be there soon enough God willing sooner then later, but when i do get there I will be ready to have the success just like them due what I have learned in my experiences.
Ever since your demotion to Single-A in 2011, you have started to pull it together including 6-straight scoreless outings with seven punchouts, but most importantly no walks. Are we beginning to see the true Eric Niesen and is there more we can expect from you?
Yes, I believe so. I was fortunate enough to get back down here and learn from Phil Regan the pitching coach who really helped me understand what my successful mechanics were. With his adjustments I really felt and still feel I am back to showing my true self. It was not about learning the leagues or competition as much as it was learning myself.
Do you ever keep in mind that you are not only pitching for one team, but for 29 other clubs?
No, to be honest I just play the game to the best of my ability and do my best for the team. If the Lord has other plans for me then thats something I have no control over
Where do you see yourself at the end of this season? In two years? Five?
I see myself playing baseball to the best of my ability and helping this club win using the talents God blessed me with.
I just want to thank Eric once again for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer some of my questions. He thanked me a few times for the interview, but truly the pleasure was all mine. Of the athletes I have talked to in person or seen on TV, hands down Eric Niesen has the best attitude I have ever witnessed in all of professional sports. He maintains such a positive persona, similar to R.A. Dickey’s or Josh Hamilton’s. I wish the best to Eric in his future as a professional ballplayer and beyond.
Eric has the stuff to be a very successful big league pitcher, and I am fully confident that one day soon he will be there. You can tell just from his responses that he is an incredibly positive presence in the clubhouse and something that I cannot wait to see in Flushing.